Wednesday, May 16, 2012

From Addis to Nekemte, May 14th

My first real day in Ethiopia was spent driving. I woke up at 8 and met Daniel in the hotel lobby. We walked to the field office as he explained to me that I was going to leave for my field assignment immediately instead of spending a day or two in Addis sightseeing and preparing. At the office, I met Gemechis, the other office coordinator, who provided me with materials outlining the state of Ethiopian beekeeping and what areas were in need of improvement or more modern techniques.

From the office, we walked back to the hotel so that I could repack, check out, and meet Desalegn, my translator, Hileu, my driver, and Mahjeb, an accountant from ACDI/VOCA (the NGO handling my field assignments) who would accompany me to Nekemte, 300km west of Addis Ababa.

A small market on the road leading out of Addis Ababa.  Coca-Cola seems to be very popular here.

On our way out of Addis, we stopped at a grain market so that Desalegn (which means ‘Happy’) could pick up 50 kilograms of tef, the seed (not a grain!) used to make flour for injeera, to bring to his family. For the interested, tef is in the same family as spinach, but the people here have bred it over millennia to produce many seeds instead of leaves.

Mmm, spinach seeds.  Maybe I should mash them up and let them ferment!
Oh, and then I can pour it out flat and cook it.

Desalegn (in pink) buying tef to bring to his family near Nekemte.  It costs about $80 for 100kg.

Those 300km were a bit of a bear. The main road is currently under construction and there are many detours while the Ethiopian government and Chinese construction companies rebuild it. Because of those detours, the trip was about 8 hours of dust and jolts and heads bumped on the roof of the Toyota Hilux we were driving in.

The unpaved detours were often blocked by local herders who moved their livestock out of our way.

Real road and stares.

We stopped in the town of Ambo for lunch at a local bar and restaurant where we had injeera and freshly cooked and spiced derek tibs, fried meat served without sauce. It came with an Ethiopian Coke and some of the locally produced and bottled sparkling mineral water (“ambo wuha”) which was so bubbly that it almost flew out of the glass. Mixed together, the two were more than a sum of their parts and my driver told me that it aided in digestion. Don’t worry; the water is “bacteriologically potable”!

A drink Johnny Walker costs $78 (USD)!  Why?  Imported alcohol for commercial sale is taxed approximately 250%.

Good for digestion!  Hooray!  I wonder if I can get it in NYC?

Back on the road.

Along the way, many people smiled and waved. I waved back. The women smiled, blushed, and turned away when I smiled back. The children yelled “CHINA, CHINA!” I laughed as we passed them by. Desalegn explained that very few Americans come out this far, but there are many Chinese men working on the new road project. To the children, Chinese people are white and so am I, so I must be Chinese. With my eyes behind sunglasses and my straight hair, the confusion is understandable, but I joked with my companions about getting an American flag to wave out the side of the car. There is no slight intended; I was told that the Chinese workers are respectful and friendly as rule, particularly with children and that they are welcome here. Still, it’s pretty funny and I laughed pretty much every time it happens.

Most people use buses like these to get around Ethiopia.  This is a 3rd-Level (Class) bus, the oldest and least comfortable.

Much of the highland region where I am is volcanic, and there are some beautiful basalt formations.  This one reminded me of the Giant's Causeway in Ireland.

The baboons here are famously friendly and many locals will throw fruit to them.  They are not aggressive and almost always run away from people.

We made two more stops along the way. Once, we paused to stretch our legs and have a cup of shai, or tea, in a small village where the woman in the roadside tea stand carefully washed tiny china cups and poured out a sweet and spiced dark amber liquid completely unfamiliar to me. The tea itself is similar to ours, but the water used to make it is heavily flavoured prior to brewing. Later, we stopped by the roadside where, under a large tree, a family sat roasting maize over an open fire to sell. We called out for two cobs which were brought to our window by a blushing girl who stared at me unabashedly until we drove off.

The maize was tougher than what I have been accustomed to and not as sweet, but with the kernels roasted black and a little crunchy on the edges, it was delicious and a perfect snack.

Nearing the end of a long drive.

We arrived in Nekemte after dark to find out that there was no running water in town and that all the rooms in the hotel came with buckets of cold water for bathing and operating the toilet. It is a big town, and the water supply has not kept pace. It goes out often. Luckily, I brought a large supply of towelettes. I shared them with Desalegn before dinner, and then I went to bed.

The main square in Nekemte.

Featuring water in buckets.

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