So its nearly a week since I left Addis and I can't deny that I've been enjoying some of the comforts of home (courtesy of my Mother's house in Stratford-upon-Avon). That said, its amazing to me how much I learned in a month. Besides the bevvy of wonderful people I was sorry to say goodbye to (Atsede, Tesfaye, Eldana, Fedawit, Deju, Bikesegn, Sammy, Weini and all the fab volunteers), I've been suffering some serious macchiato and mixed juice withdrawals and even miss my nightly dose of injera. I miss my 25 minute walk to work every morning, where the taxis would zoom by with guys hanging out the window yelling 'Piassa, Piassa, Piassa...'. I miss the workmen who hung around outside the Ras Ambo hotel, who never failed to laugh when I said hello to them in Amahric, and the guys who ran the little car fix-up shop on the way to Bel Air who always greeted this 'ferenji' with smiles and broken english. I think about the mothers and children who always begged around the bridge at Arat Kilo, and the little girl who I always gave water (and often my lunch) to. And, there was the range of stray dogs that I passed every morning, from the plucky corgie-like mutt who remained ever hopeful at the gates of the large house on the Queen Elizabeth road to the scruffy black terrier who foraged in the area around Practical International every day. I wonder if they will all still be there when I go back next?
My final day in Addis was really quite perfect. After a hearty breakfast of ambesha and keita bread, injera fir fir (chopped up injera with hot berbere sauce) and fried oats, my host mother Atsede took me to the hotel of which she is member, The Ghion. One of the older establishments in a city that seems to be building concrete, steel and glass sky scrapers on every corners, the Ghion remains the posh hotel of choice for middle class Addis Abebans and travelers who don't want to fork out the extortionate prices charged at the international chain hotels (Hilton and Sheraton). Atsede is a regular at the gym and spa at the Ghion and my last day she wanted to treat me to the sauna / steam room / jacuzzi offerings.
Well, it was a case of leave your inhibitions at the door as we stripped off and joined a group of Ethiopian women in the sauna! Many of these women were regulars and Atsede chatted away with them in Amharic (my understanding of the conversation was very limited indeed...but I managed to tell them where I came from and what I did). Atsede comes to the spa about three times a week, and she told me that these women all meet and gossip there together. She was impressed at my abilities to withstand prolonged periods in the sauna, and I was grateful for the delicious homemae facemask she brought of raw honey mixed with coffee grounds.
So after a morning of pampering at the Ghion, we drove home on a very hot Saturday lunchtime, both feeling rather sleepy from our spa-induced relaxation. We ate a fabulous lunch of injera and all the trimmings, along with pasta and spicy sauces. Fresh coffee followed and Atsede and I then set out for a final run round the market for souvenirs.
My last couple of hours in the company of Atsede and Tesfaye's family were spent enjoying my final coffee ceremony, for which I was allowed to roast the coffee beans over the hot coals. We exchange gifts and sentiments of love, and I cried when Atsede gave me a beautiful little woven basket that had been made in Aksum. They were suitably impressed by the card I wrote in Amharic (photo below!)
After some tears and several promises to stay in touch and see one another again, i was picked up from Atsede and Tesfaye's house by Sammy and taken to the Habesha 2000 restaurant where the monthly Projects Abroad volunteers dinner was taking place. I was extremely lucky to be able to attend this on my last night, since it ended up feeling like a farewell party. Dearest Deju came, as did my host sister Eldana. We were served delicious platters of injera with the full range of Ethiopia food, including the elusive Doro Wat (chicken in spicy sauce, that has been be almost impossible to find elsewhere in town). Knocking back bottles of St. George beer, we prepared to get up and dance. Habesha 2000 is a 'cultural' restaurant which means they have an in-house band and group of dancers who spend the evening performing the full range of traditional Ethiopian music and dance - from Tigrayan shoulder dances to Gurage wedding ceremonies. I was eventualy coaxed and quickly demonstrated my severe lack of rhythm. The shoulder shaking / jerking that Eldana tried to get me to resulted in me doing something akin to the funky chicken.
It was great fun and a fabulous end to my month. Arriving at Bole airport at 11.30pm felt rather surreal after an evening of eating, drinking and dancing...but I had plenty of time to begin reflecting since Ethiopian Airlines system was down and everything was being processed manually.
i haven't even begun processing my photographs, let alone all that i learned in my four weeks in Ethiopia. It, of course, flew by, but judging by the weight of my case at the airport, I certainly took a good few things away with me. I'm already looking forward to my next trip, to seeing all my new Ethiopian friends again and to a prolonged research trip, where i will be much savvier about how one negotiates Ethiopian bureaucracy.
Until next time, stay classy Addis Ababa!
When an 87 year old man suggests he come back to America with you because he 'wants one more child...an American!' the best response is probably to laugh along. Well, that's what I did this week when Tesfahunegn's very old relative from Tigray gave me a wink and uttered something that amounted to this in Tigrayan. Of course I didn't know what he actually said - Tesfaye just bore an embarassed grin and Eldana (my host sister) translated, and probably censored, the old man's proposal.
That was on Monday night and I was immensely sleepy after my weekend up north in Lalibela. For the record, the flight up there was just fine (despite my Italian friend Vivianna exclaiming 'its a bicycle!" when we first saw our prop plane)...the return journey was considerably less fine! Taking off and landing in very hot weather is always risky because the rising hot air causing some turbulence...and, yup, that was what we experienced. I chewed my lip and gripped the arm rest as cold sweat seeped out of my hands - Michele uttered reassuring words as I cursed my interest in C13th rock churches. In compensation, the landscape was pretty sublime (photos to come!)
Anyway, flights aside the weekend was wonderful and Lalibela was as amazing as I expected. We stayed in the Tukul Village Hotel (highly recommended - apparently Bill Clinton stayed here once). Its a collection of Tukul-style buildings (round structures with thatched roofs), the upper rooms of which have balconies that look out over the town and valley. On our first day, after a probably unwise trip to the local market where we were jostled, haggled, pushed and pulled, we bought out entry tickets to the complex of 11 churches all of which are believed to have been cut from rock in the C13th (although historians do debate this). By cut from rock, I mean literally carved out of the rock...and not just simple structures, either. Bet Medhane Alem is the largest and is literally the size of a cathedral, complete with columns, window frames and a pitched roof. Bet Maryam is a monolithic chapel dedicated to Mary and filled with the most wonderful frescoes. Bet Giorgis (House of George) is the most dramatic, cut in the shape of a cross and sitting in a pit on a plateau of rock. These are a just a few of the churches, all of which need to be seen to be believed (photos to come VERY VERY shortly!)
Having bought our ticket we did some initial exploring of the complex, with the churches connected by a series of tunnels and walkways...but it was so hot that we decided to leave most of the exploring until the following day when we had booked a guide to explain more about the history etc. For dinner that night Viviana, Michele and I went, with our new friend Lara (who we met at lunch) to the Ben Abeba restaurant, which might be the most architecturally incredible 'restaurant' I have ever eaten in. Perched high on a rock overlooking the valley below Lalibela, Ben Abeba is a designed like a flower rising up from the rock. It is all al fresco, with tables on little balconies that jut out (I know, you need photos...) Arriving before sunset, we secured a prime, panoramic spot at the top and settled in with bottles of St. George beer and some (undrinkable) Ethiopian wine. We passed several hours, drinking, eating and experiencing the most incredible sunset. Then the stars came out and the waiter brough us gabis (traditional white blankets) to keep warm. It felt truly luxurious.
On Sunday, Lara and I got up early and decided to see if we could attend some of the morning services. Everyone was dressed in white, as is custom in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. We wrapped our scarves over our heads and tip-toed around. In a couple of churches met the priest, who showed us some of the liturgical objects such as processional crosses...and then one of the priests tried to exhort some birr out of us (there's nothing like being ripped off by a priest!) Later our official guide took us through all of the churches, explaining both the the mythology of the place (with some church alleged to be cut with the help of angels) and the major academic debates about the site. Since I've actually given a lecture about the churches at Lalibela, it was just mind blowing to walk around them. The only dodgy moment was when our guide took us into a small, very dark tunnel that is supposed to simulate hell...frankly it did a very good job.
So our Lalibela trip ended with some souvenir shopping and more delicious food (for the record: spicy 'gomen tibs' which is spinach and kale sauteed in special Ethiopian butter and garlic, served with injera)....and, after the ropey flight, we landed in Addis and found ourselves back in the bustle and dust and smog.
And, as I feared, my final week has been a whirlwind of activities. I met with the cultural expert at the US Embassy on Wednesday and he set me up with three amazing meetings with the Director of the National Museum, a representative at the Ministry of Culture and the artist Eshetu Tiruneh (whose painting, 'Victims of the Famine' I mentionned earlier.) The first two meetings just enabled me to determine what archival material was available to researchers and how, in the future, I would access it. The final meeting, with Eshetu, was amazing. I went to his school, The Enlightenment Art Academy, and what started as a brief discussion of his work turned into an hour-long conversation about his depiction of the 1974 famine, his time in the Soviet Union, his understanding of Marxism and his work in Ethiopia. There was so much more to discuss, but we both had other appointments so we curtailed the conversation and agreed that on my future trip to Ethiopia we would spend considerable time looking at his work and talking further.
The other relative victory of the week was that I saw the Dimbleby film at Ethiopian TV. I managed to get access to the archives and the archivist kindly produced it. However, what he showed me was only the original film, not the edited one I so desperately want to see. The latter, he told me, was only on 60 mm film and the apparatus for viewing it was broken. So, ho hum, another project for a future trip. To compensate I found a few good things at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Library, including brochure for exhibitions extolling the 'virtues' of socialist Ethiopia.
So I have just over 24 hours before I leave. I've closed my research notebook and only have one Amharic class left to do. I am wondering what Deju will have me doing today... Yesterday he arranged for me to work a shift in a little booth by our school run by two lovely young guys called Abdul-Mujid and Mohammed. I actually had to stand behind the counter and serve customers, who reactions ranged from laughter to serious consternation when they heard a ferenji (me) utter 'min litazez?' (what can I get you?) It was terrifying, but fun...and Deju took photos so you can see me working the sale of phone cards, cigarettes and chewing gum shortly.
Well, I should go and see Deju one final time. Tomorrow is my last day and I fly out at midnight. My host mother has invited me to join her at this Ethiopian spa tomorrow morning, which I think means I'll have to sit naked with a bunch of Ethiopian ladies in a sauna. But I could be wrong. Obviously, will let you all know how that goes.... I'll be sure to type up my final post when I get back to the UK on Sunday. I'm flying in for Mother's Day, which is really nice since I haven't seen my Mum for 5 months.
Last weekend I visited the Red Terror Martyrs Museum. This is a new memorial space, opened in 2010 to commemorate those who lost their lives during the period known as the Red Terror that followed the Ethiopian Revolution in 1974. An extremely dark chapter in Ethiopia's history, the 'Red Terror' was the bloody initiative of the country's then dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam as a means of weeding out those 'counter revolutionaries' who were attacking the military regime that had assumed power (and corrupted the aspirations of student revolutionaries, etc.) Theatrically smashing vials of pigs blood in Meskel Square (then Revolution Square), Mengistu announced that a 'Red Terror' would defeat the 'White Terror' of the dissenters. Many, many people lost their lives - young, old, male and female. I was shown around the museum, the collection of which ranges from examples of publications to torture materials, by a man whose name I now, appallingly, forget. He told me he had served 8 years in prison for his acts of dissent; the museum includes a display of photographs, in which he is shown participating in protests with other students. As he told me, he is lucky to have lived.
It was in the first room that I spotted a still photo from the 1973 documentary by Jonathon Dimbleby originally entitled 'The Unknown Famine' and made for Thames Television to expose the ravaging famine in rural Ethiopia on the eve of the revolution. When I asked my guide about it, he told me that he loved Jonathon Dimbleby, that he was a hero. This is not the first time I have heard this whilst I've been in Ethiopia. Several older people at the school have said as much - the name 'Jonathon Dimbleby' still brings smiles to peoples' faces. Indeed, he remains a hero. The reason is because his documentary was brought back to Ethiopia in 1974 and shown on screens throughout Addis on the night before Emperor Haile Selassie deposed. For many Addis Abebans it was their first exposure to what was happening outside of the city - and Jonathon Dimbleby is celebrated as the man who opened Ethiopians' eyes to the plight of their countrymen. What is more remarkable is that most Ethiopians do not seem to know that the version of the famine film that was shown in Ethiopia in 1974 was a re-edited version, and one retitled 'The Hidden Hunger.' If Dimbleby's original film was designed to be a humanitarian consciousness-raising film that did not want to point blame directly at Emperor Haile Selassie, 'The Hidden Hunger' deliberating accused the Imperial regime of neglect; Dimbleby's film was interspersed with shots of the Emperor feasting and feeding his lions. So Dimbleby is celebrated not just as the man who exposed the famine, but also as the man who took the decisive stance against Haile Selassie's excesses.
One day last August my mother and I drove down to Devon and I interviewed Jonathon about this film, his perception of its legacy and his opinion of how it had been used in the Ethiopian Revolution. Over bowls of delicious soup he told me all about how the film had been made and how he had found himself as a slightly reluctant hero of the revolution. Today, on a hot, dusty day in Addis, I walked all the way down Churchill Avenue, a massive street with a row of trees down the middle which, Jonathon half-joked last year, the Derg (the post-rev ruling committee) had wanted to re-name 'Dimbleby Street.' Having met so many people who tell me how much they still love him, its not hard to imagine that anecdote to be true.
I am hoping very much that I will get to see 'The Hidden Hunger' (the re-edited version) before I leave Addis in 8 days time. Twice this week I have visited Ethiopian Television, only to be told that the person who has to give me permission to see it isn't available. I have another appointment for next Tuesday, so fingers crossed it will work out. Of course, it is thanks to Deju that I even got a chance to approach ETV. His dear friend Ermias has been responsible for taking me there and making the appropriate introductions in Amharic (I'm certainly not that good yet!) Ermias is a wonderful guy who speaks both English and French and really loves the latter! He hosts a twice weekly French radio show that addresses women's issues, but aspires to be an economics journalist. He promises we will have lunch at the Alliance Francais (the French cultural institute) next week...but my schedule for the final week is starting to look a little crazy with last minute meetings, research etc.
So the rest of my week has been at times frustrating as various meetings fell through, or people I was supposed to meet were unavailable. I'm acutely aware that one month is far too short a time to achieve anything very much. That said, I did meet two great people this week: Bekele Mekonnen and Konjit Seyoum. Bekele is the head of the School of Fine Arts and an extremely friendly man! We have been in email contact since my Courtauld days, but this was our first meeting. Over macchiatos (of course) he told me about the school, the influence of Russian cultural specialists and his own time as a student in the USSR. He was encouraging of my research and I'm looking forward to working further with him. The same could be said for Konjit, perhaps the most prominent gallerist in Addis (owner of the Asni Gallery) and an occasional historian / writer on art and the Ethiopian Revolution. She gave me some great ideas and a lot of encouragement, and affirmed my suspicions that many people wish to dismiss the period of the revolution as a stagnant, propaganda-riddled period of which little of substance can be said. Contrary to the latter, she reeled of a range of resources, from artists to interview, to archives she personally has. I hope, very much, that I will be able to develop my work in cooperation with her.
Besides missed appointments, inexcusable numbers of macchiatos and confessions of love for Jonathon Dimbleby, the week has been filled with language learning and a little teaching. On Tuesday I attended Deju's intermediate English class and was interviewed for 45 minutes in Amharic (eek) before engaging the students in various practice English scenarios. As soon as I mentionned my brother supported Liverpool, every guy in the class wanted to come up and tell what team they supported and why they were better than Liverpool...apart from one guy who came and uttered 'You'll Never Walk Alone'! One girl came up and wanted to talk to me about how gorgeous Thierry Henry was...naturally, I concurred! It was all in the name of helping them practice their English.
The final notable event of the week was the 'Ladies' Day' I had with Christine, the 61 year old teacher who I mentionned previously has fallen in love with an Ethiopian. Well, our day consisted of two hours of gossiping about said Ethiopian in Tomocka, the best coffee house in Addis, followed by lunch at the Green Valley Hotel with Michele (an Australian volunteer with whom I'm off to Lalibela this weekend) ..and finally a spot of jewelry shopping followed by more coffee. It was so nice to have a day not thinking about Marxist propaganda and how little research I'm doing! Plus, I hooked Christine up with the services of my favorite computer programmer in the world - Goodwin is going to help build the website for her education NGO.
Well, I should go. I'm meeting Michele for dinner and then we're flying up north tomorrow. I'm ridiculously excited about seeing Lalibela...although slightly nervous that Ethiopian Airlines won't provide my required medicinal G&T at 7am...so it could be a white-knuckle flight over the Ethiopian Highlands.
Apparently my Grandma reads my blog so I thought I'd start my third post by teaching her a few phrases in Amharic. Grandma, you can practice them in the next two weeks and then we can talk together when I'm home, ok? Or as the Ethiopians would say, 'ushi'?
Here you go (I've written as phonetically as possible):
- a very polite 'hello,' it means 'give you grace' and implies, 'may god give you grace on my behalf'
- means 'How are you? Are you well? (the 'sh' on the end means the address is to a female)
- the response would be 'dun-nanayn' (I am well)
Simay Grandma Lily yi-balal.
- literally 'my name is called Grandma Lily'
And to end our epic conversation, you can wish me a good day by saying 'Melkam ken.'
So Grandma, there's your homework for the next two weeks!
I have never been a very good linguist. Some of you may recall my dictionary throwing antics in A-Level French about 11 years ago....poor Mrs. Wateridge. Well, it seems that Amharic is even harder...and I am no more of a natural. This week Deju taught me a range of things from telling the time to small talk about the weather. I had a particularly bad day when he asked me to speak to his leadership students and I failed to answer their most basic questions about where I am from, what I am studying etc. I went home feeling very stupid. Of course, he refused to listen to my protestations that I would never be able to handle this language and the following day started teaching me a little differently (he's amazingly responsive to the things I struggle with).
On Thursday Deju took me out on a 'field trip' to a local hardware store where the staff were obviously familiar with him bringing hapless students. He asked me to introduce myself to them all and then we had to go around the shop whilst I pointed at inanimate objects and said (in Amharic), 'it is a bed', 'it is a lamp', 'it is a table,' etc. When I didn't know how to say something I had to say 'this, what is it?' which felt particularly silly when I was clearly pointing at a wardrobe. Anyway, it was surprisingly fun and a much needed confidence boost...
This week I have managed for the first time to have a few conversations with some random people - a guy in a cafe who thought I was German, a rasta who wanted to take me to the Rastafarian town of Shashamane and a mother on the bus whose child wanted to touch my hair. Oh, and there was the guy on the street from whom I bought a haul of texts from the communist era - including little red books of writings by Marx and Lenin in Amharic, a history of the Soviet Komsomol, the application of Marxist theory in Ethiopia (in Amharic), a student journal and a brilliant 1977 text for African children published by a Soviet agency called 'My First Time in Moscow' which tells the story of Dudu (generic African child) who wins a competition and gets to visit his beloved 'Soviet Union.'
So besides trying to speak more Amharic, I've also been tracking down some bits and pieces for my research (more on this later). Suffice to say, I've realized that Ethiopian bureaucracy is like bureaucracy everywhere and if you want to get access to libraries, resources, collections etc...its not what you know, its who you know. Fortunately Deju has been a great resource and I met with a professor at Addis Ababa University who, although a little sceptical at first, warmed to my project by the end of our conversation. Next week I will (hopefully) be speaking with the cultural representatives at the US Embassy, meeting a prominent gallerist, visiting Ethiopian TV and browsing the collections at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Library. Whether or not any of this will yield anything I can put in a proposal, I have yet to see.
Beyond work, life in Addis has been quite fun with a couple of dinners out with friends (and the discovery of the delicious and very cheap 'beyanatu' - injera with a range of veggie dishes, all for about $1). I have consumed far too many macchiatos. Indeed if the coffee at home (in the coffee ceremonies) is dark and intense, every cafe in town makes lighter espressos and creamy macchiatos to perfection. And all for about 35c (20p). My favorite, without doubt, is that offered at the Oslo Cafe in Piassa where the waiter doesn't even wait for my order any more.
On Thursday evening my host mother, Atsede, made up a facemask for us to apply. It consisted of more ingredients that I can remember, but definitely included honey, avocado and herbs. We sat in the living room, be-masked, watching Ethiopian TV and engulfed in the smoke from the incense as Leticia, the maid, made us fresh roasted coffee. Best spa treatment in town!
On Friday it was a national holiday to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Adwa (the defeat of the Italians in 1897). I went with Atsede to the school, Lem Lem, that she founded several years ago on the land that her father left her in the Ferencai district of the city. She and Tesfahunegn have put all of thior disposable income into this venture - their modest lifestyle a testament to their priorities. Atsede's vision was to provide cheap or free education to the children of a district that sorely lacked educational facilities. Now she has around 800 children in the main school, and more in the kindergarten. Many of them attend for free, or with foreign sponsorship (it costs just $150 a year to put one of the students through school... this is something I will be promoting further, since at just over $10 a month I don't see why we all shouldn't think about supporting one of these kids).
Atsede is immensely proud of the discipline she has instilled in these students, many of whom will go on to university when they once could have hoped to learn only to basically read and write. It is sometimes hard to pay teachers and Atsede welcomes volunteers who come and share some of the burden for teaching . The students learn all major subjects, from history to english to maths, science and art. On Friday it was carnival day, so the kids were all playing games and having fun, and there were judo and dance displays. I gave my camera to a very sweet boy called Robirya and he proceeded to take over a hundred photos of his friends, the school and the carnival day. I promised Atsede I would print out and send the photos to her once I get back home. For more info on Lem Lem: http:/
Anyway, I should probably cut this short...last night I went with some of the volunteers to the Garden Brau in Bole, a German-style microbrewery so this morning I'm a little twitchy for a macchiato. Today I'm going to book some flights up to Lalibela in the north for next weekend - time to get some 13th Century rock church action!
PS. I don't think I've yet mentioned that I share my house with a puppy and kitten! They called Oscar and Dino respectively and are the best of friends. Since I've had multiple warnings of the risk of rabies, I've had to settle with watching them from a distance....but as they regularly wrestle in the kitchen, this has proved entertaining enough! Photos to come, I promise (although uploading whilst in Ethiopia may be near impossible ...internet...is...so..slow...)
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