What a day! We had the great fortune of meeting up with Susan and Chris yesterday. These two ladies have 17 visits to Ethiopia between them and really know their way around Addis. This morning they picked us up and took us to a special holiday bazaar of Ethiopian artisans being held at the tropical gardens.
Along the way we passed the enormous meat processing plant where vultures sit on the rooftop and observe the small herds of sheep on their way to slaughter. We’d been wondering about the periodic cries of what sounded like prehistoric birds we can hear from our hotel room. Groups of 10-20 shabby looking sheep stood around on the sidewalk next to the highway (no gaurdrail), or inside the gates.
This was our first time outside the general area around our hotel and Layla house. Chris told us that the highway is only two years old… it’s surprisingly modern-looking considering that it’s surounded by what looks like shanty towns, tiny homes and shops behind corrugated metal walls. There are people walking everywhere, and every time our vehicle was stopped in traffic, beggars came to the windows and spoke to us quietly in Amharic, with a hand outstretched, beseeching us to give them a few Birr. With us in the van were two Ethiopians, Ermias, the famous taxi driver who guides many AAI parents around the city, and Sarah, a friend of Susan’s. Sarah told me they never give anything, because if the person can walk, they can work. There are many jobs and opportunities in her opinion, and they don’t like to encourage beggars. Still, it is difficult, as many of them are gaunt women with hungry babies. By contrast, the Ethiopians seem quite sympathetic to the many disabled or elderly homeless who sit along the sidewalks. We saw a car pull over last night on the highway and call out ‘Mama!’ to an old woman in a dirty white shawl sitting on the sidewalk. A passenger got out and gave her a package of food.
We arrived at the bazaar, and walked onto a fresh green lawn with white tents set up, tables of vendors and beautiful crafts. We felt like we’d wandered into another world, only steps away from the dust, rubble and filth of the streets outside. “What is this place?” Charles asked, “and who are these people?”
Susan told us this was the expat community…a couple hundred people, mostly white, from Europe, Israel, the US, and elsewhere, shopping for Christmas. There was even Christmas music playing over a high quality sound system…it was surreal. Most of the artisans were Ethiopian, but one Egyptian woman had the most beautiful goatskin purses. A local high-end silk shop was selling scarves and tablecloths of high quality and beautiful design, and there were many ironworks, wood carvings, paintings, and Christmas ornaments.
After the Tropical Gardens, we went to the Hilton hotel. We were planning to go to the Chruchill area which is a collection of small street-side shops and some in our group needed to exchange some cash before we went. The Hilton has some of the best rates for currency conversion, and it’s a quick and painless process. As a side note, this past week we’ve learned about the hyper-inflation that Ethiopia is currently experiencing. As a result, the people are going through real-time challenges with perceived value of products and services and the fluxuating currency value. Visitors can bargain for items and get a good price, but the Birr is so devalued that it’s tough for sellers to make a profit.
The Hilton and the Sheraton are the two ‘nice’ hotels in Addis, where people stay who are not quite ready to deal with the water, sewer, and power issues frequently experienced in the rest of the city. We checked prices at both before we came, thinking it would be nice to have a backup plan if we couldn’t handle the King’s hotel. The Hilton was $400/night, and after seeing it, it’s far from worth it! The pools, however, which are fed by natural hotsprings, are quite a luxury. The Sheraton is nicer, and the rates we saw there were about $280/night. We learned yesterday that for $8.00 one can spend the day at the Hilton’s pools, so we may schedule an $8.00 spa day for ourselves before we come home.
Next we drove up to the Churchill area where shopkeepers were excited to see a bunch of white people exit the van. Chris has brought groups to these shops several times in the past couple of weeks, and she reminded them that these are her friends, and if they give good prices she’ll bring more friends to shop with them. From the sidewalk, we stepped down concrete stairs into tiny indoor spaces crammed with goods. Everything was pretty filthy, but the wood carvings, leather goods, linens, and silver were truly stunning. One shop had ornate Ethiopian Orthodox crosses in silver and nickel all over the walls. Chris told us that a certificate is required to take one of these out of the country, as they are sacred. The shop also had spoons, utensils and bowls carved from olive wood and ox horn. There were African headrests, used in the same way as those of Japanese Geisha, to sleep on in order to preserve intricated hairdos and beaded headdresses. It was hard to breathe from the smell of leather and wood stain, but Charles and I could have spent another hour in there combing through the inventory. We bought a few select pieces from this man, and were on our way.
After some shopping along Churchill, we had our driver take us to a lunch spot called Island Breezes near the old post office, recommended by our tour guides. Across the street was this small bicycle repair shop, looking to be doing a good bit of business, although we have hardly seen a bicycle anywhere on the streets.
There are really no addresses or even street names around Addis, so everything is located based on other landmarks. Chris had told us that there were a few places around Addis where it is safe to eat salad and other vegetables because they wash everything in filtered water. She had eaten here many times. Both Charles and I had a big fresh salad, and I could have cried it was so good! Salad withdrawal symptoms satiatied for another few days. They have a wood-fired oven and make delicious thin-crust pizzas, and offer other familiar western foods as well as traditional Ethiopian fare. It was an excellent lunch!
As we were waiting out front again for our driver, a wedding procession went by on the street. We saw three over the course of the day, and all looked very similar. The cars are decorated with ribbons and flowers across the hood, and it seems like they must rent or borrow white cars for the event. The lead SUV in this case, had the back open and several young men videotaping the procession. Chris said they always videotape the vehicle procession for weddings.
Next we visited the St. George fine art gallery with beautiful contemporary Ethiopian furniture, paintings, jewelry, and linens. Soon after it was time to say goodbye to the majority of our group, and we rode back to our hotel area with Chris in Ermias’s smaller car. She told us about strawberry juice at Kaldi’s coffee, near our hotel, so we treated her to one while we asked her a million more questions about Addis, AAI, and adoption. We are overwhelmed with how much we learned from her, and so grateful that she gave us so much of her precious time on the last day of her stay here. For those of you parents who may be visiting soon, order strawberry juice with water…Kaldi’s is another location where the washed fruit/veg are safe to consume, and a cold icy strawberry slushy is so refreshing after the dust and pollution of the streets. We’re so glad Chris shared this little secret!
By this time is was about 3:30, and after saying goodby to Chris and dropping off our treasures back at the hotel, we walked over to Layla to visit our kids. The children now know who we belong to, and as we peeked into the toddler area, this sweet little boy looked up at us and said something like “Melkamu-nahmae!” and pointed outside the door to the other area to show me where Melkam was. We walked over and Charles poked his head into the room where both Melkam and Alex were watching a video with the kindergarten groups. Alex’s face lit up and he ran over to give Charles one of those awesome neck-choking hugs that only small children do. He was so excited to see both of us! Melkam had hugs for us too, but he is evasive…always smiling, but racing away and hiding from us and peeking out to see if we are paying attention. We are, of course, and that is probably enough for right now. My gosh is he cute, but I’m beginning to worry that if we can’t solve some of the language barrier before bringing him home, I’ll have no way of keeping him from running out in the street. We’ve got to get that fence built pronto!
The weekends are a little more free-form at the orphanage, so we played on the swings with the kids, and wandered around with them a bit. Alex found a broken blue whiffle ball in the bushes and instigated a game, rolling it to hit a stick he had posted in the dirt. He was cheerful and animated and oh how we wish we could understand each other. But mostly it didn’t matter, he was just happy we were back. We played a game of catch, throwing the ball around a circle with him, and he loved it. After an hour or so, we said goodbye to the boys as the nannies were rounding up the children, and we went to the baby room to see Tarike. She is so alert and happy, and it was so fun to see her. We held and played with her, along with a few other babies, and we fed her rice cereal. She’s a good eater, but not panicky or voracious with food. She ate well, but didn’t quite finish it. Observing this with both her cereal and the day before with the bottle we fed her, she doesn’t seem to have food issues and we think she has probably never experienced any serious malnutrition. She seems to be of normal weight, and has good motor skills. She is content with us, but she really recognizes her nannies and smiles at them. At one point while Charles was holding her, the little girl with Downs Syndrome was sitting in a bumbo chair in front of her and started laughing and shreaking and waving her arms. Tarike watched her intently, and then started belly laughing at her. It was so funny!
This morning we’ll walk over to the International Evangelical church to worship at 11, and then not sure what we’ll do with the rest of the day, but it will include a visit with the kids. We have a new list of must-see’s from Chris, including a traditional Ethiopian restaurant for dinner and a dancing show, the silk factory, a coffee roaster, and an Indian restaurant that she says is better than any she’s eaten at in the US.
I’ll leave you with this photo of silk worms, which were in a box at the bazaar at the table for the silk and cotton shop. More to come!