About a month ago, I flew back to Ethiopia to live and work in the capitol city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. My government office established and runs the Gullele Botanic Garden, the first botanic garden in Ethiopia. Their main agendas are conservation of biodiversity, research, education and eco-tourism. So far, it has been a great experience – my co-workers are intelligent and kind, I am learning more and more about the cultural uses of plants in Ethiopia and globally each day and I look forward to the coming months as the garden evolves and becomes a recognized attraction by locals and visitors alike.
As for living in Addis Ababa – it is very crowded and there are intense disparities of wealth. The city is in a transitional stage, with new buildings and roads under construction and neighborhoods forming at a pretty rapid pace. The older parts of the city reflect a history of governmental shifts, rural migration and the brief Italian occupation. In Piassa, for example, there were many Indians, Italians and Armenians living there about fifty years ago. The impact on architecture, food and urban planning is still there. Cream puff pastries, a jewelry row, an old theater and other clues linger on.
Living in the city is easier in some ways, but the sense of community is harder to build and the markets are not nearly as fresh and unique. My area of the city, Addisu Gabaya (“New Market”) is known for a lack of water – this means the pipes flow once or twice a week for a couple hours, good old bucket baths and washing about everything else by hand. The air pollution, heavy traffic and crazy driving are also harder to deal with. I do not prefer urban living, although I have done it many times before. It is an energy to embrace, and it differs city by city.
In Addis, one might be walking alongside a new shopping center and a small hut will reveal itself, a man playing traditional music shadowing the door and the sounds of tej (a local alcohol) beakers clinking combating the car horns. Or one might see a herd of goats being taken to the meat market on the road to Holeta, enjoying their last moments of life through those basic wants and needs.
Another positive aspect of living in Addis is being around so many women around my age that are part of the work force, independent and not as conservative in their dress and lifestyle choices. I have the luck of becoming part of a four woman rotation at my office, where we each make lunch and coffee on Friday’s at our respective homes. It is wonderful and refreshing.
On that note, the friends and family that I was able to connect with during my travels back to the States last December and January were blessings. I regained the strength and joyousness I needed to go back to Ethiopia. Thank you for being amazing, resilient and beautiful human beings. While Ethiopia is lacking many things that we take for granted, their sense of community pride and obligation is so naturally a part of most of their lives that there is a sense of happiness despite the hardships of daily existence. Hopefully, I share this sentiment during my next year of work here.