Monday, July 15, 2013

"What the #^@% are you going to do in Ethiopia?"

Who doesn't love the smell of roasting coffee? When you order coffee in Ethiopia, the green beans are roasted in front of you before being hand-ground and prepared. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and their coffee remains the best in the world. When you smell roasting coffee, butchered meat and grilled mutton you know you're in the country's capital: Addis Ababa.

We arrived exhausted after a long layover in Dubai on our way from Kathmandu. Luckily enough, an Ethiopian friend of ours in San Diego had hooked us up with a home-stay in the capital so when we stepped out of the airport one of the family members was there to pick us up. The weather was cool and rainy. Contrary to popular perception, Ethiopia is a wet mountainous country. The climate is somewhat similar to Northern California or Oregon (the drought you may have read about in the news was mostly restricted to the remote region immediately adjacent to Somalia).

Roaring like an Abyssinian lion!
We soon discovered that we had arrived the day before Ethiopian Easter. Ethiopia has been a Coptic Christian country for millennia and their calendar is different from the Western one (Easter is in May rather than April). Not only that, their time is different as well. The clock starts at 6AM Western time so 10AM Western time is 4AM Ethiopian time. This was a never-ending hurdle for us because sometimes it was hard to know which time people were quoting us!

After unpacking in the family home we were staying in we explored a local open market and met three wonderful Ethiopians who became some of our dearest friends on the trip. The next morning at our home-stay mother served us a literal Easter feast. Five courses of fantastic local food washed down with a dark home brewed beer called tela. The feast continued for the rest of the day at the home of our newfound friends.

Spreece, taking Jamba Juice to the next level
We spent almost a week exploring the capital. The main university has a gorgeous campus and a museum that illustrates much of Ethiopia's roller coaster political history. Ethiopia sports the most beautiful women on Earth and the men aren't bad looking either, it made for great people watching. In addition to the local staple, injerawe discovered a number of culinary gems including spreece, a multi-fruit smoothie where each fruit juice gets it's own separate layer in the glass (delicious!). The city is in a state of constant construction. Ethiopia has the fastest growing economy in sub-Saharan Africa and Chinese contractors are everywhere building infrastructure (usually paid for by the Ethiopian government with aid money from the European Union, weird). We zipped around on jam-packed local minibuses and randomly discovered the mind-blowing Italian restaurant Castelli's which is apparently a favorite of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (best Italian food outside of Italy).  

Apparently we weren't the only ones to make friends here
The people of Ethiopia made the strongest impression on us of any country we've visited. On the one hand there are touts that are constantly pursuing you for money. We can't count the number of people who were trying to constantly sell us stuff or cheat us with a ridiculous 'foreigner' price. This was truly exhausting to deal with and jaded us very quickly. On the other hand Ethiopians were the most authentically open, generous and welcoming people we've encountered anywhere. Not only would they invite us into their homes and treat us to every luxury with enthusiasm, they were really genuine. We've visited countries with friendly people before. This was different. Ethiopians actually wanted to become you friends, not just be friendly. In so many other countries there's a social barrier that just can't be crossed. In Ethiopia, we wound up with friends for life.

Sunset rush hour

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