Back in the flatlands…

I got home yesterday afternoon. Lientje was missing and in the middle of the night last I saw her on the roof of the shed. She finally came around this morning and she has a wound on her cheek under her eye. She seems rather rattled so I think something must have taken her by surprise while I was gone. She looked like she had been doing some rough living. Moortje has obviously been busy because the tablecloth on the dining room table is looking rather the worse for wear. That gives me an excuse to get a new one, I just have to take the right measurements because you can buy them from a cutting off a roll at the Albert Cuyp market. Right now, the dogs are securely next to me. Henry under his fleece blanket and George pinning him down from outside the blanket. They had a bath this afternoon after our walk through the park. They don’t seem to make the connection yet between roll in something questionable and you get a bath when you get home!

Where to begin? My trip was just amazing. I am so glad that I went, that I didn’t get lost in the idea of how scary it might be. Addis Ababa is a city of contrasts. On one hand, you see eight story buildings going up and the scaffolding is not metal but rather made from tree trunks. It looks like it couldn’t possibly be substantial enough to hold people and equipment and it goes all the way up the buildings. On the same block are buildings that have been imploded or torn down and people have built tiny shelters in the rubble. And they live there. If you want to buy clothing or other goods, you walk down the streets and some of the more established storekeepers have a small lean-to set up like a store, with mannequins etc. But no doors and only three walls. Or you walk further and more junior storekeepers have a tarp or cloth laid out with their goods for sale. If you want shoes, you go to the ones who are selling shoes. Each one seems to specialize. And in between are countless shoeshine stands and women roasting ears of corn over a brazier or selling lemons or other single items.

In Ethiopia, coffee is served with popcorn. This is a surprisingly good combination. On the ground floor of the building I was working at, a lady had set up a small coffee salon in the entryway. She had a charcoal brazier and she would spend the day making coffee and popcorn. You tell her how many coffees you would like and then you take a seat on the very low plastic chairs (which I was worried I would break but they are surprisingly sturdy). She then begins the preparation work. Coffee beans are hand roasted over the charcoal, then ground in what looks like a very deep mortar and pestle. Then the ground coffee is put into a big pitcher style pot and the water is slowly added. They heat it over the charcoal and then turn it various ways. The pot is designed to be balanced even at an angle. And when it is perfect, they pour it into tiny cups and offer it to you with sugar. People are accustomed to this way rather than ordering at drive through. You can also get tea or a combination of coffee and tea called sprice. I had the sprice more than once, it is delicious.

I was invited to Eleni’s house for the coffee ceremony on New Year’s. There we had the full ritual, three pourings. I though I was just going for coffee but she cooked lunch for us and her sister. She made a vegetarian meal for me. I was so honoured. There so much work and effort that goes into the daily tasks of living in Ethiopia. Her house does not have running water so for everything that requires water, they get it from the well. And they use a lot of water.  You wash your hands in a ritual. The coffee cups and spoons must be washed between each serving of the ceremony. While at her house, we talked a lot about travel and family, loving your country, birth order (she is also the oldest) and how the education system works.  She has two university degrees.  When you are in high school , you are given a series of tests. From the results, a board decides what university program you will go into. There is no choice. Her first one was agriculture. So she has a major in that and worked in that field for a number of years. But her real passion was computer programming and software engineering. So her father found a way for her to go to the university a second time. And she majored in what she wanted. She is working on getting her driver’s license so she can go to visit her family more often since they live 275 kilometers away. I so enjoyed talking with her.

Friday night I was taken out to dinner to a restaurant that also serves as a cultural center. In other words, they have live music from many of the different Ethiopian tribes and dancers. It was so colorful and enjoyable! And since many people fast in Ethiopia on Wednesdays and Fridays, I only had to ask for the fasting menu, which is completely vegan! I couldn’t choose which was my favorite.

My flight back left at 425AM so that meant heading to the airport at 2AM. Transiting back through Nairobi, we had to go through an Ebola check at the terminal. I passed.

I will write more tomorrow. Right now I have to go and catch up on work from last week. Working on a Sunday evening, American style!

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