I’ve mentioned this before on my blog and I’ll mention it again… more and more I find myself becoming a traveler intent on socio-cultural experiences rather than historical, political and geographical ones. Essentially I find my travels are becoming less about visiting touristic sites, or touring the country, or hitting all the “must-see” destinations listed in a travel guide and more about meeting local people, spending time with them, learning a bit of their language, their culture, their thoughts and ideas, and trying to open myself to new perspectives.
A great book I read recently – “Shantaram” – tells the story of an escaped convict who flees to Mumbai, India. On his first day in the city, he meets a local named Prabaker, who offers to guide him around the city, and ultimately becomes one of his closest Indian friends and confidants. This story came to mind after a day spent hanging out with three Ethiopians we’ve come to know through a good friend who has traveled here twice before.
Solomon, Abraham, and Sable are three twenty-something locals and today, they spent the afternoon and evening hosting us in Addis Ababa. It started with Solomon taking us on a walking tour of the Piazza area, which included a visit to the beautiful St George’s Church and Museum (where we learned about the religious history of Ethiopia). Did you know that Ethiopia was one of the earliest Christian countries? It is an immensely religious country and to visit St George’s is a solemn and memorable experience. Ask around for the Arch Deachon Mrabato who can give you a guided tour of the grounds. Personally the 60 minutes I spent with him left me feeling as if I had just gone through a session of intense meditation.
Following our visit to the church, Solomon took us to a local restaurant where we had some delicious pizza and tea. We treated Solomon to a vegetarian spaghetti (he is fasting at the moment and is avoiding meat products – an Orthodox Christian rite) and enjoyed chatting with him and sharing our contrasting ideas (Europe, North America and Africa). He mentioned at one point that he felt that anyone who was not a Christian would by definition consider themselves to be above God and sinless. My thoughts on this is that one need not be religious in order to be able to distinguish right from wrong and good from bad. Ethics and moral values need not be dictated by religion… I wanted to talk about this with him but wasn’t sure how he would react.
Solomon is a friendly fellow, 22 years of age, and about 5′8″ in height. He was wearing baggy blue jeans and an oversized long-sleeved shirt, untucked and looking comfortable. Complimenting his mini twigs (I can’t think of a better name to describe his cool hair style), he has a tough-looking face, with a kind heart and a nice smile, making him someone you’d feel very comfortable having as your guide in a strange city like Addis. To add a bit of colour to this description, Solomon is in his first semester of studying nursing at the local KEA MED college, along with his best friend Abraham. Tomorrow they will take us to visit the school.
Our next stop was the Naremud Cafe, across the street from the Castelli restaurant (one of the more famous restaurants in Addis), where Sable works as a waitress. She is a tiny little woman of 25 years of age with a beautiful, broad smile and a sweet disposition. She speaks only a handful of English words, so we relied on Solomon to translate for us. She will be starting English and French courses in a couple of weeks and is looking forward to broadening her skills so that she can improve her economic position in society….
Abraham joined us at the restaurant after a little while. He is slightly taller than Solomon, with a head of curly hair of which used to be a massive cool-looking ‘fro! (he showed us photographic proof). Abraham is a soft-spoken fellow of 26 years of and hails from a town called Dessie, north of Addis, in the countryside. He shared with us many of his views of life, a number of which I shared and others which I liked so much I have written them down so as to remember them.
After a few macchatos (a type of coffee very popular in the local cafes around town), Cornelia and I were a bit sleepy (and cold as the night-time temperature in Addis at this time of year is about 15 degrees) so we adjourned our get-together and headed back to our new hotel, the Weygoss Guest House, a couple of steps up from where we stayed last night. We agreed to meet with our local Ethiopian crew later on in the evening.
Later on, Abraham and Sable (Solomon had to take a night of studying) they took us to the Addis Ababa restaurant where we tried injera cuisine and honey wine, two local Ethiopian specialties. They taught us Ethiopian phrases and shared stories relating to culture, cuisine and city life. We took photos and shared laughter and smiles. And we promised to meet up again tomorrow for another day of hanging out in Addis.
Does traveling get any better than this?