Saturday, October 06, 2012

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa Hash House Harriers

On yet another fine Saturday morning, I set out once more to see what I could see in the city.  Just outside the gate at my house, my resident pack of street dogs was dismantling a sheep head.  The four dogs - Coyote, Spot, Mutt, and Jasper - seemed to like lounging at my gate, and one day I found out why: My guard was feeding them bread so they would hang around and thereby provide an extra layer of security for my house.

"They recognize you, me, and Bakura [the other guard]," Yonas told me, "and they growl at everyone else."

"I've been training them," he proudly announced.

I'm not sure the dogs were augmenting my security that much, but at the same time, they weren't causing any trouble either.  I was happy to have them sleeping at my gate.

Keeping the dogs sufficiently interested, however, did have its challenges.

One evening, I came home to find Yonas grousing, and it didn't take much prompting for him to tell me why.

"Those ungrateful dogs refused to eat the bread today," he told me.  "They only sniffed it."

In Addis Ababa, street dogs are fed very well. Besides receiving animal heads and other scraps from the butchers, they also receive many hand-outs from restaurants, cafes, and private residences like mine.  Given the choices, I think my pack was able to be picky.  Why fill up on bread when goat is on the menu?

The fact that the dogs were enjoying a sheep head at my gate on this Saturday morning seemed to validate Yonas's training.  Even if they didn't want any more bread, they were still comfortable chillin' at my house.

The dogs barely noticed me as I walked down the street.  I hit the main artery and headed north for Meskel Square.

My destination on this occasion was Piazza, a neighborhood in central Addis, so I wandered in that general direction.

After an hour or so, I reached the Derg Monument.  The Derg was a military junta that followed communist ideology, and during their reign of power in the 1970s and 80s, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians died as the result of direct executions, civil war, forced resettlements, and famine.  Many scholars credit the Derg with kick-starting the Great Famine of 1983-5 (even before drought struck) due to their agricultural policies.  In its heyday, the Derg was supported by its like-minded comrades, the Soviet Union, East Germany, Cuba, and North Korea.

One of my Ethiopian friends once recounted to me his role in Fidel Castro's visit to Ethiopia in 1978.  As a child he was made to stand on the roadside, waving a Cuban flag and chanting words in Spanish for which he didn't know the meaning.

Around the Derg Monument, there were hustlers of all ages patiently waiting for a sucker like me to come along.  As I drew near, the kids were the first to spring to action.  Under the guise of selling tissues, chewing gum, and cigarettes, they swarmed, intent on grabbing my phone or wallet.  Wise to that trick, I was walking very overtly with my hands in my pockets.

I pushed through the kids, and around the monument itself there was a small green fence.  I passed through the gate, and the kids dispersed.  I had crossed the threshold into the realm where slightly order guys ruled the roost.

I didn't get far before a young man caught my attention.

"Stop right there!" he yelled rather sternly.

Then he continued with a softer tone and a creepy smile.  "You have to buy a ticket first."

I would later read on the internet that the ticket was a scam too, but I ponied up a few dollars as requested (including a supplemental fee for my camera), and the young man issued me a receipt.

Next, several other young men approached me, offering their services as guides.

Unfortunately for these guys, I had two problems.  First, I had my doubts as to their legitimacy.  And second, even if I they had been legit, I wasn't interested in making this a full-on learning experience.  That might sound bad, but sometimes I just feel like looking around on my own.  I wasn't interested in hearing a narrative.

With the formalities out of the way, I had a look.

Derg Monument

The entire monument filled a small plaza.  The centerpiece was a tower with a gold crest about a third of the way from the top and a red star on top.  In front of the tower, some glorious revolutionary fighters were immortalized in bronze, guns proudly displayed.  The central tower with the red star was flanked on both sides by brick walls, and each brick wall had a metal relief affixed to it.  The one on the left was of toiling peasants, and the one on the right depicted more soldiers.  A few meters from the end of each brick wall, there were two gardens with a fountain in the center.  Both fountains were dry, and homeless men in various states of undress were sleeping in the garden on the right side - on benches, in the shrubbery, and on the lawn.  The garden on the left side was the prime hang-out for the guides - young men who looked to be in their teens and twenties.

I quietly walked through the gardens on the right to avoid waking the homeless guys, and then I went to see the gardens on the left.  The guides were happy to see me, and we chatted for a few minutes.  One also requested to have his photo taken.

Then I continued on my walk through the city.  There is a small debate surrounding the Derg Monument, and I thought about it as I left.  The Derg years are by most accounts a dark period for Ethiopia, and some people advocate destroying this monument which glorifies the regime.  This is the same sentiment that led many of the former Soviet states to destroy their communist monuments once they broke away from the USSR and gained independence.  On the other hand, there are some people who feel the Derg monument should remain standing as a reminder.  As for me, I didn't bother to formulate an opinion on the matter.  This is obviously an issue for the local people to consider, not outsiders like myself.

From the Derg Monument, I walked up Churchill Street and checked out the souvenir shops.  I tried on a few pieces of traditional clothing, and I found a few trinkets that appealed to me - some silver items and a goat-skin shield from the south.  This trip was strictly for looking, though, so I left empty-handed.

I continued heading north up Churchill Street and after a few minutes, an establishment caught my eye.  It was the Obama Café and Restaurant and Hotel.  There are Obama joints like this sprinkled all around Africa, but still, I appreciated the novelty of it.  I decided to stop in.

Immediately inside, there was room for maybe a dozen people to sit, and at the back, in an elevated area, there were a few more tables.  Besides me, there were three other patrons.  Premier League football was blasting on the television.  Hanging from the ceiling were laminated photos of famous black people.  There were a few photos of Obama, of course, including one that he reportedly doesn't like: a photo of himself smoking a cigarette.  Condi Rice and Colin Powell were there too, as were Nelson Mandela, Aretha Franklin, Prince, Ray Charles, Michael Jordan, Haile Gebreselassie, and many more athletes, politicians, and entertainers.  The photos were laminated as pairs (mounted back to back), and hung by string, so they spun around freely in the breeze.  Of all the portraits, I only spotted one that wasn't of a black person, and that one was of Gandhi.

familiar faces in the Obama Café and Restaurant and Hotel

I took a seat at the back of the lower level and ordered a beer.  The waiter was quick to return with a frosty mug of St. George.

"Would you like anything else?" he asked me.

"Can I see the menu?" I replied.

"We don't have one," he answered.

"OK," I pressed, "Can you tell me what food you are serving?"

"We don't serve food," he explained.  By now he was looking at me cockeyed.

"My mistake," I responded, "but your sign does say this is a restaurant."

"Oooohhhh, right!" the guy answered.  "Why don't you tell me what you want to eat?"

As I pondered this reverse ordering technique, the waiter chimed in again to help me out.  "How about a burger and fries?" he asked.

His suggestion was actually right on the nose, so I ordered a burger.

In case you haven't figured out what was going on here, allow me to explain.  The Obama Café and Restaurant and Hotel was in reality not a restaurant at all.  It was a bar with a food-fetching lad.  The waiter had dispatched the boy to a nearby food stall to get my burger.  I could have ordered any type of food that was available within probably a one-kilometer radius from the Obama Café, and the boy would have retrieved it for me.  This type of service reminded me of Lahore, Pakistan, where on Food Street, you could sit at any of the restaurants and the waiters would happily serve you items from other establishments.  It's a pretty handy system.

While I'm spilling all the secrets, though, I might as well tell you one more: The Obama Café and Restaurant and Hotel was not really a hotel either.  I'm sure you didn't see that one coming.

Anyway, my burger and fries arrived after five or ten minutes, looking like a small football wrapped in aluminum foil.  The burger was respectable, and happily, it was also bone-free.  (Bone content is a new evaluation criteria for burgers I've adopted since moving to Ethiopia.)  The fries were also decent.

I was having a good chill time, but I finished my food, downed my beer, and hit the road again.

When I had left my house in the morning, I had one thing in the back of my mind.  I wasn't going to build my day around it necessarily, but if the timing worked out, I was interested to try out the Addis Ababa Hash House Harriers (A2H3).

The idea of Hash House Harriers was hatched by a group of British soldiers in Kuala Lumpur in 1938.

According to Wikipedia, these were the early objectives of the group:

--to promote physical fitness among group members;
--to get rid of weekend hangovers;
--to acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer;
--and to persuade the older members they are not as old as they feel.

Noble and worthwhile goals indeed.

The Hash is a running and social club, and in the case of the Addis Hash and many others, the group meets weekly.  The run is the first part of the program and for that certain members of the group go out in advance and lay the trail.  These members are called hares, and they mark the trail by periodically dropping clumps of shredded paper.  A good hare will be creative, laying false trails, forking trails, and dead ends.

Then on the day of the run, all the non-hare participants, who are called hounds, follow the trail that the hares have put down.  When a hound is on the trail, he or she yells out, "on-on", so you often wind up with a whole line of people shouting this.

When the group reaches a fork or loses the trail, hounds will fan out in different directions trying to pick up the correct trail again.  In these situations, people shout back and forth, "Are you...?".  And if a hound has found the true trail again, the response to this question is, of course, "on-on".  Once this is heard, the pack reunites on the trail and everyone starts shouting "on-on" again like a gaggle of birds.

When the run is finished, the social part begins, and this usually involves a lot of beer.

The whole group will go straight from the trail to a bar or to a residence to drink beer, maybe eat something, and socialize.  This part of the program also involves "The Circle" where the group gathers up, drinks, discusses business like upcoming runs and special events, sings silly songs, harasses newbies, and so forth.

I had hashed during my assignment in Pakistan, so I pretty well knew the drill.

The Addis Ababa Hash meets every week at the Hilton Hotel at 2 PM, so I headed that way from the Obama Café.

When I reached the Hilton, I had no trouble finding the group.  The mob of foreigners in runner gear was a dead give-away.  Many people from the Embassy were there, so I recognized a few faces.  In addition to the expat contingent, there were also many Ethiopians participating.  I'm not that good at estimating crowd size, but I think around 50 or 60 people had shown up.

As I would soon learn, this was no ordinary hash.  On this particular day, the group was celebrating its 30-year partnership with St. George Brewery, its corporate sponsor.  The notion of a hash with a corporate sponsor was new to me.  The hash in which I participated in Pakistan had no such luxury.  As the sponsor, St. George logically provided the group with free beer.

There are expenses to running a hash, even with a corporate sponsor, so participants are charged a fee.  I paid the few bucks of "hash cash" and mingled with the others.

Since this was a special event hash, a few people had come in from other countries for the occasion.  There were people who had flown in from both Kenya and Uganda.  In these cases, these hashers were former members of A2H3, but they had since moved to other countries for their jobs.

While we were all standing around, the first "special" thing of the day happened: the brewery donated some t-shirts.  A few of the senior members of the group started passing out the shirts, which were packed into a large plastic bag, and all civility flew out the window.  People were pushing, shoving, gouging eyes, and pulling hair for a shot at a $2 piece of clothing.  A sorrier display I can't recall since the Teddy Ruxpin riots of 1985.  With so many people blindly grabbing for shirts, it was a wonder anyone got one that fit.  Several people weren't very lucky in this regard, but they proudly donned their shirts all the same - whether skin-tight or billowing tents.

I couldn't be bothered to enter the fray, so like at the souvenir shops, I left empty-handed.

Shortly after the scramble for shirts, we were ready to get the show on the road.  The day's run would take place outside the city, so drivers were paired up with passengers until all the vehicles were full.  At that point, about a dozen people were left without transportation.  This had been anticipated, however, and a mini-bus had been hired to ferry the remainders.  I ended up riding with a German diplomat named Klaus, an Ethiopian woman, and her 14-year-old son.

It took us about 45 minutes to drive to the site, over roads and dirt tracks of varying quality.  About two-thirds of the cars in our convoy were sturdy SUVs, and they had no problems.  The remaining cars with low clearances, however, were really struggling.  Everyone managed to reach the site, though.

The setting for the run was quite pastoral.  There were fields of meskel flowers, a small river, grazing cows, and a pine forest.  The air was also cool and crisp.

Once everyone had parked, we divided into two groups, the walkers and the runners, and hit the trails.  I opted to walk, like the majority of the other people.  Only about 15 people elected to run.

Each route was designed to take about an hour, so the runners' course was longer and trickier than the walkers' course was.

I had been having brief conversations throughout the day, but during the walk, I had a lengthy chat with two young ladies, Bente (a Norwegian) and Agatha (another German).  Having recently moved from Norway myself, Bente and I naturally discussed the land of the Vikings.  We touched on everything from polar bears to fjords to Grandiosa frozen pizza.  Bente's story was a bit strange to me.  Whereas many people move abroad for work, Bente had moved to Ethiopia with nothing in the hopper.  Her plan was to move first and find work later.  She was only a few weeks into her stay when I met her, but at that point, the job search had yet to turn up anything.

Agatha, on the other hand, did have a job.  She was an expert on plastics and she was in Ethiopia as an industrial consultant.  Basically, she would visit factories and show them how to implement and improve their plastic recycling operations.

Once all the introductions were out of the way, Agatha asked me what is simultaneously a very simple question, but also a loaded one: "How do you like Ethiopia?"

Depending on my mood and the audience, my answer to this question ranges from enthusiastic to tepid.  On this occasion, I was leaning more toward the latter.

"There are good days and bad days," I replied.

Such is life, and I didn't think my statement was very shocking.

For some people, however, anything short of "It's great!" is cause for concern.  Both Agatha and Bente fell into this camp, and they were keen to hear what I considered to be the downside of the place.

I spend hours every week walking the streets of Addis, and this is where I started my explanation.  While I pretty much haven't met an Ethiopian I didn't like, it's the fleeting encounters that bother me.  When a person walks down the street among other people, there is always a certain amount of social interaction that occurs.  People notice other people.  In my case, when someone makes eye contact with me, I always feel inclined to acknowledge it.  I say "salam," wave, give a head nod, smile, or offer some similar gesture.  When I do, the reactions I get vary tremendously.  Some days I get damn-near 100% positive feedback, and other days, I probably get only a 30% or 40% favorable response.  The responses seem to depend on a number of factors, including the time of day, the day of the week, the area in which I'm walking, whether I'm with other people or alone, and how distracted I am.  Of course, I do also realize that my own attitude on any given day has a major impact on what I get back.

When I have this discussion, many people assume that I'm talking about beggars, but that's not the case.  I consider them in a separate category - along with hustlers, mentally disturbed people, prostitutes, homeless people, and hawkers.

No, I'm talking about regular people.

So what then specifically bothers me?  Here's a run-down:

  • I don't like being laughed at, but this obviously depends on the context.  Is it kids or adults?  Is it nervous laughter?  Did something funny happen?  Or is it mean-spirited?
  • I don't like getting the stink eye or other attitude when I'm just walking by minding my own business.
  • I don't like being shouted at.  Sometimes, for example, a dude will walk up and shout "whazzup?" or "are you fine?" in my face, and walk away.  This is not communication.  This is boorish behavior.  I also don't much care for "Hey, faranji!"
  • I don't like the mooches, who are different than beggars.  The other day, for example, an old man hit me up for a cigarette.  "Sorry, I don't smoke," I told him.  "So what," he replied, "there's a kiosk right there."  Other times, I've been approached by young men with this charming line: "Hey, faranji, give me 5 birr for coffee."  Sure, random stranger, why don't we make it 15 so you can get a pastry too?
  • I don't like the people who chide me for not donating to beggars.  The average joe on the street knows nothing about my charitable contributions, so it's no one's place to harass me for not giving money to a lady sitting on a blanket with a baby.  To these people, I say make your own donation and worry about your own karma.
  • And finally, I don't like malicious behavior.  This one is a no-brainer, but for example, a friend of mine used to go jogging, and people would do things like open car doors in her path to try to knock her over.  In other instances, people have shouted "F**k you!" at me without provocation.  That's no way to behave.
Of course, there are also many charming, warm, and friendly people that I encounter everyday, so this list of annoyances is not meant to paint everyone with the same brush.  I just offered this explanation to Agatha and Bente to illustrate my point that life isn't always rosy in Addis Ababa.

As I should have expected, they didn't agree with me.  Apparently I had it all wrong.

"Oh, they're just having fun with you," Bente told me.  "It's nothing personal."

"Yeah," Agatha chimed in, "I've had nothing but wonderful experiences here.  Try not to be too sensitive."

"Imagine what their lives must be like," Bente continued.  "We have it so easy."

Maybe the Ethiopians were just having fun.  Maybe I did need a thicker skin.  And sure I had an easier life than the average Ethiopian.  At the end of the day, though, people are people.  One person generally knows when he is making another person uncomfortable, even if their backgrounds are vastly different.

There was no convincing Agatha and Bente of this, however, so we had to agree to disagree.

All the while we were talking, we were walking through the countryside.  We had attracted the interest of the local people from the moment we had arrived, but when we passed by a small village, we suddenly acquired a gang of children.  The group was mostly young boys, probably about 6 to 12 years old, but there were also a few girls.  One young girl was running along with us, carrying a baby on her back, and the baby was nearly half her size.  This was simultaneously touching, comical, and downright impressive.

field of meskel flowers

It didn't take the kids long to figure out hashing, and after only a few minutes, they were running ahead of us yelling "on-on".  We crossed a few wooden bridges, passed through a grove of pines, climbed up a terraced hillside, and round about the one-hour mark, we reached the vehicles again.

The kids were still in tow.

I drank some water from my water bottle, and one of the little boys asked me if he could have it.  I gave him the bottle, which was half full, and he was ecstatic.  I didn't need it anyway because some hashers had pulled out some huge coolers full of beer and sodas.

As everyone enjoyed a beverage and the runners cooled down, the leaders revealed the plan for the rest of the day.  First, we would head to the pub at the St. George brewery for some beer.  Then the brewery would provide dinner for everyone at a traditional restaurant.  And finally, St. George's was going to sponsor all the hashers on a pub crawl through the city.  Somewhere in there, we would also have a Circle.

It sounded like we were in store for a fun evening, and everyone cheered for our corporate sponsor.

Fifteen minutes later, the coolers were stowed, and people started heading for their assigned cars.  I was on my way to Klaus's car when I noticed a commotion off to the side.  Two of the men from the hash were being swarmed by the pack of children.  The reason for the frenzy was candy.  As these two men each emptied out a fanny-pack full of treats, showering them over the kids, I cringed.  Sorry to be a kill-joy yet again, but giving anything - from coins to pens to chewing gum - only conditions kids to ask future visitors for hand-outs too.  I'm sure these two guys felt like heroes for a moment, but I, for one, didn't think the trade-off was worth it.  I especially didn't support giving sweets to village children.  These kids would probably never see a dentist in their lives, and they didn't drink fluoridated water.  I'd wager that for most of them, the only option at all for oral hygiene was cleaning the teeth with a small stick with a frayed end.  What the heck, though: toffees for everyone!

With the candy distributed, we loaded up and moved out.

Before long, we reached the brewery, and all the vehicles parked inside the gate.

Then we walked around the corner to the brewery's pub, which turned out to be quite a popular watering hole.  As we entered, the place looked pretty well packed, and considering our group size, the chances of us finding space seemed pretty dismal.

Still, not knowing what was around the corner, our entire group snaked through the pub to see if there was room in one of the alcoves we couldn't see.

When we reached the back of the place, it was painfully obvious that there was no room for us.  What incredibly poor planning!

As we stood there for a moment, collectively dumbfounded, some young guys called me over to their table.  They were having St. George's newly introduced amber beer.

"Why don't you join us?" they asked me.  "We have room for one more."

I decided to stick with the hash, for now, so I politely declined their offer.

Determined to be hospitable, nonetheless, one of the guys hoisted his stein in my direction.

"At least have a drink!" he told me.

And so I had my first taste of St. George amber.  It was good, but I still preferred the original pils.

By now, the hashers had realized that things were hopeless at this pub, and we started slinking our way back toward the entrance.  I'm sure we looked ridiculous in our running clothes, but what happened next was a bit unexpected.  Everyone started laughing and heckling us.  We were being jeered!

When we finally reached the doors, a man even came out of his way to rub it in.

"So!" he shouted at us, "you thought you could come in here and magically find seats just because you're white?!?!?"

"You're outta luck!" he taunted.  "Take a hike!"

Then he pretended like he was sweeping us out the door, much to the delight of the other patrons.

We filed outside, and I imagined how satisfying it would be to respond to the taunting.

"Hear ye, hear ye!  Attention, dumb-asses!" I thought to myself. "Do not mock and despise us, for we were invited here by the manager of the place.  Would you also not have assumed that he would have reserved space for his guests?"

In reality, of course, I spoke not a word.  I did, however, briefly consider going back inside to join the guys in the back of the bar who wanted to drink amber beer with me.

As we stood outside on the sidewalk and the larger group concocted a new plan, I noticed that Bente looked a bit distressed.

"I'm gonna go home," she told Agatha and me.  "I've had enough for today."

"Ah, come on," I replied, "don't be sensitive!  They were just having a little fun!"

The look I received said it all.  Bente understood very well that I was tossing her own words back in her face, and she shot me daggers.  As she hopped into a taxi, I knew I wouldn't be hearing from her again.  Oh well.  It was totally worth it.

With the pub a complete failure, the group migrated back to the brewery.  Some workers wheeled out a trolley of beer, and we formed a Circle in the parking lot.

As I mentioned earlier, the Circle is part of the hash ritual.  The group sings songs, discusses the run, and welcomes newcomers.  To be honest, I don't enjoy the Circle that much, but I do realize that it's an important part of the process, and I participate accordingly.  The same couldn't be said for most of the other people.  At this particular Circle, about a dozen people were participating and the rest were completely oblivious.  It was the worst organized and rudest hash circle I had seen in my life.  As a matter of fact, a good many hashers couldn't even be bothered to join the circle.  Instead they dispersed and drank their beer like they were at a house party.

The talking from the non-participating members was quite loud, to the point of drowning out the activities in the Circle.

The old-timers kept yelling, "Hash respect!  Hash respect!" but it fell on deaf ears.  The crowd roared on, completely unabated.

Since it was the special 30th anniversary hash, a portion of the Circle was dedicated to thanking St. George Brewery for its support.  The hash leadership called the manager from St. George's into the Circle for a special presentation.  After a few brief remarks, the elders presented the manager with a certificate.  When I saw it, I was embarrassed for the entire group.  St. George had provided the hash with free beer for 30 years, and to show its appreciation, the hash gave St. George's a flimsy certificate that looked as if someone had printed it as an after-thought.  In Addis, framing is not expensive.  They could have gotten a custom wooden frame for the certificate for 8 bucks.

The manager from St. George's accepted the humble certificate graciously, and we raised a toast.

Next on the agenda was to welcome the new people.  Although I technically should have entered the Circle, I declined.

"You're new to the hash, right?" someone asked me.

"No," I told him, "I've hashed before."

While this was true, I had never done the Addis hash before, and I should have joined the other newcomers in the circle.  But, I didn't feel like it.

The guy introduced himself.  "I'm Teacher's Pet," he told me.

"I'm Jobless," I reluctantly responded.

In the hash, anyone who's been around for a while is given a nickname, and it's not uncommon to not know the true names of fellow hashers.  The hash names are often witty, vulgar, and comical, but mine was simply lame.

The story of my naming ceremony follows, if you are interested.  I've tried to disguise the text, so if you are easily offended, skip over it.  Otherwise, if you want to read it, you should be able to highlight the text with your mouse.

After I had done a respectable number of runs with the Margalla Hills Hash House Harriers (the MH4) in Islamabad, I was called into the Circle for naming.  The master of ceremonies asked me a single question: "What brings you to Pakistan?" he shouted.

"I came for work," I told him.

"Work?" he sputtered.  "You have no job!  I doubt you could even get a blow job!"

And then the light bulb illuminated over his head.

"Henceforth," he announced, "you will be called Jobless!"

And thus, I was named.

I didn't find the name to be terribly clever, but on the other hand, I kept it for fear of going back into the Circle and coming out with something even more stupid.

Once Teacher's Pet and I had become properly acquainted, he accepted that I was legit, and he didn't bother me about going in the Circle again.

There were 5 new people who did enter the Circle, and they introduced themselves and drank a beer.

Shortly thereafter, the Circle concluded.

With the formalities out of the way, we loaded back in the vehicles and headed for dinner.  The chosen venue was a cultural restaurant across the city, so the drive took us 20 minutes.

Inside the restaurant, our group fanned out across the lower level, and even though the area was still open to the public, we took up most of the space.

I was sitting with Klaus, Agatha, and the Ethiopian mother and son with whom I had ridden out to the run earlier in the day.  Their names were Seble and Chane.

We chatted at our table while we enjoyed some drinks, and then the fun resumed.  The hash leaders called all the hashers up to the stage to perform a hash favorite, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.  This special occasion was even being broadcast live on a local radio station.

I tried to weasel out of the stage performance on account of my newness to the group.

"Such a special honor should be reserved for the real members," I lamely offered, "not the new ones like me."

The others weren't having any of that, though.

"Don't be silly," Slippery told me, "we're all in this together."


I went up with the mob and stood in the back.  Then after a stirring rendition of the song in question, we sat back down.  The others were tickled with the performance, but I was just happy it was over.

After the singing, the leaders made a few more announcements, and then the traditional dancers took the stage.  I've been to several cultural restaurants in Ethiopia, and while the dancers are good, they always remind me of a Disney World parade.  The smiles and movements seemed a little more theatrical than I suspect one might see at a traditional wedding, for example.

There were three young ladies and three young men in the dance troupe, and they danced the dances from the different regions of the country.  Some of the older hashers also joined them on stage for a few songs.

The best performance for my money, however, was a solo dance by one of the women.  In this dance, the lady stood in the center of the stage and whipped her long ponytail in all directions.  She did this to the beat of a drum, and as the pace picked up, she mirrored it.  By the end, her neck was flopping around like it was made of rubber and her hair was flying around like it was caught in a blender.  It was hypnotic.

"That's very bad for the neck," Seble told me.  "These ladies can only manage this dance for a few years."

"By the way," she added, "that hair is fake."  Meeeeow!

While the dancers were performing, the food arrived.  Each table received a heaping bowl of kitfo with all the fixin's.  Kitfo is a dish of raw ground beef with melted butter and spices mixed in.  We all started eating except for Agatha, who flatly refused.  She could have avoided the raw meat and nibbled on the cheese and injera, but that would have been too easy.  Instead, she raised a ruckus with the wait staff.  She wanted to send the kitfo back to have it cooked, but the staff wasn't willing to assist in this desecration of a cherished dish.  Eventually Agatha prevailed, but not before the manager got involved.

After 5 or 10 minutes, our newly cooked kitfo arrived.  Agatha dug in, but I think the joke was on her.  I could still see blood around the bowl, so the potential for contamination was still very much present.  I think that the cook had just dumped the raw meat in a skillet, fried it for a few minutes, and then served up in the exact same dirty bowl.

Before long, we finished our food.  The dancers also finished (or else they took a break) because they cleared the stage and a DJ started playing Ethiopian pop.

People all across the room jumped to their feet, including my tablemates Agatha and Chane.

"C'mon," Agatha implored, "join us!"

I remained seated, chatting with Klaus and Seble.

"You are so lame," Agatha told me.  "Americans are so worried about looking foolish they never dance."

"I would hardly classify this as an American phenomenon," I replied.  "I know plenty of Americans who love to dance, and plenty of non-Americans who don't."

My table was a perfect illustration of my point.

"If dancing is so important," I asked Agatha, "why aren't you bothering Klaus and Seble?"

With no intelligent answer to the question, she fell back on her original stance.  "You're lame," she told me.

She continued dancing and criticizing, and I talked with Klaus about the upcoming Oktoberfest celebration at the Hilton.  He thought it was overpriced, and recommended I skip it.  I was planning to attend despite his recommendation, but I kept that bit of information to myself.

Around 10 PM, I decided it was time to go home.  Sure the pub crawl was still waiting in the wings, but I didn't want to spend any more time with my fellow hashers.

"I'm sorry I can't give you a ride home," Klaus told me, "but I'm staying here.  As much as I hate St. George beer, I'll choke down a few more.  I don't want to offend our hosts, after all."

It was kind of him to mention giving me a ride, but to be honest, I wouldn't have accepted even if he had been willing.  Klaus was three sheets to the wind.  For someone who hated St. George, he was putting down a heroic quantity.

I headed outside to catch a taxi, and Seble and Chane joined me.

Being a local, Seble had an idea of how much a taxi should cost to the places we wanted to go, but as soon as the driver spotted me (the faranji), the price compounded a few times.  After several minutes of bickering, Seble lost the battle, and she and I split the fare that the driver had quoted.

I got out of the taxi first, and Seble bid me farewell.

"See you next week!" she yelled as the taxi alighted.

"Then again," I thought to myself, "perhaps not."

It had been an interesting day, but the A2H3 didn't really do it for me.


Anonymous said...

Nice story Chris!


Jason Peters said...

Interesting story glad to see how an outsider notices things I don't having lived here 26years. Here is an interesting Addis Ababa English lesson

Hotel = restaurant (contextually differenciated by its size if it's a building it may be a real hotel)

Grocery = liquor store with seats to consume in house

Jealous = friend

Freak = cool/ hip individual/ youth

We don't have menus = we run out so it ain't set / idk it's not from here mostly though it's due to the fact that food on menus is often finished at lunch time and buy before stock ends is not a well understood concept here. As far as the Derg well long story short alot of the negative stories and blame game is the current dictatorship trying to shift attention from their own vile atrocities most people agree atleast the Derg was transparent in its occassional execution these guys are kinda worse anyways love your writing style and how you are observant of scams like the pressing up of the tissue box to sneak in your pocket good eye ma man ;)