These were the remarks of Dorothy Hanson, no stranger to Ethiopia, after we told her of our busy day in Addis. Let me explain.
After a nice breakfast at the Motero Hotel, down the street from the BSCO compound, we were with our faithful friend, Alemu. We piled into the van and headed out for a full day's shopping, acquiring things we would need that may not be available in the countryside. The market stalls which were obscured by night, now became quiet visible. It was then that I realized just how much we would have to rely on Alemu to haggle prices. We stopped shortly at the Hilton to exchange. Again we piled into the van, but this time headed off to rent a vehicle and driver from Hailu Ibsa. The price was already agreed upon; we just had to fill out the necessary forms and pay the fee.
A Side Note: Ethiopia still works off a carbon copy receipt system. When buy or sell anything a carbon copy receipt is produced and you must pay cash. This is true of the Amharic tutorial I purchased for 23ETB and is true for the renting of the LandRover (I won't state the amount, but it is safe to say that most of us in the U.S. just don't handle that amount of cash on a regular basis). It is disconcerting dealing with all this paper. I have to admit my arithmetic is weak. I should have practiced before I left. Adding multiple figures in your head and then making sure the correct change is returned, again, is just not something this swipe-the-card shopper is used to. Likewise, I am not used to dealing with 5 by 11 sized receipts in my pocket. In short, when you shop in Ethiopia, your pockets are stuffed with paper.
As we drove past market stall after market stall filled with experienced, hard nosed proprietors, I was shocked to find ourselves in the upstairs parking lot of a very modern market. We grabbed a cart and walked in as if it was Raley's (Well, okay, the market is not that big). We filled up three carts and racked up a $4,000 bill. Now, the bill sounds like a lot of money, but remember that the exchange rate is 10/1 and that we were buying enough dry goods for about a month for five people, plus any guests (and their will be guests). But that was not the last of our trip. We had to eat.
Alemu took us the "The Carnivore" for lunch. This grill boasts succulent kabobs, cold cokes, and all the smoke you can inhale. For some reason, the ventilation system was not working as it should (or maybe that is the normal state of things - I'm not sure). The entire restaurant and lobby were filled with acrid smoke. Nonetheless, the food was good and spicy. I had lamb, which proved to be a chewy experience. The rice, though, was most excellent and very aromatic. Yes, we used forks and should have split dishes, as soup and lots of bread were served with the meal. With full bellies we headed off again.
A short stop at a book seller to buy an Amharic Lesson Book for me (Yes, the locals have been impressed), brought an interesting find - a guide on preparation for the Ethiopian Secondary English Exam. 27 less Birr in my pocket and we were on our way.
We piled back into the van and were driven to a shopping area where a stationary and grocery were located side by side. Before we got out of the car we were approached by an umbrella seller, and as it was looking very ominous in sky, and umbrella sounded like a good idea. Alemu haggled with the man through the passenger side window where I was seated. He negotiated a price of 35ETB to which we declined. At the same time this was going on, an older gentleman was trying to sell jewelry to MaryJane. We finally made it into another modern store filled with neatly lined groceries. We thought we could knock out two birds with one stone by buying school supplies and the rest of our food. Unfortunately, we only knocked out one. The next one would be knocked out at the Mercato.
The Mercato looks like a Wild West scene. Hardened looking men chewing and spitting chat, muddy and rocky streets, heavy loads being carried by men and mule. As much as I found the Mercato an exhilarating place to shoot some film, it was a much better idea to leave the camera on my belt. Parking was difficult enough as none of the ground there is level. Parked, Alemu ordered most of the team to stay in the car. I think he did this with much trepidation, as he feared the team being begged off of incessantly. But, he had no choice as we had to acquire supplies there in bulk. The neat thing about the many of the markets in Addis is that they represent perfect competition; in other words, dozens of auto parts stores will be lumped together. This was the case for school supplies too. If we did not like the price or the merchandise we moved on to the next miniaturized Office Depot. We were successful in acquiring our needed materials just in time for a horrendous thunder storm to unload.
In an instant the road became a flowing stream of dirty water and the temperature dropped a few degrees easily. We made our way back to BSCO very carefully, passing homeless lean-to filled with those trying to avoid the deluge. In fact, for the first time, the streets were free from people. Again, I thought about filming, but was needed to wipe the inside windshield instead. With the rain letting up a bit we made our way back.
We stormed in on the other guests sitting down to tea and pastry. We really disturbed the tranquil scene, but were invited to join in. I helped to unpack the car in the rain and was soaked through. I am starting to fear that my jacket will not be good enough for this rough weather. I warmed up after some tea and pastry, as Bob and Dave inspected our rental vehicle.
Shortly thereafter we were taken to dinner by Dorothy Hanson at a local restaurant tucked into a neighborhood near the compound. As her vehicle is too small some of us had to walk. With borrowed umbrellas I jumped at the chance, eager to take in the local vibe, and eat some diesel smoke for an appetizer. The restaurant was very homespun, with muted lighting, white walls, and simple furniture. We were the only ferenji in the place, but were comfortable. After washing our hands outside were seated and guided through the menu by Dorothy. She ordered everything in Amharic. I really enjoyed hearing her speak. She filled us in on her experiences in Addis and all of Ethiopia and we shared ours. It was then that she shared how impressed she was that we went to the Mercato on our first full day in Addis, which gave us pause to consider that we were in some really rough territory. My first traditional Ethiopia meal was shared and accompanied by a bottle of "Aqua Safe". After working out some kinks with the wait staff, we ate our fill for the third time that day. Contended, and feeling the effects of the day,we left the restaurant.
While walking to BSCO we were confronted by a "mungit"; a street boy of no more than 6, begging for money. He was very cute with a raspy little voice, but sadly, I kept telling him "no" (perhaps a post later about why giving even 1Birr is not a good idea). In any case he eventually left us as we negotiated the side of the road with taxis and trucks zipping past with only inches to spare and music blasting from stalls. I must admit I find it all exhilirating. Rapping on the iron door of the compound we were let in by the night security watchman, only to do a little more work.
We did some packing for the morning, counted our money again, and generally got organized. I attended to my camera; downloading images, changing batteries, typing this entry at nearly midnight western Ethio-time. I really need a shower, but the last thing I will do is email this entry at 40.0 kbps.
An incredibly busy day and tomorrow we hit the road at 8am.