Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Three Cows, Nine Donkeys, Goats Galore and a Close Call

I’ve become brave since my return to Addis Ababa from the gentle, sophisticated idyll of Kenya. Twice now I have risked all to walk the several blocks to Novis, the corner “carry anything we can” store. This morning the benefits of torrential rains were evident – streets looked clean. Used condoms (sorry but this is reality time) and goat heads are not nearly so repulsive when glistening in the rain! Reusable REI bag over my shoulder, rain jacket zipped up and waterproof shoes, I was almost jaunty as I set out on the morning task. A shopping list is pointless because you haven’t a clue what will be in stock. Highlight of the walk was greeting a Mom and little girl whose hair was done up with dozens of bright beads. Her mother told me it was the child’s birthday and on my return I passed them again, this time the child was being serenaded in English with Happy Birthday by a group of young men they all appeared to know.

My haul today was pretty good – tomatoes, oyster mushrooms, garlic, potatoes (exceptionally good here), honey, tea, corn oil and the most precious cargo, fresh eggs, nestled on napkins on the top of the bag – no such thing as an egg container. I also scored a Kg. of freshly ground beef to cook with loads of rice for the dog named Dug, newly acquired by Ben and Annie. Dug is a beautiful longhaired German shepherd whose Australian owners could not take him with them on their next posting. He appears to be settling in well here much to the housekeeper’s dismay – she’s been following him with a mop in an effort to keep the floors clean –lady, it’s a lost cause in this rain season.

In the course of my 15 minute walk I had a close encounter with a herd of goats, kept a respectable distance from a string of nine donkeys carrying sacks full of potatoes and an even wider distance from the three cows with very large, curved horns that adhered to the Masai philosophy that they came directly from heaven and therefore had a right to hog the narrow road. My closest call was reserved for one of the Blue Donkeys – the laboring Lada’s used as taxis. I crossed the main Bole Rd. (not sure where that suicidal thought came from) in a vain effort to get a relatively current newspaper from the vendor. His most recent offering was a Herald Tribune from last week so I passed. I have to admire this man’s initiative. He has a deal going with some of the airline stewards who save papers from incoming flights and pass them on to him for re-sale. Recycling at it’s most efficient.

With Annie pregnant and all of us in revolt over Ethiopian food, I’ve taken on the Herculean task of teaching Yeshi, cook/housekeeper, the art of “American” cooking. Yeshi is a good cook, no doubt, and there is some good Ethiopian food; my quarrel is with the primary cooking method for everything – namely fry in oil and then subdue further by boiling until everything is a uniform brown and homogeneous mush texture. Tastes pretty good though! Yeshi is also a tough cookie. A tiny lady, Coptic Christian (and today is Wednesday, fasting day), she’s unusual in that she’s divorced and raising sons 8 and 10 – with an iron rod too to judge by some of her comments.

First cooking lesson was pastry making and to my chagrin first batch was awful; the flour simply not conducive to the flaky pasty for which I have modest fame in home circles. I bought three different kinds of flour and the third proved to be closest in texture and substance to good old all-purpose flour so we produced a credible and edible crust for quiche. The gods intervened big time later and yesterday was the second day in a row without power. Finally electricity was restored around 8 p.m. and quiche came out of the oven (not without drama, the shelf slipped and it was only an act of sheer heroism or desperation on my son’s part that prevented quiche ending up on the floor) absolutely perfect. Will have to do a repeat act since Yeshi quits at 3 p.m. so was not there to witness the triumph. Today we are making a pasta sauce.

Daily life in Addis despite cooks, housekeepers and gardeners is not easy. The most simple of tasks take forever. There’s no such luxury as “I’m just popping down to Safeway for …back in ten minutes”. We have major roof leaks at the house and contacting the landlord is another lost cause. His very substantial rent (you could rent a foothills palace in Tucson for what they pay here a month) is paid six months in advance and since he’s just been paid, he has no inducement to respond. The only option is for Ben and the gardener to do a patch job and then to call an associate of the landlord’s to shame him into action. The foreign aid worker community here is huge and since properties that even vaguely approximate western comfort and amenities are in short supply, rents have been driven sky high and landlords hold the strings. Gas stations are frequently “out” and that apparently has something to do with bills to Libya, the primary supplier of petroleum products, not being paid because Ethiopia has a cash flow problem. Same goes for the miles of half finished road works. China came in big time with ambitious plans for rebuilding roads and infra structure but with payments behind schedule, they appear to have packed bags and gone leaving massive holes in roads and skeletons of bridge structures.


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