Real life

posted in: Life in Ethiopia | 0

Immediately to the right of the man in the jacket is a butcher’s shop, which rather seems to be rubbing the goat’s nose in it.

After an enjoyable breakfast at The Village, a local watering-hole, I received an invitation from Atala to visit a couple of places with her.  Wasn’t exactly sure where they were, but I was more than happy to go along with whatever she suggested; I get few enough opportunities to see anything outside my immediate locality.  I met her near her office, where she arrived with her younger daughter, Beza, a bright and smiley ten-year-old (her older sister, Yebsira, is already a member of the cast, playing her mother’s twin sister!)

We caught one of those minibuses I have already described, which pleased me, as I was keen to experience one from the inside, and a guide made it all the less stressful.  It was a relatively short trip, and actually that was quite long enough to appreciate their (lack of) charm.  They were, as I ought to have suspected, hot, smelly and crowded, with no leg or head room; as my head was jammed against the roof, I could not even look out of the window.

We arrived in Piasa, the next district along from 4 Kilo, and a swift march through town gave me a view of the less savoury aspects of street life: the seriously disabled beggars, lying on the street; the man scrabbling to gather together a few grains of cooked rice spilled onto the pavement; and most disturbing of all the seriously disturbed man with barely enough clothes to cover himself, who jumped and pushed his way ahead of us, screaming curses as he went.  We hung back, not wishing for any further encounter, but it was not pleasant to see him getting into serious altercations with the people ahead.  Most serious of these was his encounter with a pavement salesman, who picked up a stout stick; we took our chance to push past them and away, but we heard the shouts and screams of their altercation for some time.

Our actual destination was the Baza picture school, a traditional art centre, located off the street in a somewhat shabby complex of old buildings off the main street (some of the buildings, built in a traditional style, had clearly once been magnificent, but many were now virtually collapsed.  The painting school had a group of four and five girls, painstakingly copying religious pictures.  There were also some examples of Ethiopian calligraphy lying around, and Beza was happy to demonstrate a few letters, (including “Cris”) on a scrap of parchment, using a traditional pen of a small piece of bamboo with its end sharpened to make a nib.  Atala had been particularly keen to show me the main hall, but there was a meeting in progress, so we were unable to enter.

On our route out, it was clear that the Painting school was part of a larger arts centre, and I was shown the theatre.  It was a large, bare hall, with a stage at one end, but clearly an ancient building – there was no electricity for any lighting at all.  There was a class in progress, six children of varying sizes demonstrating a sequence of a variety of traditional dances.  Energetic and charming, if understandably lacking a little precision.

Another room in the same building had a mirror at one end, so I assumed it was a dance studio, but it turned out to be a modelling school, with a strip of lino down the middle to represent a catwalk.  The young man and two young women were happy to demonstrate its use, but I have to say I find it difficult to believe there was much more for them to learn (but that may be just me displaying my prejudices.)

We caught a full-sized bus to our next destination – we were visiting Atala’s sister – and were making slow enough progress in the heavy traffic when even that came to a sudden halt when a lorry in the adjoining lane misjudged its width and scraped down our side.  The ensuing halt, inspection and discussion was clearly going to take some time, so we disembarked.  The walk which followed, as we tried to track down an appropriate minibus in an unfamiliar area, did provide me with an insight into the mass of humanity that is busy Addis.  Lined up along one side of the pavement, virtually shoulder to shoulder, were people selling… well, just about everything (though much was cheap and Chinese): washing-up bowls, kitchen implements, Ipad cables.  But as Atala pointed out, so many sellers, so few buyers.  But if I thought the street was chaotic and mad, it was even worse as we descended the steep concrete steps to the teeming bus station.  I told Atala not to lose me, or I might be lost forever.

Eventually, we found a minibus to take us to her sister’s neighbourhood.  This turned out to a very pleasant gated community, originally government houses, so I was told.  The houses were all in good condition, the environment green and shady, with lots of trees, and green squares.  We spent a most comfortable hour or two with Asteda and her family in their modern, comfortable house.  Their parents, an elderly couple in traditional dress, were sitting serenely on the sofa in the lounge watching TV, but welcomed me graciously, if wordlessly.  Astede gave Atala and I some lunch – tagliatelli, making a welcome change – and later, much to my pleased surprise, Astede drove us home, dropping me first at Arat Kilo.

It had been a low-key day, but all the more valuable for all that, to get a closer view of real life in Ethiopia, the sort of opportunity a tourist does not often get.

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