“Oh this summer? I’m going to be in Addis Ababa for 2 months.” Some typical responses included, “oh Abu Dhabi, nice!” or just, “What?” There were a few that I knew were nodding in agreement although you could tell they were scouring through their mental search engine for an answer. Of course, a number of people knew that Addis Ababa (conveniently referred to as Addis) is actually the capital of Ethiopia, home of the African Union, and a city of roughly 3 million people. However, most people were still asking me why I was going, and I always had a difficult time answering that question. Why would I leave the comfort of my home in Corona del Mar with sunny beaches, good Mexican food, and paved roads for the worn streets of a city that reminds many people of the name of an Arabian monkey from Aladdin. You tell me.
The go-to reason for why I came out here is for an internship with an NGO, but something else had to have compelled me to look outside the agreeable experience of working in San Francisco and living in a frat possibly infested with rats (you know who you are) for the summer. As many of us Berkeley students do, I wanted to follow my path, which has consequently lead me to a city where the streets have no names (literally, the road I am on is referred to as ‘The New Road”). So, I was assigned to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and will be here until late July. Say what?
If you are ever to come to Addis, you will notice the endless amounts of shanty stores outlining the semi-paved streets of the city. The thing is, the shanty stores are not an indicator of an impoverished area, but are an universal characteristic spanning the city. There are no McDonald’s or Starbucks; people in Addis replace these chains with Kaldi’s Coffee and butcheries with cattle carcasses hanging just feet off the sidewalk. Once you get used to that, then Addis proves to be a city with charming peculiarities.
For example, the taxi system here requires you to bargain prices with the drivers before you even take a seat in their decaying royal blue and white cars from the seventies. Also, it is not everyday that your cab must drive against traffic because two teenagers are herding 20+ sheep across the road. Or check out some of the décor found around the city — salt and peppershakers shaped like Big Ben and airbrushed advertisements of Ludacris and Chris Brown with a filter that somehow makes pictures look like they are from 1996. All of these differences are more than just peculiarly charming; they speak to a simple way of life that the wide majority of Ethiopians adhere to. Being a wealthy Ethiopian places you in a very elite group of people that pass time at the over-ornamented world renowned Addis Ababa Sheraton while their faces are plastered on billboards above the masses of shanty towns just a mile away.
Although the city’s decaying physical appearance defines visitor’s first impression, there is much development occurring in the city. New buildings are emerging from scaffolding skeletons made of eucalyptus trees, and more opportunities are flowing into the area. My work is with coffee farmers, some of whom have coffee that is being brewed in our very own Peet’s on Telegraph and Dwight. Ethiopia is in a transitional phase, some sort of global adolescent that is becoming a lively young adult, so to speak. I am definitely no expert on development, but I have hopes that this place will teach me a couple things about the world. I definitely expect to gain some wild stories when my immediate future consists of meeting Ethiopian coffee farmers, traveling to ancient religious sites, throwing a party with DJ Addisu, and living with an overly-aggressive guard dog named Fir Fir. Hope you may find my stories entertaining!
Until next time.
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