Addis Ababa is a huge and confusing city and, to a new arrival, it can seem overwhelming and inaccessible. It’s sprawling, busy, and chaotic but it has a charm to it that I love and it invites me to try to uncover its mysteries. One of my favourite things to do in Addis is just to walk around, explore, and see what I see. True, I’m making a map of the city so that’s kind of a part of my job, but work aside, wandering Addis’ streets, observing the hustle bustle, and seeking out restaurants and cafes that I’ve never been to before is fun for me.
So, with this in mind, I was pretty pumped to discover Addis Eats. This small company started a few years ago giving food tours around the city and they’ve since grown to include market and city tours along with custom tours out of town. Addis Eats was started by Eliza and Xavi, Americans with a love of Ethiopia. Eliza grew up in Washington DC but has a special connection Ethiopia, having grown up with an Ethiopian nanny since she was two months old. Since her early days she’s been listening to Amharic, has been in a house full of Ethiopian friends, has driven with Ethiopian music blasting in the car, and most importantly for their current business, she’s been eating Ethiopian food for a long, long time. She’s taken all of this an forged it into a pretty great little business and I was super excited to try their food tour.
Our tour happened to be led by the Addis Eats founders themselves, but their company employs several Ethiopian guides who get amazing reviews as well. I was impressed with Eliza and Xavi from the start. They’ve got an excellent rapport with everyone they come in contact with and a real understanding of life in Ethiopia and the ability to explain things to us confused new arrivals. They’re patient with questions and thorough with their descriptions and explanations of everything, leaving us tour-takers feeling quite informed. This personal connection to Ethiopia, her and her partner’s skills with Amharic, and their love of great food makes them a pretty great team to run an Addis Ababa food tour.
Our afternoon eating frenzy started at O’Canada, a popular bar in the Chechnya area of Addis that taxi drivers know, making it a good meeting point. After a coffee and a quick orientation and explanation of our stops, we hit the road towards our first destination – a popular local restaurant known for it’s shiro. Not being all that familiar with what shiro actually is, the Addis Eats folks gave a good explanation. We also got a nice history of the restaurant along with a useful demonstration on how best to eat injira. Sadly for me, I still had a nice selection of reds and yellows on my pants before the trip was done. The atmosphere in the first restaurant was great, the food even better, and on top of all of that, we got to sample a few of Ethiopia’s beers.
We wandered on from there stopping at a cool tea and oils shop before meandering through an interesting old neighbourhood. We saw some berbere drying out in the streets and were treated to some more anecdotes on life in Addis as we walked. Our next stop was a meat house with some of the most amazing beef I’ve ever had. It better be good – that’s all they serve! I even tried it raw in all of its chewy, meaty, glory. I only had one piece of the raw stuff before switching back to something more familiar, but I was happy to have had the opportunity to give it a try. We dabbed our meat in some great sauces and washed it all down with ‘turbo’ before continuing on our way.
Next up was fish. While Ethiopia seems to be all about meat, somehow fish has become an acceptable meal during the fasting times – which we learned all about. We were presented with a plate of fried fish, given some background on where the main fishing areas of the country area, and washed it all down with some more beers before moving next door to a local coffee house.
We got a bit of a crash course on the history of coffee, the Ethiopian love affair with the drink, and their care in preparing it in their own homes as part of coffee ceremonies. We also learned that these small coffee houses that are scattered all over the city attempt to combine the atmosphere and great coffee into a shorter experience and had some amazing coffee at what is essentially a local neighbourhood cafe. Plus, there’s popcorn!
Moving on and feeling nicely full, slightly boozed, and enjoying good conversation, we wandered just a bit down the street to a juice place. Juice in Ethiopia seems to be a ‘thing’. There are fruit stalls all over the place and most will whip up a delicious, fresh juice from within their small shops. We parked ourselves in a nice outdoor seating space and waited for the for our ‘esprice’, a mix of the day’s fresh juice. Sometimes these are served in layers but today our 5 or 6 juices were mixed into a delicious orange medley of fantastic fruitiness. It was a perfect end to a wonderful afternoon of eating and drinking new things in exciting and interesting places I never would have found on my own.
The Addis Eats’ tour I was on is their food culinary tour for a very reasonable $60. The tour runs for 3 to 4 hours, explores an awesome part of the city, and includes food at three restaurants with unlimited beers, soft drinks, and coffee. Minimum group size is two people and the maximum is 12, but if there are more then 8 there’s an extra guide. You can join them for a lunch tour starting at 11:30am or the dinner tour from 4pm but they’re pretty flexible and generally willing to tweak the time if necessary.
Check out their Addis Eats website for a list of all of the tours they have on offer. It really was a great afternoon of eating, drinking, nice people, interesting places, and good conversation. I think this sort of a thing is perfect both for tourists with a limited amount of time but also for new arrivals who might be moving to Addis for the longer term. I mean, you can get the lowdown on an awesome shiro place, great meat, and a fantastic place for fish to keep visiting over and over during your stay in Addis. Plus you’ll get a useful bit of background to the city and the customs of Ethiopia. It’s a great introduction to a really interesting and exciting place and you’ll be happy you let the folks at Addis Eats lead you around.
The weather in Addis is mostly wonderful and hiding away at a swimming pool on a hot day is the perfect escape from the hustle bustle of the city. Fortunately, there are plenty of swimming pools in Addis to choose from. What follows is a list of the swimming pools in Addis Ababa I’ve found so far with a bit of a summary or what to expect and a list of prices. Keep in mind that the prices were accurate in October 2015 so if you’re reading this far into the future (hello from the past!) then it’s probably better just to use the prices as a means of comparing the cheaper ones versus the more expensive ones. If you do have any updates for me or know of a pool for me to check out to add to the list, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cost: 1 Day 395 birr / 1 month 2,250 / 3 months 6,950 (kids cheaper)
Capital Hotel has a range of passes and prices so your best bet is to go in and see them. If you want to get a membership for off-peak times (which I assume is during the day) then things will get a bit cheaper. The a day pass it’s the most expensive pool in town which seems a bit strange to me since there are other much nicer pools. Sure, the pool is fine and an ok size to be able to swim laps, but it’s certainly not secluded and there’s little space around it to chill. It feels sort of closed in an, while it’s a nice enough pool, I’d spend my money at the Sheraton or Intercontinental instead.
Cost: 300 birr
Addis Ababa’s Hilton has a bit of a communist bunker sort of feel to it… probably not the best look for a supposedly high-end hotel chain. It’s certainly seen better days and the swimming pool is no different. The changing rooms are cramped and kind of gross. Plus the communal shower isn’t something I’d expect when I’m paying 300 Birr to use the facilities. For that price I’d at least expect some nakedness privacy. The way the pool is set up doesn’t leave a lot of room for doing laps if there are more than a couple of people in there. One side is for the kiddies and the other is the deep end where people attempt to do laps. The weird cross shape and the fact that it’s been divided in half means that there’s not much space and the five or some people doing laps at the same time as me kept nearly colliding. I did two and fled. The water is hot spring fed (or so I’m told) and so slightly warm. This is great for some but it’s not the most refreshing splash around after a day of sun baking. It would be a pretty good choice for colder days where you still want to try to get some laps in. If the human traffic allows it, of course.
Cost: 1 Day 200 birr (300 on weekends & holidays) / 1 Month 2,000 / 6 Months 5,400 / 12 Months 9,000
A rooftop pool! With a bar! This spot is so cool and I was amazed to see that on a hot Saturday afternoon only two young kids seemed to have discovered it. If it’s not to busy you could get away with some short laps in here but since the stairs take up a huge corner of the pool, there probably couldn’t be more than a couple of you attempting laps at once. But really, rooftop pools are for sipping cocktails, sunning yourself, and going in for the occasional dip, anyway. As far as swimming pools in Addis Ababa go, this is one of my favourites.
Cost: 250 birr
A friend told me that the pool at Monarch was free if you bought food or a drink. This turned out to be a bold-faced lie! Or perhaps just a mistake. Probably just a mistake but sometimes I like to be dramatic. This little pool is more for lounging around that for exercising but it’s still a decent enough size to give you some splash space. There are lounge chairs around and tables, too, if you’d like to swim and eat. The pool is a bit on display to everyone coming in and out of the hotel but is somewhat secluded from the restaurant/bar. But I kind of like that it’s in front of the hotel surrounded by tall buildings. It feels like a little oasis in the middle of the city.
Cost: 1 Day 300 birr (450 birr weekends & holidays) / 6 Months 9,400 / 12 Months 14,400
Now THIS is a pool! Sure, the price is high for a day pass but it’s not bad at all when you compare it with the cost of other pools. Especially the Hilton. That these two pools are the same price is a travesty! Well perhaps that’s a bit extreme but seriously, Hilton… how do you get away with charging the same as the Sheraton’s glorious, spacious, secluded pool? Shame on you, Hilton! The pool was quiet when I was there but given that the Sheraton is a fortress of a place, and there there seem to be hundreds of deck chairs laid around, I imagine it can get pretty busy. There’s a cafe and a bar right next to the pool so you’re pretty much set to camp out all day if you desire.
Vigor Fitness Centre (Laphto Mall)
Cost: 1 Month 2,000 birr / 6 months 4,950 / 12 months 7,200 (kids cheaper)
This is the weirdest pool I’ve ever seen. But, when you think about it, also totally practical. A super long bit for those serious lane swimmers among us, and a little sectoin over on the edge for kids to splash around in. I’m not sure if the laps part is 50 metres but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. The pool is quite big. Located in Laphto Mall, this pool feels a bit concrete-y and closed-in, but it seems like a nice compromise of a pool that’s sort of indoors and sort of outdoors. The pool is part of the Vigor Fitness Centre and you can get gym/pool combo deals.
As a developing country you cannot expect everything to be working and perfect in Ethiopia. There are always things that you’re going to complain about when living in Addis Ababa. But as soon as you wrap your mind around the fact that it is not going to be so smooth living in Ethiopia or any other developing country in fact, the less you will complain.
It is okay to complain but if you do it too much you might offend your host. It is always better to travel with the right expectations and the following list might help prepare you a bit for those little annoyances that will op up during your time in Addis.
One of the most frustrating things to happen to you in Addis is not being able to make a call or recharge your account during high traffic hours on the network. This usually happens on holidays, Sundays and when Ethio Telecom is trying to ‘upgrade’ something. Ethio Telecom is a government owned and the only telecom company in Ethiopia – this should explain the often terrible service. Add into that a usually terrible customer service experience in their usually crowded offices and they’re unlikely to be your favourite Ethiopian company.
Beggars That Follow
If you are a foreigner, you are to gong to attract more beggars on the street than would your average Ethiopian. It can get really annoying to have them following you after you have already made it clear that you have no change or that you just don’t want to give them any money. And it gets annoying when it is kids that follow you while their condoning/ordering mother sits and watches them follow you till they get what they want.
Some avoid these by walking faster, keeping small changes in their pocket to give away or using Amharic words like ‘yelem’ which basically means ‘there isn’t any’ but used in this case to say that you have no change.
Paying More for a Taxi
The taxis in Addis are not meter taxis, meaning you will always have to negotiate your price. And if you are a foreigner the taxis are likely to charge you more than they’d charge a fellow Ethiopian. But this totally depends on the person, as some just want to pay what they are asked and some will put up a good fight to save a few bucks. If some of the taxis didn’t start their prices so crazy high, it wouldn’t be so annoying but having a guy ask for 300 birr before promptly being bargained down to 150 makes a person cagey and frustrated ad determined to get a good price.
I suppose it’s all in the name of progress, but progress can be a pain in the arse when it comes to traffic or even just trying to walk down the street. Many of Addis’ sidewalks are no more, instead being replaced by piles of small rocks that make it really hard to walk. Add large holes and workmen into the mix and a trip down the road can be a treacherous experience.
Lack of Seafood
Being a landlocked country definitely has its cons. It is not going to be easy to find nice seafood in Addis. Despite not being that far from the coast, I’ve come to realise that the rare seafood I do find has, without a doubt, been frozen and shipped for days or weeks before ending up on your plate.
Whichever nice neighborhood you are driving through, you better be keeping an eye on the road because there are going to be ditches and potholes everywhere. If you dare venture out of town on four wheels, you will inevitably one day come across a hole that is just a little larger than a typical small Japanese car.
Power and Water Outages
Power and water outages occur in Addis from time to time and these outages will depend on the areas you live in. While some of the neighborhoods have no water almost half of the time, some might not have a good supply for months. Therefore it’s is quite essential to buy a water tanker and have it installed or just rent a house which has one in the first place.
Likewise, power in Addis can be sporadic and untrustworthy at best. It’s not unusual for the power to be off for days at a time, which will make it difficult to keep all of your electronic goodies charged up. Plan ahead by taking your gadgets to work with you, planning lunches and dinners at places where you can sneak in some charging, and by keeping candles and flashlights on hand for when you’re at home in the dark.
Church and Mosque Noise
If the house you live in is near a church or a mosque, you are going to have that problem of waking up at 4 or 5 in the morning if you are a light sleeper. It is around that time that they usually do their prayers and they are going to do it through mega horns and loud speakers My landlord was very happy to tell me that I can hear the church loud and clear as if it was in my bedroom. When I asked him if that was a good thing, let’s just say he was not impressed.
Bureaucracy and Wait Times
Things like paying your bills, paying tax, getting or renewing your licenses, getting a new telecom service that will require a few installations, dealing with immigration and so on can be a tiresome task most of the time. There are going to be queues, paperwork, wait times, and other annoying inconveniences. Plan well for tasks like this – as in cancel all other plans for the day. Things will sometimes go to plan but be prepared for the worst, take a book and some patience, and you’ll leave without tearing out too much of your hair in frustration.
Over the last 12 months, there’s been a bit of a race among a number of entrepreneurs to establish a home food delivery business in Addis Ababa. The number of people and investors wanting to enter into this sector of Addis’ booming restaurant scene (I know of three already), really does speak volumes for the potential within this market, and bodes well for those among us in search of take-away!
One businessman who’s leading the race is Feleg Tsegaye – founder of Deliver Addis, which launched in early 2015. Deliver Addis is an online platform through which you can place an order with a number of partner restaurants and have food delivered to a chosen address within an hour.
I had the pleasure to meet with Feleg recently, to find out a little bit more about how the business works and where the inspiration came from. Feleg has been working 12+ hours a day, six days a week for over a year now to get this off the ground…it’s clear to see this is not just a business, but a personal passion and challenge. Having most recently lived in New York (the home of takeout!) and with a background in IT, he seems just the man to get this race off to a booming start
I have a feeling that over the next year, the home food delivery industry in Addis will really push boundaries and change expectations around cuisine, eating out and customer service – I for one am looking forward to seeing where it goes! Visit http://www.deliveraddis.com to find out more about Deliver Addis.
What has the journey been like from concept to launch of Deliver Addis?
The concept came to me a few years ago when working as an IT consultant in Addis – I don’t like cooking, was working long hours and having been brought up in the USA, I was used to being able to order takeaway food – I couldn’t see any reason why this couldn’t work in Addis Ababa. In March 2014 I set up a small private pilot, with a quick website and a few restaurants on board. I tried the concept out on friends and their networks; I needed to be sure that the concept of home delivery could work in Addis. The pilot helped me to build data around the average order amount and frequency of orders, so I had something to go to investors with. One day I was talking to one of my clients about this project, and they loved the idea. They subsequently become investors in Deliver Addis. With their financial input and my IT background, we were able to scale up from a basic concept to a public launch. We launched a year after the pilot in March 2015.
Can you tell me about the team behind Deliver Addis?
We’re only six months old, so our team is small and evolving. At the moment it consists of myself and several others from different backgrounds including IT, HR, management and logistics. We also count the investors as part of the team, albeit silent ones!
What have been the challenges and surprise successes since opening?
I think it’s fair to say every start-up encounters challenges, and Deliver Addis has been no exception. One of our main challenges (which I’m sure everyone will expect) is finding customers. Addis is notorious for having no formal address system and streets tend to have both formal and informal names. We get around this by customers registering their delivery locations with GPS when they create an account, but nevertheless, we’ve had customers register their location on the wrong side of town, then provide incorrect additional information and a wrong phone number. Map reading isn’t second nature to many people, so pinning your location on a map can be a huge challenge – we have incorporated geolocation to the system now to find a customers position automatically where possible.
Other challenges include the safety of our motorbike drivers on Addis roads (especially in the rainy season) and technology. Our business depends on an active phone and internet network, and there are times when one or both will go down. If this happens across the whole city, there’s little we can do and no one can place orders anyway. If it’s a localised outage however, we have to relocate the team to a back-up office in another area of Addis to ensure we’re receiving orders and can deliver.
The surprise successes, are less of a surprise, more of a relief – it works. People are ordering, restaurants are contacting us to become partners and we’re reaching the targets we set ourselves for our first six to 12 months of operation.
How did Deliver Addis decide on the current eight restaurants listed, to be your first partners?
I started by being a customer at each partner restaurant to find out if their staff are attentive, if they can turn around orders quickly, if the owners are actively engaged and if they offer take-away. There are so many new restaurants opening in Addis, and many of them are top quality, gourmet food. This doesn’t necessarily work for home delivery though, so the cuisine has to be right.
With so many new restaurants, and with our brand becoming better known, we’re now getting approached by restaurants to become partners – I’ll try every one of them myself first, and they won’t all be appropriate, but I look forward to expanding the portfolio, not least because I created this business for myself, to be able to get good take-away. As a regular customer, I’m excited to see what new things I can order over the coming months.
How do your drivers manage to find every house and office within a constantly changing city?
As I mentioned before we use GPS – it’s the only option in Addis. When someone registers for an account, they can list a number of different addresses: home, work, friends etc. They can then add notes to help the driver, along with a phone number. Our drivers have been trained to provide excellent customer service, and always do everything they can to find every customer.
How important is it for Deliver Addis to include a mix of Ethiopian and Western foods for customers?
A number of our partner restaurants do a mix of Ethiopian and Western food, making both available to customers. Interestingly though, Ethiopians can be very particular about their food. Shiro for example should be served bubbling in its pot, so turning up with Shiro that’s been travelling for 20 minutes just doesn’t work. I think it’s also fair to say that Ethiopian cuisine is quite tricky to transport – wot is generally liquid based which is prone to spilling on a motorbike if the restaurant doesn’t have appropriate packaging.
What can customers expect from Deliver Addis over the next 12 months?
Good question…a lot! The main priority is to get a wider spread of cuisines on the site; we want to have a diverse range of high quality restaurants, as that’s what our customers are looking for. We’d also like to work towards expanding our hours [most restaurants on Deliver Addis currently stop this service at 8pm] but this is going to take time as most restaurants close around 9pm. Those are the likely going to be the most visual changes and the rest will be IT improvements around functionality, so that the customer experience becomes more seamless
Someone in this business has to be a big food lover! If you could eat anywhere in the world, where would it be?
There is one place I’ve been intrigued about ever since seeing it on a programme – Noma, in Copenhagen. I don’t even know if I’d like the food, but the experimental approach they take with locally sourced ingredients is intriguing and would be quite an experience to try!
On arriving at an Addis Ababa party with offerings of home baked food, you’ll generally be asked one of two things (most likely you’ll be asked both): “How did you find baking at altitude” and “where did you find all of the ingredients”?
In line with these questions, there are a couple of well-known facts in Addis – both altitude and ingredients play havoc with baking. You can’t do a lot about either, other than to persevere or to just stop trying and buy from a bakery that has solved the challenges for you (see below)!
For the fans of persevering, here’s the science behind baking altitude…
From 1,000+ metres, the low air pressure means your bake will rise more easily, and lose any moisture it has far more quickly (as water boils at a lower temperature at high altitude – who knew?!). As if this wasn’t enough, air in your bake can collect into large pockets resulting in a funny texture, or reach such a high pressure that cell walls stretch and burst, making a crater like cake. Really, it’s a minefield!
By amending your baking times, or ingredient quantities, you can overcome all of these issues, it just needs a little (read a lot) of trial and error.
Then comes your second challenge – ingredients. I continue to maintain that you can get pretty much everything you need in Addis Ababa; depending on what it is, it just might take a bit of hunting (that time you saw marshmallows and Lindt Chocolate on sale… it’ll be another four months before they’re imported again) and quality varies (so much so, that on trips home, you hear of expats returning with butter, chocolate chips, cheese and sugar… all of the usual customs suspects!).
Why do people do this? Well, in Ethiopia butter doesn’t taste of much, eggs are miniature (literally laid for The Borrower family) and sugar particles are so big, you’re first ever cake baking attempt will come complete with crystals caverns in it.
As an eternal optimist however, these challenges are fun to overcome (including power cuts mid-bake), and if you choose to be in the perseverance camp, you’ll likely also feel incredibly proud of yourself if you manage to take an offering to any party that is edible and looks vaguely like anything you’re pretending it is!
Whilst not really proper ‘bakes’ (I’m an optimist, not a real Addis baker!) these few recipes have been tried and tested, and you can often get hold all of the ingredients…
– Chewy Sultana Cookies from Deliciously Ella
– Instant Chocolate Mousse from Nigella Lawson
– Katie’s Cheese Straws, courtesy of the Gill family: Rub 42 grams butter into 85 grams plain flour so that it looks like breadcrumbs and then add 55 grams grated cheese, salt and plenty of pepper. Mix in ½ an egg yolk (one yolk if you’re using mini Habesha eggs) and 1 tablespoon of water to bring the mix together into a ball. Add more water as necessary. Chill for 30 minutes, and then roll out, cut into strips and twist. Cook at 180 C for between 20-30 minutes. You can add chilli flakes if you like, and play around with different cheeses…half feta half Gouda works well.
Over the last few months, an exciting new event has started taking place in Addis Ababa on the first Tuesday of every month at Asni Gallery, called ChangeMaker Tuesdays. The event aims to bring together individuals interested in sustainability in its broadest sense, to learn from one another and hear from an inspiring ChangeMaker – defined as someone who is making a positive difference for society and/or the planet.
In the last month, Addis has hosted the international Financing for Development Conference, focused on how the world will finance the new Sustainable Development Goals – the successors of the Millennium Development Goals.
It seems fitting therefore that as the world’s leaders are looking at everyone’s responsibility to make this world a better place, we interview Amy Bolger, one of the founders of ChangeMaker Tuesdays, which is inspiring and stimulating action among the next generation of leaders.
Amy has been living in Addis Ababa for over a year, initially to volunteer for the Ethiopian Midwives Association through the Australian Volunteers International. Now, she’s taking some time to invest her energy into other projects she’s passionate about, and ChangeMaker Tuesdays seems to be the top of her ‘to do’ list.
Can you please explain what ChangeMaker Tuesdays is and what it aims to achieve?
Well, ChangeMaker Tuesdays is an informal network that gathers together once a month on a Tuesday (which is lucky, because meeting on Wednesdays wouldn’t have worked well with our name!). We’re all about inspiring conversations, which works in two ways. Firstly, we invite a ChangeMaker to our monthly events to give an inspiring talk about their journey towards creating positive change. Secondly, we aim to inspire conversations among those attending our monthly events – conversations about the kind of change they want to see in Ethiopia and in the wider world, and how they will contribute to achieving it.
What was the purpose of setting up the group and how did you go about it?
Since moving to Addis last year I have heard many stories about inspiring people working at grass-roots level, and creating positive change for people and the planet. These people I was hearing about covered a varied range sustainability issues, including creating recycled paper from banana leaves, building eco-lodges from rammed earth, or setting up vocational skills training to support girls who haven’t completed their education. The more of these stories I heard, the more I wondered why there wasn’t a platform in Addis, like Green Drinks, through which they could tell their stories. In addition to this, I thought Addis could also do with an informal platform for people, especially young aspiring leaders, to get together and share ideas as well as learn from and be inspired by our guest ChangeMakers.
I talked to a few friends about creating such a platform, and before I knew it, we had a committee of six co-founders. Everyone on the committee is passionate about sustainable development, and each member brings their unique skills to the group. With this dynamite team, we pulled together our first ChangeMaker Tuesdays in June 2015, which was a great success – we were overwhelmed with the turnout and response from those who attended. The overall response was ‘keep going – we need this in Addis’.
Who makes up the ChangeMaker Tuesdays’ organising committee, and what do they bring to the group?
The founding six members consist of myself who likes to lighten the mood of each event with bad jokes; Tom who’s a sustainable development aficionado, keen photographer and the brains behind many of my bad jokes; Muluken who keeps us connected and fuelled with ideas; Ben who’s a solar technology and renewable energy guru; Sasha who’s our creative force and networking specialist; and Joanna, who supports our planning and communications.
After the first ChangeMaker session in June, we approached Yeabsira and Tatek who are both part of the Horn of Africa Leadership and Learning for Action programme, and were keen to get involved. They complement our group dynamic and skills perfectly, bringing with them some impressive links to the right networks and endless enthusiasm and energy. We hope they’ll ensure the ongoing sustainability of ChangeMaker Tuesdays.
You’ve had an impressive turn out for your first three sessions. Who is your target audience?
We are aiming to attract like-minded people who are interested in hearing about and/or creating the positive sustainable change needed to address the many challenges our planet faces. We would particularly like to inspire the young leaders of Ethiopia. We’ve had a varied range of people attend, everyone from Ambassadors to school students, Habesha’s and Farenji’s (the affectionate title given to all foreigners in Ethiopia).
How do you chose who will speak and themes for each month?
When we first started discussing what ChangeMaker Tuesdays would look like, everyone had ideas about who they would like to have speak – people they’d heard about from friends, read interviews about, or had the pleasure to work with. As a result of this enthusiasm, we started with a long wish-list of potential speakers, and we’re constantly adding to it.
Each month we look through the list and focus on someone from a different sector. For example in September we have invited a ChangeMaker to speak about Ethiopia’s Slow Food movement and in October we will hear one girls story of how an Addis based NGO have supported her and other girls returning from their experience as domestic help in the Middle East. Each speaker we have approached has been so willing to be involved; our biggest challenge is deciding who to approach…which can be hard when you have a list of so many inspiring people in front of you!
How do you involve attendees in each session?
Each month our agenda includes time to mingle (the less formal version of networking!) both at the beginning and end, and one committee member will come up with an interactive activity for people to do in groups. We see this as an opportunity to spark conversation, meet new people and understand different perspectives on issues and life. We place a lot of emphasis on having fun.
As well as this, the committee will do an introduction to engage the audience in discussing issues relating to the speaker. For example last week, our health related speaker inspired an introduction on the importance of technology and innovation in addressing key and endemic health issues. We also allocate time for a Q&A with the speaker, giving the audience the chance to ask the speaker any questions they may have about their project or journey.
What role do you see ChangeMaker Tuesdays playing in Ethiopia’s sustainability movement?
ChangeMaker Tuesdays was established to compliment the Sustainable Development Goals by promoting and inspiring action in many of the areas the new goals focus on. The goals are grouped into 17 ‘themes’, and so far, our three speakers have touched on three themes including ‘Good Health’ with Dr Yohans talking about founding Hello Doctor, ‘Responsible Consumption’ with Tesfaye’s paper recycling business and ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ with Sosina’s Gamo Circus School.
We see the Sustainable Development Goals as tools that are getting individuals involved, from all walks of life and every country in the world, in making this planet a better place. ChangeMaker Tuesdays has a very similar ethos at its core – we’re about sharing and exploring sustainable development solutions, inspiring action and inspiring the next generation to take the plunge and in the words of the great Ghandi, ‘be the change they want to see in the world’.
Where would you like to see ChangeMaker Tuesday’s in five years’ time?
We’re an ambitious committee, and have so many ideas already, despite only being three months in! One thing we’ve always agreed on, is that ChangeMaker Tuesdays should evolve and change depending on what attendees want it to be. It should be led by them, and as someone that won’t be living in Ethiopia forever, it needs to be Habesha led and directed. We ask at the end of every session for feedback, so I hope that in five years’ time, it will look the way our attendees want it to look.
We have some big ambitions for how we can have break-away ChangeMaker weekends, leadership workshops, and special panel discussions. I’d also love it if in five years’ time, we are able to invite a ChangeMaker to speak who first attended ChangeMaker Tuesdays as a guest, and has since gone on to create their own change. Finally, I’d be incredibly excited if we could launch ChangeMaker Tuesdays in five more African capitals…there’s a phenomenal number of ChangeMakers in Africa to give a platform to!
What five words would you use to describe ChangeMaker Tuesdays?
It’s funny you should ask that question; when we sat down at the very beginning as a group to define what ChangeMaker Tuesdays would look like, we made a list of words that describe what it is, and what it is not. They look something like this…
It is: Inspiring, positive, grassroots, educational, community centred, a sharing environment, empowering, fun, light, energetic, welcoming, collaborative, for social and environmental entrepreneurs, offering simple solutions
It is not: formal or serious, preachy, doom and gloom, boring or stuffy, cliquey, just for ferenji’s, just for the NGO/Development sector
Sorry, did you say five or fifty words?!
Who would be your dream guest speakers?
There are a number of people throughout history that have been such influential and phenomenal ChangeMakers, that they stand out time and again as people I’d love to meet and hear from. A couple of these would be the earlier mentioned wise man Mahatma Ghandi, and of course Nelson Mandela whose words have stuck with me, particularly ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’.
However closer to home, one very inspirational Australian leader that I’d love to have speak at ChangeMaker Tuesdays, is Julia Gillard. As the first female Prime Minister of Australia, Julia is a personal inspiration – particularly her passion for global basic education for all, and her killer speech calling out misogyny in Australia.
Finally, John Oliver would definitely be a dream guest speaker of mine; I like the way he uses humour and sarcasm to rant on about important issues such as climate change, human rights and gun control. He makes difficult and often contentious issues mainstream and accessible.
People often say that when you arrive somewhere new, you should get up high to get the lay of the land and work out what’s what. In Addis Ababa, this is a must – sprawled over 203 square miles, getting your bearings isn’t for the faint-hearted.
You would think that getting a view in Addis would be easy – there are tower blocks going up on every corner. I’ve heard that a building won’t get planning permission now if it’s less than nine storeys. I don’t know how true this is, but when you see the building site that is Addis, you can certainly believe it.
The problem however with most of these tower blocks, is that very few of them are accessible. They tend to be shops for the first few floors, with everything above being used as offices. When I first arrived I successfully made it to the top of one of these office blocks (not yet understanding the format) and emerged from the lift on the tenth floor into someone’s office. It was slightly awkward to say the least, but they had a great view, and it made me want one too.
And so the hunt began for where to go to really see and understand Addis, ideally with good food and drink to accompany.
For years, Top View has been the natural suggestion. That is, until the Belle-Vue Hotel and Spa was built in front of it, leaving Top View, viewless. To say this is a shame is an understatement – Top View is a beautiful Italian restaurant nestled into the hill behind Meganegna roundabout, with what would have been panoramic views across the city. The prices seem to have reduced since they lost their view, and it is certainly still worth visiting.
This has allowed Belle-Vue Hotel and Spa to probably stand as the best place to go if you want an aerial view of the city. Head to Bar Osaka on the seventh floor to see Addis sprawling in-front of you, taking in the airport to the South, the city to the West and the surrounding Entoto hills holding everything in place. The glass lift that clutches to the side of the building gives you a glimpse of the city below as you head up to the bar.
One of my favourite places is Bunni’s, a café not far from the Greek Embassy, that whilst only five floors up, has a balcony on three sides to look out over the South and West of the city including the African Union’s iconic tower. From here, you can almost make yourself believe that Addis is a lush and green city. Almost.
The owner of the successful café chain, Limetree, has recently opened Kaba on the seventh floor of the Park Plaza building on Atlas junction. A modern Ethiopian restaurant, the food is good (injera aplenty) and with a large outside seating area, once the rains have gone, it’ll make a lovely place to enjoy dinner with a view.
Some hotels have made the most of their position and height, but in my opinion, none of them have quite got it right yet. Harmony Hotel by Edna Mall has a mediocre bar and restaurant on their top floor, with a small amount of outside space, whilst Ras Amba Hotel between Kebena and Arat Kilo roundabouts has made more of an effort with their third floor bar which has a super view, yet remains somewhat uninspiring. The Intercontinental in Kasanchis is probably the winner with their rooftop pool and bar – it’s worth a visit.
If you remove food and drink from the equation, climbing up into the Entoto Hills that surround Addis is by far the best place to go on a clear and sunny day. You’ll find dog walkers aplenty, a rock-hewn church (beyond the German Embassy) and a spectacular view that lets you take in all of Addis Ababa and beyond.
I heard the other day about a group of Israeli friends that, with six months of traveling around Ethiopia ahead of them, decided upon a bhajaj (a covered, three-wheeled motorbike) as their mode of transport. Really… it’s true. They’ve bought a bhajaj and will bumble their way around this country at a magnificently slow pace.
I’m not sure this is something I could do (or recommend, having spent four bumpy hours bumbling around Akaki wetlands in a bhajaj), but as someone that’s embracing slow travel in Ethiopia, I’m certainly toasting their efforts. When I first arrived in Ethiopia, there was an air of mystery around how you could explore this country without a car. It seemed you had three options – buy a car and do it yourself, hire a private driver, or go with a tour company. With the former wildly out of reach, private drivers costing a lot, and the latter not quite my cup of tea, I needed to work out public transport.
And it turns out, it’s more than possible; you just need to approach it with no time constraints, low expectations for space, reckless abandon, an expectation that something will break at some point (on the vehicle, not on you), and patience. The latter is where I generally fail.
Slow travel in Ethiopia comes at a number of different ‘classes’ – starting at the bottom (not counting the bhajaj), you have the clapped out mini bus. These go on long journeys and tend to leave from a few bus stations around the edge of town. With a few key roads heading out of Addis, this generally means your journey will start from Kaliti if you’re heading South or East, and Autobus Terra if you’re heading North or West. Check before leaving though – I’ve ended up at the wrong station before. It’s annoying. Unfortunately, there isn’t really anywhere to check, other than just asking people.
These buses leave when they’re full, and will fill every seat available, including chickens on a lap or goats on the roof. Being last on means you’ll leave straight away, but could face up to six hours perched on a wooden stool. Speaking from experience… this is far from ideal! The bus will drive fast, you’ll stop regularly for paperwork checks, and traditional Ethiopian music will more often than not be the soundtrack to your journey. The lack of control over time is annoying, but perhaps that’s something I should be more used to by now? Fellow passengers will laugh at your Amharic, want to know all about you and discuss anything from injera to politics. These buses are my favourite for experience… but you have to be in the mood for them, for sure!
The next class up includes the more official-looking colourful school buses…they leave from the same bus stations, but are slow. Due to their size, you can wait up to two hours for them to fill and leave, and when you do, you literally crawl and drag yourself up hills, being overtaken by everyone. Probably the Israeli bhajaj included. Perhaps that makes them safer, but for someone as impatient as me, they’re painful!
And then you’ve got the gold standard – Selam Bus and Sky Bus. These two coach companies do a number of set routes, usually 6-12 hours long, and they’re more than worth investing in (and the investment is hardly much, at 300 Birr). You’ll be leaving before dawn but you’ll have your own seat, bottle of water, and snack, and it’s a pretty safe and smooth journey. The Sky Bus website lists routes, times and prices online, whilst the Selam Bus office is in Meskel Square.
Now that I’m over the fact I won’t be driving myself around Ethiopia with any CD, AU or AO plates anytime soon, I’ve learnt to embrace slow travel. The longer you live here though, the harder it becomes. At first, it was an adventure. Now, I just want to get to my destination.
Generally though, slow travel wins on cost and experience. I truly believe you see so much more of Ethiopia when you take your time and travel at the same pace as everyone else. You can’t do it all the time, but if you invest time in slow travel, you’ll get an atmosphere and experience that shows you the best (and worst) of Ethiopia, along with some heart-warming respect from your fellow squeezed in passengers!
Warning: It wouldn’t be right to leave this article without including a personal safety warning that travelling by road in Ethiopia comes with risks. Roads are poor, drivers can be careless and many will drive too fast to fit in more routes and income in a day. Whilst new expressways are being built, they don’t mean drivers are driving any more safely and when you see a crash, it’s a horrendous reminder of just how vulnerable you are in the small mini-buses. I’d never travel at night (leave at 5 am to be somewhere before dark) as drivers can be high on chat or drunk, and headlights aren’t good. This is the time when driving yourself or hiring a private driver/tour company of course gives you slightly more control over your safety. If travelling with children, I’d no doubt abandon any idea of slow travel, and invest in a driver.
There’s a great quote by Saint Augustine of Hippo that says: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” For the keen travellers among us, this perhaps rings true, but there’s also an argument that the wealth of stories out there, along with accounts of other people’s travels, can at times make you feel like the intrepid explorer yourself.
The biographies, autobiographies, histories, accounts and good old fashioned stories based in Ethiopia, can almost all do just that. They take you on a journey of the senses, and help you see both the best and the worst of this wonderful country.
Whilst there are hundreds of books based on and in Ethiopia, here are some short reviews on just a select few, with a handful more that are worth diving into, to help bring this country to life.
This book tells Dr. Catherine Hamlin’s story of responding, with her husband, to an advert to start a midwifery school in Ethiopia. In 1979 they arrived from Australia with their son, and through determination, a duty to serve women and a love for Ethiopia, Dr Catherine remains in Addis to this day. The book follows the Hamlin’s journey from establishing the midwifery school to founding the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, where over 20,000 women have received surgery for obstetric fistula, giving them back their dignity, hope and a second chance at life. This book is inspirational beyond words, beautifully written and a fascinating rendition of what life was like during the ’80s and ’90s.
Penned by a Ryzsard Kapuscinski, a Polish Correspondent reporting from the African continent from the ’60s through to the early ’80s, each chapter focuses on a specific period for a certain country, many of which tell tales of coups, the fall of colonialism and the first steps of independence. There are two chapters on Ethiopia – one on the 1975 famine and the other on Lalibela – both of which have a sombre and desperate tone that you don’t really find in the other chapters, conveying the desperate times that Ethiopia encountered from the 1970s onwards. Whilst only a small portion of this book is based on and in Ethiopia, it really helps to set the context of what was going on on the continent during this era, and how different Ethiopia’s challenges were to those of its neighbours.
This books follows a British teacher who spent most of her career working in Ethiopia. Frustrated at none of the teaching resources baring any resemblance to the lives of the children she taught, coupled with a fear that the fables and stories from remote corners of Ethiopia were at risk of being lost, she proposed to the British Council that some new ‘readers’ needed to be produced. She was subsequently provided with a small grant to travel the country and collect stories to create the book. Her story-collecting-mission takes you to every region and corner of Ethiopia providing a great overview of the nine regions and their different cultures, languages, nuances, traditions and challenges.
This one follows Dervla Murphy on an arduous journey, by foot, from Asmara to Addis Ababa, confronting the Simien Mountains along the way. The Irish travel writer makes her way, step-by-step, with a mule for a companion. The descriptions of villages she passes through and Ethiopian hospitality she encounters are beautiful and serve to show the best of the country, dramatically contrasted with the worst – fleas, Kalashnikov brandishing bandits and mysterious illnesses to name a few. The pace of the book however reflects her plodding mode of transport, and each day she describes, varies little from the day before.
This is another book that only briefly touches on Ethiopia, but provides an interesting insight to Ethiopia’s Derg era. It follows journalist Riccardo Orizio’s quest to hunt down seven dictators living out the remainder of their lives, either in countries that would take them, or in prison. One dictator covered by Orizio is Ethiopia’s Colonel Mengistu – the man responsible for plunging Ethiopia into years of death and terror during The Derg. Mengistu lives in Zimbabwe now, safely harboured by Robert Mugabe. Whilst many books factually cover this era of Ethiopia’s history, few are afforded an interview with Mengistu himself.
Alongside these five books, are countless more – some better known than others – that are either based in Ethiopia or cover key eras in history, including:
- The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat (Ryszard Kapuscinki)
- The Chains of Heaven: An Ethiopian Romance (Philip Marsden)
- Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)
- Notes from the Hyenas Belly (Nega Mezlekia)
- The Barefoot Emperor (Philip Marsden)
- Pioneers of Change in Ethiopia (Bahru Zewde)
- Greater Ethiopia (Donald Nathan Levine)
- Beyond the Throne (Indrias Getachew)
- Gift of Incense: A Story of Love and Revolution in Ethiopia (Abubakar Ashakih and Judith Ashakih)
If you’re looking for somewhere quiet to curl up with your book, Bunni’s is highly recommend for big sofas, a good view and some of the best smoothies in Addis. The grounds of the Ghion Hotel on a sunny day are perfect for reading, and the Asni Gallery near Arat Kilo, has a great corner sofa to curl up on on a rainy day and a leafy courtyard for when the weather cooperates.
In terms of guide books on Ethiopia, the Bradt Guide stands out as the strongest, however it is now several years out of date which, in a country developing as fast as Ethiopia, can cause chaos when following maps and finding half the hotels it lists no longer exist. It is most definitely still worth having, but use it alongside the WordPress site built by the same team for ‘real-time’ updates and advice from fellow travellers on routes chosen, places stayed and where to avoid.