An A to Z of my time in Ethiopia

posted in: Life in Ethiopia | 0

Cottage pie and carrots

A and B have to go together, as they refer to the terrible twins, Alazar and Binyam.  They had much going for them:  Alazar is funny, witty, erudite, and, though he actually contributed very little during the project, he did come good at the end, with a nifty little poster, and some excellent photos (and maybe some video to come.) And Binyam is an excellent performer, when he could be persuaded to focus and not disappear with his phone.  But first they were at almighty loggerheads with each other, which I had to manage, and worst of all was the constant demand for more money, virtually daily, which seriously got me down.

C is for cottage pie.  Most of the time here I cooked for myself, and this was my proudest achievement; it tasted as good as it looks.

D is for Dr Anchu, my landlady, who is always on call, and prompt in her response to any problem.  And always nice about it too! (“Sorry for the inconvenience!”)

E is for enjira, the Ethiopian pancake that they use for everything.  At first I quite liked it; now the very thought makes me gag.  A friend who had been here fifty years ago described it as like a thin foam mattress, and that is kind, in my opinion.

F is for the Film School staff.  Not, I hasten to add, the management, teaching staff, or students, none of whom could be bothered to come to see the show, and merely seemed to regard me as a cash cow (nothing new there), but the kitchen girls, and the two security guys, who were great.  I always said hello, clowned and made them laugh, and we got on very well.

G is actually the best of all, the Gang: the fifteen members of the cast, all of whom I really, really liked – they were just great.

H is home, my home in Addis.  I spent quite a lot of time here, there generally being little to do and nowhere to go in the evening, but I was quite happy with that (so long as the wi-fi worked.)  I had tea and biscuits, the paper, beer and crisps, home-cooked food, the radio.  Even the telly once I’d sorted out a VPN.  And a comfortable bed.  Who could ask for more?

I stands for internet, or rather wi-fi (or weefy, as Val’s uncle would have described it.)  I pretty much covered it in the last paragraph, just missing the utter desolation when the power went off and it disappeared.  Plus the troubles with my blog-site; Val has been posting my blogs for me for the past week, since I appear to have been locked out of my own site!

J (a bit of a cop-out) is for jam, which stands in for my shopping here, when at first I thought I would not be able to find anything I could manage to eat.  So it includes jam, peanut butter (pretty disgusting), a couple of huge avocados (which went off and I had to throw away), but also my more successful purchases – a tin of Quaker porridge oats’ a tin of mi8lk powder, a big block of (admittedly tasteless) cheese…

K is for king,, and two of our warm-up games: King Rabbit (actually a drinking game – not that I told them that), silly and funny;  and Who Killed King John, a rule-based get the words right and don’t laugh game, which I used once in desperation, and which they coped with amazingly well.

L is for Lucy.  No, not my daughter, but the ancient skeleton in the museum (don’t know which one; I was taken there on a tour.)  Not all that impressive, actually, but the Ethiopians are very proud of her as mankind’s earliest ancestor (maybe.) 

M is for the mini-market, just around the corner.  I was most disparaging about it when I first arrived, but actually it has been a godsend – onions, potatoes, tomatoes (the tomatoes look pretty scabby, but taste amazing.)  Beer, coke and water, crisps, noodles…  And a really nice couple who run it.  (I once gave a 200 birre too many by mistake, which was returned to me.)

N is for notes, as in director’s notes, scribbled down in an exercise book during run-throughs.  For just about every one, I repeated the note “The Chase!”, referencing a tricky movement section, which, despite being rehearsed again and again, was disastrous every time.  Until the performance!

O is for ordinary life, ie the opposite of being a tourist, when the only Ethiopians you get to speak to are taxi-drivers and people who work in hotels.  I nod and say hello to people on the street, I buy food in the local shops, I talk and joke with lots of local people, I’ve been to their houses…  Not that I am claiming any great merit in this, but working in a place is so much better than just visiting, in my opinion.  Although, in contrast, I am sad that I have not seen more of Ethiopia.

P is for phones.  Vital, of course, as I discovered when my Ethiopian phone stopped working on me (I’ve since discovered that it works when outside on high buildings, and luckily I have a large balcony outside my apartment.)  But for too much of the time, they make me want to scream.  Binyam never stopped being on his, despite insisting that the cast should do without theirs.  I frequently threatened the cast with throwing theirs off the Film School terrace, but they knew I was joking (just.)

Q is for the Queen of Sheba.  Mythical figure, had sex with Solomon, claimed by various countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen and, of course, Ethiopia – Ethiopian air miles are Sheba miles, and the print shop where I got the scripts copied, with a very nice, English-speaking manager, is called Queen of Sheba Printing.  Ironically, in an earlier version of Double Trouble, one of the characters said, “Who’s she?  The Queen of Sheba?”

R is for rolls, as in bread rolls.  When I first came to Ethiopia, and stayed in the Hotel Sidra, I found the bread disgusting, falling apart and sweet.  But there is a bakery nearby, and though I was suspicious that theirs would be similar.  But actually, though there is no choice other than Hobson’s – she just has soft bread rolls, a bit like hamburger baps, they are very nice.  They cost 8 birre each, and the lady is always amused when I hand over the right money for the number of rolls requested.  They made a difference to my life here – cheese and tomato sandwiches.

S is for stairs, one of my least favourite aspects of my trip here.  Both my apartment and the Film School are on the fourth floor, and neither has a lift, meaning that whichever direction I travel, my journey ends with me out of breath.

T is for tea.  At first, I was carefully conserving the ones I had brought from England (even keeping used ones in the fridge in case I got desperate.)  But since discovering that the ones on sale here are at least as good, I have drunk as many cups as I want.

U is for unfinished buildings (I know – a bit of a stretch.)  I am just amazed that there are so many of them around.  Very occasionally, I have come across some frantic activity (all with manual labour), but then, the next time I pass by, the site is idle again.

V is for Village, or rather The Village, a bar-cum-restaurant just a short walk away.  It has bookended my stay; it was where Alazar took me for coffee when I first arrived, and was the scene of my final get-together with the cast.  A fine place… with draft beer.

W is for water, more specifically lack of water.  On a regular basis, nothing comes out of the taps (even when they are working, it is barely a trickle.)  Which means a ten gallon drum is hauled up the stairs, for me to decant into a bowl to throw down the toilet, have a wash, clean the dishes etc.  Sometimes, Anchu the construction work going on outside, but it also happened before they started work.

X is for crossing, as in crossing the road, something I have become entirely used to (and will have to unlearn as soon as I return home, or else I shall get myself run over.)  I am not quite so casual about it as the locals; walking with Atala and her daughter was a nightmare, as she would appear just to step out without a glance, even carving our way across a roundabout.

Y is for Yod Abyssinia, the traditional restaurant offering an amazing cabaret of traditional music and dances (there are many different ethnic groups in Ethiopia, and they all have their own style, costume, etc.)  It was quite a highlight, though I believe there are several offering much the same fare – I went to another, was even persuaded to get up and dance, but it lacked the magic of the first time.

And Z (of course!) is for Zip zap boing.  It was a favourite at Thame Youth Theatre, and I have used it with just about every group I have worked with (the one exception being Lebanon, where it failed to work because zip is too close to zib, Arabic for willy.)  It always follows the first pattern.  At first they are bemused, then start to catch on, and end up lightning fast.

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