Tales from Africa’s capital, Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa city view

Addis Ababa: Oct 26, 2015 – If you ever travel to Ethiopia, ask to be served ‘injera’ which is some pancake-style bread made from a grass grain (teff); but when it’s served, don’t jump in fright because it will appear like a large chapatti spread out on a wide tray-so large you might think it’s meant for you and the lady next table only to be told it’s yours and yours alone.

The injera, with its flat surface is often used either as a ‘plate’ for stews, or torn off in chunks and dipped in dishes and sauces-the kind of hotness you get after applying akabanga; now, teff is native to Ethiopia and there are three varieties – white, brown and red.

Most of the ready to eat Injera I have seen here is brown in colour and served cold only made warm by the source, which is also often hot, as in Chilly with the Akabanga effect.

With over 80 different ethnicities, Injera unites Ethiopians as it is eaten by everyone and they love it, including foreigners like my brother, a regional consultant who is often in Addis; he told me when we met over lunch yesterday that injera is his favorite food in Ethiopia.

Africa is quite diverse. Last May when I was in Abidjan for the AfDB annual meetings, I encountered Acheke, a popular West African meal most popular in Ivory Coast and Senegal. After trying it once, I steered clear of it in favor of rice and other more familiar delicacies.

When people come to Rwanda, they often marvel at the mighty Ikivuguto and Ubugari, which micro-soft word spell-checker likes to spell as Bulgaria.

Ethiopia is rugged, hilly and cold at night. My hosts drove me to the summit of the hill where Ethiopian athletes go to train; they wake up every morning, run all the way to the summit of the hill and return walking, later in the afternoon.

Given my experience in the country of a 1000 hills, Ethiopia’s hilly terrain didn’t really strike me as new; the surprise, on second thought, was how Rwanda, has failed to produce successful runners and leaving this a monopoly of Kenyans and Ethiopians.

In other news, there are no motorbikes in Addis Ababa-only special taxis/cabs. I noticed the same thing in Abidjan, no bikes, just cabs, although extremely old.

The only bike I saw in Addis was on Friday; its rider had panicked along a high way and swerved into a pick-up truck sending him crushing on the asphalt and missed, narrowly, being run over by oncoming cars.

Let’s face it, motorcycles are dangerous, extremely dangerous, yet people who often use them will concede that they are also somewhat, a necessary evil; fast and flexible, but until it crashes with you as the passenger on it.

Getting “motos” off Kigali streets may never happen in the near future although it’s possible; for starters, the sheer numbers of youths employed by the taxi-moto industry is huge and without an attractive alternative such a move to remove them would boomerang.

But it’s possible, say through a deal with a Chinese or Japanese assembly plant to design a special car to be naturalized for use as cabs in Kigali.

Then government would facilitate former motor owner to acquire them and with their fairs regulated by RURA, to ensure users can comfortably afford them, it would be a relief.

But talking about cars, Addis is no home for the latest models of powerful and fanciful cars, people here love their cars old and that’s the way it is…Vintage.

The Lada, a marque manufactured by Russian car maker AvtoVAZ, is the King of Addis streets; these are the cars favored by the commercial cab drivers here with hard bodies normally painted in shiny blue colours.

I have taken countless pictures of these little classy and tough bodied autos and I have also driven around in one as I investigated the city’s night life; I used one last night and the young man driving it had pimped it with a video player, something you couldn’t imagine it had, seen from the outside.

Most of them look old and abandoned until you see a guy entering one and igniting with a single turn of the key before sputtering off down the street with a beautiful young Ethiopian lady seated at the back, as the passenger.

Now, did you know that Ethiopia actually assembles cars? Oh yes! They do. I saw a gleaming yellow sedan, driven by one of the top Chinese officials working at the new train station, he told me the car was assembled in Ethiopia. I have been told that we shall visit one of the assembly plants this week.

One more tale, in Ethiopia, you don’t have to remove your shoes for the shoe-shiner to do his job; all you have to do is sit and the stretch out your legs for the guy to earn his living.

At first when I saw this, I though, uhuh, maybe the guy is in a rush but then I saw it again and again, I decided that it is one of the little things that distinguish Kigali from Addis; but both are great cities and I am loving my time here.


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