Salambo in Addis

Salambo discovering Ethiopia

End of week two, start of third week

I have been here for two weeks exactly. I feel much better than in the first week, I only occasionally have that claustrophobic sensation of not being able to breathe (it must be altitude sickness), and I begin to have a sense of direction in the city. But on the whole, I still feel somewhat lost in my life. I have to think to remember what day or date we are. I sometimes feel like being on a long holiday that is not a holiday because we don’t have a home to go back to. Home is here now, but it takes time to feel this way, to make this foreign city our new home. We, human beings, need routine, regular patterns and a familiar environment. In my sleepless nights, I try to distract myself thinking about our container, which should get to Addis relatively soon now (we heard confirmation that it has been discharged in Djibouti, so maybe another two weeks). I have fun trying to imagine where I’ll put our furniture into the new house, what will fit where, and on which walls we’ll hang pictures and store books. I try to remember in detail what we have, make a mental picture of all the personal effects we took with us, currently stored in boxes inside a container. It makes me realize how much we have, how rich we are in Europe (and I thought I was quite good at getting rid of unwanted stuff). I wonder how maids and guards will feel when they see a house with so many things inside. At the moment, we live in a simple way, in a spacious house maybe, but with the minimum amount of furniture and clothes, so I don’t feel we have so much on display. However, when our three hundred boxes of clothes, books, toys, kitchen utensils, plates, glasses, computers and other objects will arrive to fill up the house, it will be different. For instance, I don’t pay much attention to my swatch watches, which I consider as ordinary almost disposable watches. They give me the freedom to read the time without worrying about the object, but here, each one of them represents a monthly salary for a guard. So we’re going to have the equivalent of so many monthly salaries carelessly displayed in our house. I wonder what a maid may feel, working in a rich house, when she herself struggles to live in two basic rooms with her whole family. For her, a second hand table with four chairs sold by the side of the road is equivalent to one month worth of work. Do we hide, do we try to be the least ostentatious possible, or do we live our life normally?  I get concerned but I don’t know what they feel, how they think, where the guards, maids and other domestic employees see themselves. A number of economists have reflected on the so-called pyramid shape of human aspirations and desires. First, at the very basis, we aspire to have enough food to feed ourselves without having to think about it. Once achieved, we look at a house and clothes to keep warm, as well as a steady income. Only once that achieved, we aim at a better job with more prospects. Finally at the top of the pyramid, we look at personal happiness and how to attain it. So we, westerners, are at the top of the pyramid while the majority of people in Ethiopia are at the bottom. Where do we mentally meet? We have forgotten what it’s like when the need for food dominates all our thoughts.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Having said that, I am currently sitting in the lobby at the Hilton, so I’m quickly slipping back into my comfortable life. That’s the place where many independent professionals come to work because of the fast internet connection, one of the best in town! For an international hotel, it is a pleasant place to hang around with its low-key relaxed atmosphere. It is also known for its warm spring water swimming pool. As I arrived this morning, I met other parents from school, a Scottish-Ethiopian couple who has just moved here from the U.S.  They invited me to have an Ethiopian coffee, before getting on with my daily business. Having coffee is a true ceremony here. People sit together on wooden stools around a low table where the coffee is being prepared. Green coffee beans are being roasted and frankincense burnt as an inviting gesture to take a coffee break. While the smell of the fresh beans roasting fills up the air, the coffee is ground with beans roasted the previous day. Boiling water is then poured on the freshly ground coffee, which is left to simmer until the powder gradually sinks to the bottom of the pot. The process takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Once ready, the coffee (sweetened or not) is served into small traditional handless cups. After that, more boiling water is added to the pot to top up the remainder of the coffee. A second and third lighter cup will be poured from it. In the traditional way, people drink three cups of coffee: a strong one to start with, a medium one and a milder more diluted one. They are then ready to start their day.

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This entry was posted on September 19, 2011 by in Addis at first sight and tagged , , .

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