Adventure in ET – Part 5

If you’re just joining the journey, catch-up here:
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Monday, September 1, 2008 – Awassa to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I know in Mexico they call it Montezuma’s revenge. I don’t know who to blame while in Africa, but somebody (or something) took some serious revenge on me last night. Part of last night was spent fumbling around in the dark for small green pills with an unpronounceable name. By process of elimination (no pun intended) I think I found the desired medicinal binding agent. Down the hatch it went. I feel better this morning. We’ll see how breakfast goes…

This last morning in Awassa we were taken to some shops that would be able to sell us traditional dress. Most of us wanted to at least get our children dress from their birth country. In the midst of the shopping, our guide Alemu got into a heated discussion with one of the vendors. Apparently Alemu felt this vendor should be a little more flexible with his pricing. The vendor held firm. Can’t blame him. It’s easy to be firm when you have Americans standing in your shop that want your stuff, will likely never be back, and are standing with money in their hands. I don’t think we were helping Alemu’s cause.

Katrina and I have never been good shoppers. I’m too cheap and she’s indecisive. We wandered from store to store not buying anything. Meanwhile, the rest of our group was negotiating deals and hauling bags of goodies back to the van. We kept our cool in the tension and did end up getting some nice (and affordable) traditional gowns for the girls, as well as for us and our boys.

We had lunch at the same restaurant as the previous day (the Lewi). Afterward, Alemu said we were going to a place to buy coffee beans. We were excited because we wanted to share with our friends back home the excellent coffee we had been enjoying.

Our driver, Sami, took us to the south side of Awassa. As we spotted a market similar to those in Addis, Sami pulled off the road next to an alley. Alemu shooed us out and led us down the alleyway to a busy intersection. We crossed the road and went directly into the crowded, muddy, smelly marketplace. 

In the market, we saw people carrying dead and alive chickens, huge buckets of eggs, other small livestock and various plastic and indigenous crafts. Eventually, we came upon four women selling coffee. Here, I need to pause. You see, each of us in the group had a vision of buying coffee that looked much different than what we were about to experience. Even after four days in this 3rd world country, we still anticipated buying coffee that had been roasted to various levels of darkness, packaged in a breathable foil pack, and given a creative name to indicate its flavor or region of origin. Seems we had been brainwashed by Mother Starbucks. The women selling coffee in the market were sitting under umbrellas in front of 50 pound burlap bags that were also shaded by large umbrellas. These bags did contain coffee beans – but they were green (unroasted) beans. We all stood motionless for a bit. I cast a nonchalant sideway glance hoping to spot a bag of brown, roasted beans. Nothing.

Alemu pressed the buying by asking a lady in our group how many kilos she wanted. She responded with savvy and asked the questions we were all pondering. Then she bought some of the green beans. The rest of us did likewise. Katrina offered comfort to the group by stating I know someone at work who buys unroasted beans and that a simple hot air popcorn popper will roast them just fine. I joined the attempt at consolation by suggesting roasting techniques I observed two days before at the coffee ceremony. Others said we could just “google” it. In the end, we were able to justify our purchases and comfort ourselves in the ability of the internet to answer all of life’s tough questions. Katrina and I bought 3 kg of raw beans for $7.50 US. A steal, roasted or not.

After the coffee debacle, we headed back to Addis Ababa. We all dreaded the 250 kM trip. The van seats had padding only slightly softer than the bed in Awassa.

All in all, the trip went smoothly. The only excitement was when Sami nearly hit two dogs and a donkey. Dodging animals that lazily wander across the road makes travel in Ethiopia frustrating. The roads are always busy and littered with people, carts, taxis, large trucks and animals. Horn-honking is a language as well as genre of music in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, as music it is cacophonous, and as a language rarely interpreted correctly. Still, honking horns are an integral part of the sensory experience of Ethiopian life.

As we entered the outskirts of Addis, heavy smog enveloped us. It stung my eyes and others complained of feeling dirty. We stopped for dinner at the Green View restaurant, which had excellent pizza. 

The trip to Awassa was an amazing experience. Despite the arduous journey, it was well worth it – pants bugs and all.

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