guest post: 5 ways you know you’re in Ethiopia

In honor of Anthony coming HOME finally, here’s a guest post about his latest travels in Ethiopia!

So the next part of my round-the-world work journey took me from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh to the savannahs of Ethiopia.

After a short round of meetings in Addis Ababa, I made my way out to two more remote areas of the country including Awassa and Bahir Dar where I am sitting now enjoying a crisp local larger.


To capture my experience here in Ethiopia, I thought I would provide a brief guide to those that intend to visit this remarkable country.

Here’s 5 things that tell you you’re in Ethiopia.

1. You’re really really out of breath. The first thing you will notice as you climb a relatively modest number of stairs or try any form of exercise in Ethiopia, is that you’re out of breath very quickly. At 7,726 feet above sea level, Addis is well over 2,000 feet higher than Denver. This makes it either the perfect place for an asthma attack or a breeding ground for the world’s top runners.

It’s not hard to believe that runners in Ethiopia are national idols. They are not only on every billboard you see in town, but are also plastered on airlines ads, sparkling water bottles, etc. The runners own a bunch of companies, restaurants, and hotels all across the country. Think of Haile Gebrselassie (who won Berlin marathon in a time of 2:03:59 in 2008) as the Ethiopian equivalent of Brad Pitt as far as star-power goes.

To test my own running prowess against the locals, I was eyeing off the running track near my hotel as a potential spot for some sprints. But then I realised that there were far too many stairs to get there.

So, instead I opted for the workout bike in my room and a quick WOD consisting of 8 rounds of 15 pushups, 15 squats, and 15 situps.

2. The coffee is g-g-g-g-great. Apparently coffee originated in Ethiopia and was named after the Ethiopian kingdom of Kaffa (or at least the locals think so).

With over 100 species of coffee growing here wildly, coffee production is a major source of income for the locals. And, a major source of sleeplessness and jitters for me. Yes, it is actually REALLY good. They not only grow some good coffee here but also know how to make a good cup, too. This latter specialty is, in my (Australian) opinion, the downfall of many a coffee shop/chain in America.

Today in Bahir Dar I had the opportunity of having coffee with the family of my tour guide, Melaku. Bahir Dar is located on the largest lake in Ethiopia which is about 60 miles wide. The lake is home to 37 islands which host about 20 Ethiopian Orthodox monasteries.

We visited some of them today, and I was fortunate enough to stop by the house were Melaku’s mother, sister and three brothers live.

3. It’s developing fast. While Melaku’s house was a simple mud hut with no electricity nor running water, major cities are developing quickly. Every time I fly into Addis, I notice the skyline rapidly evolving as both local and international businesses scramble to get a piece of the country’s fast-growing economy.

While structures like this covered in eucalyptus tree scaffolding are plentiful in the city areas, the rural population is still severely impoverished.

I went to visit an entrepreneur in Ziway, an area which produces expansive volumes of cut flowers (a major export of Ethiopia). Hussen is setting up a facility to recycle the waste from cut flower farms into nutrient-rich compost that he intends to sell back to the flower farms and other farmers in the area.

The flower farms dump about 50 truck-loads of waste into this site every day which are often laden with harmful pesticides and chemicals.

The piles grow so much that that they have to burn the waste regularly. This pollution has ended up shutting down a nearby school due to the smoke pollution. Even worse, children like this are digging through the waste trying to find things they can sell, like rubber-bands. This scene will probably stick in my memory the most out of all of the things I’ve seen in Ethiopia.

With investment from our program, Hussen will should have his operations up and running soon. He intends to employ about 120 of the locals which will hopefully allow this boy’s parents to send him back to school.

4. Things are cheap (relatively). Yes, things are pretty cheap here. Yesterday I enjoyed a traditional Ethiopian dish of grilled ox meat which cost me 41 Birr. AKA a little under $2.50.

With two beers and a bottle of water included, I’ll barely make it to $4. And that’s not all that is cheap. Cab rides a pretty inexpensive and usually cost a flat $5 anywhere you want to go (although I expect that is a high foreigner price). This lovely hotel room at Awassa cost around $35 a night. A round bed and massage chair – Who could want anything more?

But price is all relative. Most professionals earn no more than $500 a month. I also interviewed a local technical training college (much like a community college). He informed me that 80% of Ethiopia high school graduates go through an education system where they can learn anything from being a mechanic to hotel staff. This college costs about 200 birr per semester , which translates into just over $10.

5. You tend to come across wild animals. Yes, as expected, there are plenty of wild animals here. Although, not as many as there really should be. Unfortunately most of the native animals are now restricted to national parks after being pursued for skins, meat, horns, tusks, or other valuable assets.

The good news is that there are still sightings to be made. Here are a few:

Monkey:

Hippo:

Then I hit the jackpot.. Vultures eating a hyena.

So, if you ever find yourself waking up from the sounds of monkeys on your roof, in a cheap hotel room, with a massage chair, slightly out of breath, as you reach for your morning coffee while admiring the construction across the road… you know you’re in Ethiopia.

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