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October 22, 2017

Getting a first hand taste of the rough and tumble of Ethiopian street life - Ethiopian Journey - Post 13.

God's own "Sun Burnt People"
Watching us from the side was Tadesse Getahun the hotel Manager. He was very friendly. During one of his conversation he told me that he had visited Delhi, India. I asked him what he liked and disliked about India. Tadesse gave it a serious thought “Most things I liked, population is very big, very crowded and people are very smart. Every one appears to be busy and Indians are hardworking”.

He took a deep breath and blurted out “Delhi was pretty rude to us. They called us Darkies!”. “Darkies” He sputtered “We Ethiopians are not uniformly dark. Some of us are fairer than you Indians. In fact I find many Indians darker than us” It was good reasoning. He also added “Indians call our Country Ethopia or even worse Utopia. It is  not either. Our country is Ethiopia and we are extremely proud of our country”. He stood tall and was strutting like a peacock, I liked his attitude. 

Tadesse told me a story that was both amusing and illustrative at the same time. God was busy baking human beings.  The first set of people came out pale and very light skinned. God did not like these people and in a fit of rage threw it on earth. The fair skinned landed in Europe and USA and they became the modern fair skinned Anglo Saxons. God baked a second set but the second set was over cooked. They were very dark skinned, had squat features, thick lips and were a thick set of people. God in fury threw them on earth and they landed in Africa.

The third time around god was extra careful and lovingly baked a third set of people. They came out perfectly. “These are the perfect human beings” God exclaimed.  He searched an area on earth to place them. The high lands meant that the second set of people could not fall in Ethiopia. So god lovingly placed the perfect set of people in Ethiopia and fondly called them “Sun Burnt people”. Not too dark not too fair! I think that was a wonderful tale from a crafty and skillful story teller, Tadesse Getahun!

Getting bored in the hotel, I stepped out. Outside the scene was crowded and quite noisy. There were people milling around and many small children and young men were loitering around. There were at least twenty to thirty shoe shine boys and they all had customers ready. Getting Shoes shined, it looked was the national pass time in Addis Ababa!

Shoe Shine Boys 
The minute the children and the young men saw me, they got triggered. They hollered “Bapuji, Hind”. This was repeated with deafeningly increasing decibel levels. Others were not to be put down. They kept screaming “Firanj, Firanj, Shah Rukh Ka, Rani”. I tried to ignore them. The small ones knew their game, They kept saying “You, You, You, You,……..”. It was disheartening and very irritating. I tried to get used to it but these kids were on, continuously. The attention was totally unwanted and unwarranted. Now I know how the celebrities feel when they are chased by the paparazzi.

I came back to the hotel and asked my friend what it all meant. Tadesse heaved a deep sign “Ethiopians are very poor. We have very high rate of unemployment and even when both the parents work, it is difficult to make both ends meet. Government School system is not very robust and most private schools are unaffordable. All this means that the children are left by themselves and they amuse themselves by teasing the foreigners.”
Ethiopian kids and Foreigners 
I asked him what all the terms meant. Tadesse exclaimed “Bapuji is from Indian movies and even could be a reference to Mahatma Gandhi. Hind is a short form of Hindustan. Firanj is an Amharic word for a foreigner”. According to Tadesse, Hindi movie blockbusters had a huge impression and they would refer to Indian men as Shah Rukh Khan and Indian women as Rani as in Rani Mukherjee.

shah Rukh Ka and Rani 
“Wow” I exclaimed “Not bad to be compared with Shah Rukh Khan” I started preening myself. Tadesse brought me to earth with his crushing reply “My friend. For these kids all Indian men irrespective of age, colour, hairy or bald, lean or fat, all of you are Shah Rukh Khans and all Indian women are Ranis”. I was truly deflated.

Foreigners in India are treated as demi gods. We ogle at them and go out of our way to please them. We accost them and ask questions like “Where are you from? Are you married? How many children do you have? Is this your husband/wife? What is your salary?” We go out of our way to make them feel important. Their fair skin makes us feel that they in some way superior to us.

Ethiopians behaviour is exactly in reverse. As they were never colonized they harbour a healthy dose of distrust and skepticism for foreigners. Foreigners are not put on a pedestal. They are infact teased to no end. It is as if to say “You came to my country as you did not get good opportunities in your in own country”. Even after four years, the constant ribbing on the roads was a big pain. You get used to it but the attention is never ending and always we used to have a small set of children following us and yelling “You, You, You”. All the time!

Blue and white taxis
Local transport is very unreliable in Addis Ababa. Most people rely on mini taxis or minibuses. These minibuses that can seat at most twelve people but enterprising owners can squeeze upto fourteen by using small stools. Most travelers bear with the discomfort as the distances are short and city buses are overcrowded and are quite irregular. Two people are responsible for each taxi, the driver and a Weyala who collects fares and calls out the taxi's destination. The Weyala would hang out precariously from the mini bus and scream “Arat Kilo, Arat Kilo” a land mark in Addis Ababa. He would briskly spell out the fare “hamsa ammest” or 55 santim. (One birr = 100 santims).

The blue and white mini taxis or mini buses were beaten up trucks that were imported from the Middle East. Most of them were past their sell by date, needed lot of serving and frequently broke and caused lots of trouble and heart burn to the bus owners. Luckily by 2009, 2010, local entrepreneurs introduced the three wheeler autos from India. As they have never seen three seater autos the Ethiopians started calling them ‘Bajaj or Bajaja’ after the company that markets them – The Bajaj company!  

Bajajas are so popular in Ethiopia that they are slowly but steadily replacing the aging mini buses and they are now the life line of Ethiopian local transport. The Bajaja drivers are a grateful lot as Bajaj three wheeler autos are maintenance free and give good income to their owners. India should be proud for providing these three wheeler autos and helping solve the transport problem of Ethiopia. At the same time Bajajas are providing livelihood to many Ethiopians. The only thing that I would miss is the lively, impish and cheeky Weyala! 

October 21, 2017

First Day in Addis Ababa, at Ethiopian Hotel - 8th November 2002 - Ethiopian Journey - Part 12.

Ethiopian Christians going to the Church for Prayers 
I got up early in the morning. I peeped out of the window. There was a lot of fog and it had enveloped the city in a tight unforgiving hug. There was a nip in the air. I was shivering in the cold. I went up to the terrace of the hotel. The view was breath taking. There were rolling hills all around. It was picture post card perfect! I shot the scenes on my video camera.

Gingerly I stepped out of the hotel but stayed under the watchful eye of the hotel security. I could see hordes of Ethiopians silently moving in their long white flowing dresses. They had the most solemn and serious faces I had ever seen. I was puzzled. They were shuffling along slowly. It looks as if a holy procession was moving along. It was so surreal. The effect was accentuated by the nip in the air and the cold weather. I had to pinch myself to get out of the feeling of awe. 

I enquired “where are they going”. The guard replied in halting English “They go, Church”. Then it struck me, Ethiopia is a Christian country surrounded by Muslim nations in the horn of Africa.  Readers might be wondering as why this area is called as the horn? If you were to look at the African map the eastern part of Africa has a part jutting out. This part looks like a horn of Rhinoceros and that is why it is called the horn of Africa.  Djibouti, EritreaEthiopia, and Somalia, are the countries that constitute the horn of Africa.

Ethiopians are devout Christians. Three  out of four Ethiopians are Christians and follow the orthodox form of Christianity. Ethiopia still uses the old Julian calendar. They celebrate Christmas on January 7th, and not on December 25th! The Christmas celebration in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is called Ganna. “Malkam, Malkam Addis Ganna” they  would greet each other. It means welcome welcome new Christmas!

Western and European depiction of Jesus Christ 
Ethiopian Depiction of Jesus Christ 
The depiction of Jesus Christ is what we had been taught by the Europeans and the westerners. As Ethiopians have never been colonized their depiction of the same biblical epic and Jesus Christ is refreshingly different. I was coming to terms with one of the most ancient civilization in the world. Ethiopia is one of the few countries mentioned in the Bible, the Koran, Homer’s Odyssey, and many other ancient books.

Smiling Ethiopian Boy 
The name “Ethiopia” comes from the Greek words aitho and ops, which together mean “Sun burnt face.” This was how the ancient Greeks referred to the dark-skinned people of Eastern Africa. Ethiopia is one of the oldest nations in the world, having been founded in 980 B.C. Axum, in Ethiopia, is famous as a claimant to the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, the chest containing the ten commandments God gave to Moses. It is of tremendous pride to the Ethiopians that the final resting place of the Ark of Covenant is among them!

Breakfast done, all the men and the contract holders assembled in the reception area. It was almost ten in the morning and there was no action. The clock stuck twelve and still no one came from the Ministry of Education. We were getting bored. We dispersed for lunch. After the experience with the last night dinner, we had bread and jam for lunch. But Indians being Indians we were not liking the bland and sweet taste. We wanted our tongues to get tickled and the palate to be satiated with the hot and spicy Indian curies and dals. But alas we were thousands of kilometres from India!

The representative from the ministry arrived at 3.00 p.m. We accosted him anxiously. He was unflustered. He appeared as cool as a cucumber. We were slowly getting used to the ways of the Ethiopians. He had this almost Zen like calmness. He drawled “How are you all, how is Ethiopia treating you?” One of us responded with a little irritation and lot of anxiety “We are here for the entire day. We would like to go our respective stations. We would be losing our salary too!” The practicality of people whose main reason to come to Ethiopia – to save money and send it back to India was kicking in. We were rearing to work and earn our pay! Itching for action. May be the result of living life in a fast lane.

The Ethiopian was genuinely surprised. Then his face brightened up “oh aha” he exclaimed “that is your major worry. Don’t you worry about your salary. Salary would be given from Today.” We came to know that our tickets to Bahirdar would take some more time. He promised to come back in a day or two.         

I birr Note (front Side)
We felt lost. Now the excuse of going early to our universities was snatched from our hands. We were resigned to our fate. There were many rumours floating about. We heard stories of tourist being robbed and assaulted. But staying in the hotel was not an option. I took a 100 dollars note and went out to an authorized exchange centre and got around 855 birr. A back of envelope calculation showed that one birr was worth approximately six Indian rupees. That was the mantra that we chanted for the next four years. We would buy in birr and immediately multiply it with 5 (a 5 factor being more convenient than a 6 factor).

I birr Note (back Side)
I would buy 5 kgs of rice and Padma would ask “how much”. I would reply “10 Birr”. She would immediately say 50 rupees and that meant price of rice is Rs 10 per kg. Talk of the NRI ways of living and surviving in faraway places! 

The New Flower beckons (763) – Ethiopian Journey – Part 11

Our air travel took us five hours and we covered 3837 kilometers. The time difference between India and Ethiopia is 2.5 hours and this time difference was to create lot of confusion but more of that later.  

There were tin roofs everywhere. Somehow the movie Fiddler on the roof came to my mind. Addis Ababa at the first look looked very much like the landscape that we see when we take off from Mumbai International airport.
Map showing the size of Africa 
Most of us have very limited and sketchy information about Africa. Africa is the cradle of the world civilizations. It has the most diverse bio diversity in the world. Diverse in races, people, languages, flora and fauna. Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent. Africa’s land mass is 30.3 million kilometers2 (11.7 million square miles) including adjacent islands.

Africa covers 6% of earth’s total surface area and 20.4% of its total land area. From the most northerly point, Ras Ben Sakka in Tunisia, to the most southerly point, Cape Agulhas in South Africa, the distance is approximately 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles). And from Cap Vert, Senegal, the western most point, to Ras Hafun in Somalia, the most easterly point, the distance is approximately 7,400 kilometres (4,600 miles).

We need to travel 10 hours continuous from the northern tip to the southern tip and nine hours from western tip to eastern tip by an aeroplane tip before we leave the continent and see the sea. That is how big Africa is! When it is 3.45 a.m in Cape Verde, the western most point in Africa it is already 8.45 a.m in Seychelles the eastern most tip.

Africa consists of 57 countries and Algeria at 23,81,741 square Kilometres is the biggest country and at 55 square Kilometres French Southern and Antarctic Lands is the smallest.

Street View of Addis Ababa, 2002 
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, my home for the next four years is more than three (3) million years old. Ethiopia shares borders with Eritrea to the north and northeast is Djibouti which is the nearest sea link for Ethiopia, Somalia to the east, Sudan and South Sudan to the west, and Kenya to the south. After Eritrea got independence Ethiopia got completely landlocked. Ethiopia is the most populous land locked country in the world.

Ethiopia has a land size of 11,04,300 square Kilometres which is almost one third of India land size. India’s land size is 32,87,263 square Kilometres. But whereas India’s population stood at 107.1 crores in 2001, Ethiopia’s population is tiny at only 6.85 crores. That is mind boggling, I/3 India size but having only 1/16 of India’s population.

Ethiopia is not small by any standards.  It is the 26th biggest country in the world by size and 10th biggest in Africa. It is the 2nd most populous country in Africa. Only Nigeria had more people than Ethiopia.

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia has a land size of 527 square kilometers. It is 3rd highest capital in the world at an attitude of 2355 metres. The average highest temperature in Addis Ababa is 23 degrees centigrade and the lowest is 6 degrees centigrade. According to the October 1994 census the population was 21 lakh people.

Old Airport, Bole, Addis Ababa, 2002, within one year of our arrival a swanky new airport was opened 
It was almost 10.00 p.m. by the time we finished our inward formalities and stepped into the lobby of an airport which was old was very quaint in its looks. There were traditional Ethiopian Motifs everywhere – Huge murals depicting the coffee ceremony and of smiling Ethiopian faces. 

Ministry of Education, Addis Ababa, at Arat Kilo. 
But we were all tense and tired. Waiting to receive us was a representative from the Ministry of Education, Ethiopia. He was very polite and dropped us at the Ethiopia hotel which was at the intersection of Sudan Street and Yohanis Street and parallel to the Churchill Avenue.

Ethiopian Hotel, Near Churchill Avenue, Addis Ababa
We went to the restaurant and ordered the food. The first shock was on us. There was very little choice for vegetarians and no Indian food at all on offer. We ordered some chicken and some bread. The bread tasted different and the even the chicken was prepared differently. It had deep roasted in oil and there was no spice chilly or salt at all! Coming from a country that drowns all its dishes in ample salt, chilly, liberal doses of masala and spice that was the last straw. 

We had to leave the food almost untouched. Okay, we learnt the first lesson; eating food outside our own home is going to be a culinary adventure in itself! Addis Ababa was cold but the hotel room was cosy and comfortable. We got into our woolens and settled down. 

October 20, 2017

The Take off - Ethiopian Journey Blog Item - 10.

The day of the journey dawned finally. We went to Begumpet airport. The luggage was quite heavy and after all we were four people. We were given vegetable biryani by Dr. M. Uma. Being practicality personalised, she packed it in reusable containers!

We landed in Mumbai and immediately moved from the Domestic to the International terminus.  My children were unusually subdued. Pranav being a seven-year-old could understand but Sahithi was too small. We waited in the airport and it was interesting to see the tapestry of foreign visitors leaving India. There was a panorama of facial expressions on display. Some happy, some sad and some pensive.

I could make out many Indians also waiting like me. Then the check-in announcement was made and we finished all the formalities. Then the actual boarding started. There were many Indians and an equal number of Ethiopians. The Ethiopians appeared to be bemused at the number of Indians. But there were knowing nods and smiles. The Indian diaspora is well famed in the world for their ability to travel, adapt and make themselves comfortable in any country of the world. 

Edmund Hillary was the first man to climb Everest. He was bubbling with excitement and was overcome with the adrenaline rush. First man, First man he kept muttering to himself. “Enna sir, ninnalkk teyila venam?”  Translated it means “sir, do you want tea?”. Flummoxed and flabbergasted he jerked around. It was a humble Malayalee, he not only reached mount Everest much before him, he started and was running a flourishing tea business! Even though said in jest, it is typical of the Indians’ urge to travel and make themselves name and fame in even the remotest parts of the world.

India has the world’s largest diaspora. Diaspora is the number of Citizens of a country living in other countries. Over 1.55 crore Indians live and work outside India, a number greater than the combined population of Zimbabwe and Kuwait. Mexico has a Diaspora of 1.23 crores and Russia has a diaspora of 1.06 crores. Truly amazing!

We were flying Ethiopian airlines. We were warmly greeted by the Ethiopian air hostess. Standing next to her and wearing a beautiful Ethiopian dress was another girl. Both of them were strikingly beautiful. They did not look like the typical Africans that we see in the popular media.

We were seated and one of the air hostess came and said “fasting or non-fasting”. I was taken back ‘what does she mean?’. Understanding my confusion, she corrected herself “Vegetarian or non-vegetarian meals?”. I told her three non-vegetarian meals and one Vegetarian meal. An Ethiopian sitting next to me explained “Ethiopians love meat and meat products. So not eating meat products and having only vegetables and Injira (Ethiopian stable food) is allowed during fasting time. So all vegetarian food in Ethiopia is called fasting food”. I don’t know how the vegetarians would react! If veg food is fasting food, what is Vegan food? starving food! Your guess is as good as mine.

The Airplane was a wide bodied 787. Very spacious and very wide. I could make out a smattering of kids, most of them Ethiopian. It was a five-hour journey and we started making friends. A young man, Mr. Bala Krishna came up and introduced himself. Bala said “Sir, this is a very big contingent of Indian teachers. We are as many as 78 (including spouses and children). Including you there are ten from Andhra Pradesh. Four from your family, me and my wife, Dr. Srinivas Inguva, Dr. T. N. Murthy, Mrs. Tasleem and her daughter”. I was thunder struck at his networking ability and ability to get data. “This man would be a great researcher” I told myself. 

He also told me that he belongs to POLY (the engineering division of BDU) and that the rest of us will be reporting to PEDA (Pedagogy Academy, the division for all other departments excluding engineering). I thought PEDA was a quite an interesting name, It means a sweet in Northern India!

Mr. Bala Krishna was a teacher from the Electrical department, Me and Dr. T. N. Murthy from the Management department, Dr. Srinivas Inguva was from the accounting department and Mrs. Tasneem was from the Law department. The five-hour journey was over in a jiffy and before we knew we were taxing down on the run way of Addis Ababa. We have arrived!!! 

You can take an Indian out of India but you can’t take India out of an Indian. - Ethiopian journey Blog Post no -9

Chiseled features of a Ethiopian Girl! 
We started the process of packing up. You can take an Indian out of India but you can’t take India out of an Indian. One of the first things I bought and packed were a pair of Indian flags. I did not want our family to miss The Independence day and Republic day celebrations in a foreign country.   

Finances were quite tight and I did not want to take loans to go abroad. I was grappling with the issue. The telephone rang. It was Dr. Y. Kiranmayee, the HOD of Management Department, Dr.B.R.Ambedkar Open University. She wanted me to write three chapters for the B. Com, final year text book of “Principles of Marketing”.  She said that the University would pay Rs 15,000/- for the three chapters. It was like manna from the heaven.

Ethiopian girl wearing Traditional Dress
I thanked her profusely and told that it will be done in two to three weeks. As an afterthought I told her “madam, your offer comes at the right time. I was desperately wanting some extra cash for buying things for my Ethiopian trip”. She was very glad that she could be of help. As promised I took a hard copy and a soft copy of the three chapters with in the stipulated time. Dr. Kiranmayee was delighted and saw to that I was given a cheque immediately. In a government university immediate payment was almost impossible. I thanked her from the bottom of my heart.

Next we picked up clothes including woollens and sweaters. We had to be careful as we would not be coming back for the next two years. We also packed Red gram, Tamarind and even Sona Masuri rice. We packed so many things that I was quite worried that we would be overweight. The weight limit at that time was 40 kgs per person and I was sure that we were packed to the gills.

Oromo Couple 
We also packed sports equipment like badminton racquets, shuttle cocks, badminton nets, chess board, children text books and like suggested, many good movie CDs. Yes, the movie collection had many hits of Rajendra Prasad, the comedy doctor of telugu movies.

Things were progressing well at the institute too. CBIT accepted my resignation. We were scheduled to fly on the 9th November 2002. Our tickets given by the Ethiopian government were only from Mumbai and I wanted to fly from Hyderabad. Same issue again. No cash! This time I knocked at the door of Dr. Jaypal Reddy, HOD, Mechanical Department and the President of CBIT cooperative society.

Oromo Girl Ethiopia 
Jaypal Reddy was an institution at CBIT. He was a dynamic person and was instrumental in sourcing and buying of land at a very reasonable price at Attapur and then offering the same to CBIT employees. It is due to him that many CBIT employees could build nice homes and settle down in life.

Dr. Jaypal Reddy gave me a patient hearing “no problem at all. I will see to that your Cooperative Society account is closed and that you get the amount due to you”. The amount saved in the Cooperative Society came up to Rs 16,000/-. It was enough for our family’s air tickets from Hyderabad to Mumbai. The tickets were bought and the countdown started.