After a good night’s sleep, we woke up in Addis excited about hitting the touristy shopping district. We weren’t brave enough to venture into Merkato which is supposedly Africa’s largest open-air market and the place to get robbed, if it’s going to happen to you in Ethiopia. We had heard about another area where tourists are taken (Churchill Rd) so we asked our driver (a friend of Alex who had his own mini-bus that we rented for the day) to take us there.
I am not a big shopper by nature. Thrift stores are my idea of a fun shopping spree, but I was excited about finding some great treasures to take home. My enthusiasm was quickly crushed by beggars at every turn.It’s difficult not to feel selfish buying some petty souvenir when a desperate mother and child approach you and say, “Sister, baby hungry.” Our agency had warned us about this and their take was to try and not give in to the pleas, as it only perpetuates more begging and doesn’t really do anything to help solve the big issues. I agree with this to some extent, and I certainly agree that it’s not a solution to the underlying problem, but when you’re looking into the eyes of someone who has nothing, well, it’s hard not to bleed a little.
We felt better paying a couple of shoe shine boys to clean Aidan and Larry’s shoes (especially since Alex used to clean shoes as a teenager to earn money for his family), giving our leftover meals to someone begging, or even giving birr to someone with an obvious physical deformity/disability, but unfortunately the vast majority of people approached us just looked poor and pitiful.
I had read about a place in Addis that feeds the homeless, a place where you can purchase meal tickets very inexpensively and then hand out to beggars. When we finally found the building, we realized it was closed for the next two days, unfortunately.
We ate lunch at a cafe next door to the National Museum and decided it would be a good time to visit it, as we were excited about seeing the bones of “Lucy,” the 3.2 million year old skeleton discovered in Ethiopia in the ’70s. We were amazed at how short she must have been–just a little taller than Paige! The rest of the museum wasn’t terribly impressive. The artwork was interesting but I was hoping the Ethnological Museum would have better displays and better descriptions beside the exhibits.
We ended the day with quite a few purchases but we felt frazzled and worn and not even sure if we had bought the gifts we wanted for friends and family members. Larry was so exhausted that he could hardly think about dinner. I, on the other hand, am the emotional eater of the family and wanted nothing more than to drown the day’s anxiety in something fried 🙂 We ordered take out from the hotel affiliated with the guest house and called it an early night again.
The next morning, we decided to give the shopping a break and head to the Ethnological Museum. We asked the guest house to call us a cab and they called on a guy named Fekadu, who was someone they used quite often for Americans visiting. We couldn’t have loved him more! He spoke great English and we could instantly tell he was an extremely intelligent man. He had recently graduated from university in Awassa, studying some form of computer science, but there were no jobs available in Addis for his profession, hence his career as a taxi driver. His sister immigrated to the US over 21 years ago and he was in the final stages of immigrating as well with his wife and toddler son.
He toured the museum with us and he was great to have with us to explain some of the exhibits. This museum was far superior, in my opinion, to the National Museum. The exhibits were all thoughtfully presented with so much information posted next to them (and in English). Lou told me she likes museums more than zoos which was quite surprising coming from a 5-year-old child! She’s an interesting one, my sweet Lou. I made a mental note to take her to more museums in the states as she did seem to thoroughly enjoy talking about what she saw.
After the museum, we ate lunch and then started asking Fekadu about a few art galleries we had heard about. He started taking us to various places but we realized since it was Sunday, almost everything was closed. We eventually wound up at the famous Tamoca Coffee House and bought some more beans to bring home. Outside the store was a man who sold pottery and I had read about him from other WACAP families travel notes. He was quite the character! His price would lower to less than half if you started to walk off without purchasing anything and he told us in a very serious, heartfelt tone, “My mother, she makes the pieces. She is very busy.” I had to laugh when he didn’t have enough coffee cups out to meet my request for six and and he ran inside to a building, returning with a box of nicely packaged cups with “quantity 100” on the side! Regardless, his prices were great and we bought some of his “handmade” goods!
We finally ended up at an Italian restaurant that houses many Ethiopian artist’s work for sale. We took quite a while looking at the many, many paintings they had on the walls and decided we should visit some galleries tomorrow when they were open. There was one painting that really spoke to us though and the color scheme would go perfectly in our house. I had a feeling it was “the one” and that we’d probably return the following day to purchase it. We figured the odds were pretty good that it would still be there the next day.
As we were driving back to the guest house in the late afternoon, Fekadu asked us if we had attended a coffee ceremony. We told him we had not but were bummed about it. He asked us if we’d like to go and off we went! We sat in tiny building on the side of the road where a woman took green coffee beans and roasted them over an open fire until they were dark brown. We then figured she’d grind them with a mortar and pestle, as that’s the traditional way of doing things, but it cracked me up when she busted out an electric coffee grinder! She then took the grounds and poured them into a pot of boiling water (again, over an open, smoldering fire). After it brewed we all enjoyed an excellent cup of coffee (including Buddy who was then bouncing off the walls). Coffee brewed this way is cloudier than what we’re used to but there’s a depth to it that would be impossible to replicate any other way. It wasn’t as bitter as black coffee can sometimes be and we all thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Fekadu told us his mother makes coffee in this traditional manner three times a day!
Fekadu then asked us if we’d like to try one of the traditional Ethiopian restaurants that has dancing and music in the evenings (Yod Abysinnia). How could we resist?! We insisted that we buy his dinner if he would dine with us. I loved getting to know him better and learning more about his family. We showed him Jones’ picture on L’s phone and he kissed it and smiled. He had such a gentle, kind nature and I know we’ll call on him again when we’re back in Addis. He ordered our food for us and we were so glad we defaulted to his choices. Our server brought out the most incredible array of foods that I had ever seen and tons of injera! We were all in Heaven! It was truly the best Ethiopian food I think I’ll ever have in my life! Now, I have to admit, I was a skeptic about Ethiopian food for quite awhile. It looked so unappetizing and gloppy. I can now say it is truly one of my favorite cuisines and I absolutely crave it! Cooking it properly at home and mastering injera has become a mission now that we’re back in the states!
The live music started followed by the dancers who would change costumes after each dance to represent a different style and region of Ethiopian dancing. Buddy was sooooo nervous they were going to ask us to dance with them (they never did).
Eventually the kids started getting restless and asking when we could leave. As much as L and I would have loved to have watched the entire show, we knew not to push it after a long day so we headed out and fell into bed with happy tummies and warm hearts.