There are loads of things I’m really enjoying in Addis. But there are a few quirks that I’m struggling with. One is the enormous amount of just waiting around you seem to have to do. I spent most of the morning in the courtrooms one day this week, waiting for an official piece of paper that EEF needs (3 hours, and several redirections from one person to another, later and we never ended up getting it – got to go back next week). Another morning, we waited 2 hours at our agreed meeting place downtown, for someone to turn up: he arrived completely unconcerned. We’ve waited all week for the plumber to arrive (promised three days in a row but yet to appear). And worst of all, I waited almost an hour for my burger and chips (I’d had ‘injera’, the local pancake-like sourdough bread, for several meals in a row and needed comfort food), only to be then told they were out of burgers.
Which brings me onto another quirk here: cafes and restaurants are more than happy to give you a menu and let you spend ages choosing what you want. You then order, and find out that practically everything you ask for, they don’t have today. Not really sure what the purpose of the whole menu rigmarole is – 9 times out of 10, you revert to just asking what things they actually have on today.
I’m being unfair – that’s in the local (really cheap) cafes we’re using. We’ve had a couple of excellent meals in slightly more upmarket places. And wherever we’ve gone, even where the selection wasn’t great, the food has been delicious: the stews (‘wot’) are quite spicy (usually with ‘berbere’, a blend of chilli and other spices) and have really rich flavours. And even the injera, which doesn’t look the most appetising to begin with, really grows on you (it’s used in place of a knife and fork as well – you eat with your right hand, using the injera to gather up the stew). A regular for breakfast, in a cafe close to the hostel, is ‘ful’: delicious mashed fava beans, with spices, topped with scrambled egg, chillis and tomatoes. Apparently, over 200 days a year are ‘fasting’ days, when meat and dairy is forbidden. So you always get really good, vegetarian options as well. All of this must be pretty healthy, because everyone looks in great shape here: I’ve seen no-one obese (I know that, in a country with 30m people living in extreme poverty, that’s maybe understandable; but even where people have money, I get the impression, from my brief stint here so far, that the diet is a pretty healthy one).
We also tried our first Ethiopian wine last night (merlot / cabernet sauvignon from the Rift Valley) and it was pretty good. First glass of wine for 2 weeks, mind you, so it was always going to go down well. [As an aside, I did spit some of it out in a big guffaw when Caspar told me about the new Facebook group ‘conversations overheard in Waitrose’: one was a 5 year old asking their mother whether Lego has a silent ‘t’ like merlot.] Not a fan of the home-brewed beer, ‘tella’, though, at least the one the greengrocer gave us to try. It was thick, gloopy and dark brown, with stringy bits of whatever grain is used, and tasted of one of those far too healthy vegetable smoothies. But him bringing it out for us, his important customers, was such an honour, we had to try and force it down: not a pleasant memory.