Ethiopian mini-buses

by Andrew Stein

Although the minibuses are technically a means to get from one place to another, when taking them in and around Addis, they become an adventure in themselves.  Step one of the adventure is getting on the right bus.  Each bus is painted blue on its bottom half and white on its top, and each holds about ten passengers plus the driver and money-collector.  The money-collector leans out the side window and yells the bus’ destination.  However, even if I know which bus I am looking for, the names of the final destinations are pronounced so differently than what I would have expected, that I still find a hard time figuring out which bus is the correct bus.  For example, if I am headed to the stadium, which is near the center of town, “stadium” is pronounced as a one-syllable word that only contains the consonants from the original.  Harya and I hear “stdm, stdm” as they pass.  As of a couple years ago, there is stricter regulations surrounding over-packing these buses, and therefore, every passenger must have a “seat”, which is still not large by any means.  Harya and I eventually find a bus that has two open seats and is heading in the direction we want to travel, we board the bus, pay the very reasonable fare, and then continue on our way.

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We take many of these buses in our time in Addis as well as when we venture on our day trip to Kuriftu Lake.  For the most part, it is a relatively easy even if not the most comfortable experience.  However, there is one occasion where Harya and I find the last two available seats located in the back row, which they claim can fit four people across.  In the rows ahead of us, we smell that someone has lathered their hair with butter in the morning, and then probably has spent most of the day outside in the sun allowing the butter to become rancid.  I learn that buttering one’s hair can make it incredibly soft; however, I would prefer not to be victim to the smell of this process.  We are lucky that in this particular case, the windows of the mini-bus have not been sealed shut (as they often are) and we alternate between being smelling the heavy exhaust of the road and the rancid butter from the hair ahead of us.  This is a bit of a longer ride, as it is part of our journey back from the lake; however, we chalk it up as just part of the possibly too-authentic mini-bus experience.

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