Our group here in Ethiopia is at the same time both quite diverse and strangely homogenous. The crew that develops on our first day consists of several Ethiopians who have been educated abroad and foreigners, including myself and Kit, the son of the British Ambassador. When we hit up some of their favorite spots such as the ice cream place, it seems that there is at least one link in every group to every other group. In other words, this international community is both rather small and very well connected to each other.
An added benefit of moving around with this group is that our conversations are usually about the past, present, and future of Ethiopia. For example, we discuss the differences between how they view the country and how their parents thought of it. We debate how optimistic we all should be about the Ethiopia’s future. They share stories of parents being imprisoned because they were viewed as intellectual threats to the government in regimes past. I learn how some troubles arise from how certain business sectors such as cell phones are either government owned or fully monopolized. In just a few quick days being here in Ethiopia, I feel that I can now sympathize with at least this particular group’s perspectives on the state of the country.
Harya and her dad meet me with smiling faces after I make it through the visa, immigration, and customs lines at the Addis Ababa Airport. We exchange hugs and handshakes before piling into their 1950’s classic, white VW Bug. This is my first opportunity to meet both of Harya’s parents and her aunt, and everyone is so warm and welcoming. Almost immediately after entering their home, I am greeted with a strong cup of delicious Ethiopian coffee. Given both my tired state and my love of coffee, I can’t imagine a better start to the day.
After a restful morning and an Ethiopian breakfast, Hileena, another Stanford friend of Harya and mine, comes and picks us up. We take a driving tour of Addis, eat an Ethiopian lunch at Zola, intersperse coffee stops throughout the day to make sure that my energy stays up and my body stays caffeinated, and we slowly collect more of Hileena’s and Harya’s friends. The afternoon includes ice cream and a couple beers at a very local pub where good-tasting local beers are the equivalent of only $0.50. In the evening, the whole crew grabs dinner at a Turkish restaurant followed by a nightcap at a bar called the Black Rose.
One very memorable adventure today occurs on our way to dinner. As Hileena’s car climbs a rather steep hill to find a restaurant with a view, the passengers eventually file out as to allow the car every opportunity to be able to make it to the top. Unfortunately, the car stalls and does not want to start its engine once more. The road is dark and people of all ages and sizes start coming towards the car to investigate the scene. Some of these approaching individuals definitely feel a little shadier than others. Soon cars are arriving from different directions that need to pass us, and in order to allow them to do so, we end up pushing the car to the side of the road. We all then pile back into the car and close the windows so that we can discuss a strategy without having to listen to the advice of our developing audience. We decide that the restaurant on top of the hill isn’t worth the climb, and that we will try to start the car by gently pushing it back the down the hill. We are rewarded with the engine starting. We get back into the car, and continue onwards to a different restaurant.