By Nabi’ Aliye
I write from my hotel in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, after spending a day in Bishoftu. Bishoftu is a beautiful town 50 miles south of Addis Ababa, known for it’s famous lakes and also as a site of annual Oromo cultural celebration called Irreecha.
I’ve been in Ethiopia for just about a month now and there are no dull moments here. Today, I wanted to share with you all about a city l quickly came to enjoy. Located at the heart of Ethiopia; this old African city is BIG, over populated, and dynamic in a lot of ways. There’s construction almost about everywhere I went in Ethiopia. It’s even more so in Addis making it dirtier and extremely dusty.
Uniquely positioned as the seat of African Union, Addis is one big melting pot, live with a mix of ancient religions and culture. I found Ethiopia to be both old and new – full of young people who’re yearning for change. The city seems to be making some progress although it still lacks basic necessities that are often taken for granted in the west. It’s a working city where a hassle of taxi drivers and passengers could at times be a tall order.
I was surprised to see how the western culture is taking roots in the city and all over Ethiopia. Everyone wants iPhones, cars with rims, and fancy clothes. Compared to the rest of the country, Western popular culture is much more prevalent in Addis probably due to the presence of a sizable number of foreigners and expatriates, who are now returning in droves.
Addis Ababans say the city is developing quickly. If the sprouting high-rise buildings are any indication, there is probably some grain of truth in their hopeful claims. But poverty is difficult to ignore in this old city full of shantytowns and beggars. Never have l seen such a clear distinction between the haves and have-nots. Either you have some money or NO money. Beggars, mostly mothers carrying young children, roam the streets at all hours of the day.
To be fair, there’s poverty in the United States but people can at least bath, eat, and go to homeless shelters provided by their state. For many in Addis, the streets are their shelter, the next meal is not guaranteed, and bathing is a luxury only reserved for the haves. There’s virtually no middle class to speak of.
I’m a coffee lover and Ethiopia; the birthplace of coffee has it best. One place that reminded me of my first job at Starbucks was Kaldi’s Coffee. From the tables and chairs to the logo, the owner clearly took the idea from Starbucks. That fact put some smiles on my face but I enjoyed every cup of their coffee.
Kaldi’s also offers a lunch menu, ice cream, and an amazing assortment of cakes. Much like the Starbucks franchises in the U.S., Kaldi’s is always busy and packed with foreigners who go there for great coffee and conversations to feel right at home. People dress to impress here. You’ll never know whom your going to run into at Kaldi’s. I had my own share of surprises. The scenery is so unique that you feel as if you are somewhere else not in Ethiopia, well, at least l did.
All around Addis, I found a lot of young entrepreneurs. Because of their school system that requires passing an entrance exam, not every high school graduate goes to college in Ethiopia. The alternative seems starting a family owned business, which many say generates more income than someone with a college degree.
For example, Achu Yoni, who’s poised to become Ethiopia’s next big entrepreneur, quickly rose to fame because of his editing and filming company. A young Oromo from Addis, Yoni worked through loopholes to become a well-respected producer almost overnight. Ethiopia’s most famous families, artist, and actors now actively seek out for his quality production.
Other young entrepreneurs have started wedding service venues that rent fancy Mercedes to couples. Young people all over Ethiopia are getting creative to eat, find shelter, and entertainment. Here in Addis, in many ways, it seems like a response to the destitute poverty that can be seen all around the city. I was impressed and appreciated all the talents l came across. Like young people around the world, the Ethiopian youth also want a better future for themselves and their family. Their entrepreneurial spirit made me think what else l could be doing with my own life.
Though l was informed not to talk politics, I asked a few people for their thoughts on the direction of their country. Many agree that the government is not allowing them to grow like they want.
In this country of 80 million, a select few control almost everything. Ethnicity is seen as a major hindrance to advancement. Certain ethnic groups have differential access to power and resources. Ethiopians can’t question their handlers a lot. If they did, the consequences are usually harsh. Media is very restricted. I couldn’t read OPride.com for example.
In closing, if you think you got it bad, just know someone, somewhere else has it much worse than you.
Thanks for reading.