We arrived at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport the same time as the Ethiopian soccer team who had just won and advanced to the final round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup (link). We thought hundreds of people were gathered round the arrival terminal to see us, but we were mistaken. The team came through with shouts and yells welcoming the heroes home. They are one draw from advancing to the nation's first World Cup.
Welcome To Ethiopia
Whenever I travel to another country, I’m completely mesmerized by its way of doing things. Ethiopia in particular always takes me by surprise. Being able to walk downtown on the streets at 10:00pm at night, the huge smiles that most people wear, and the willingness to do anything to help a project move forward.
Our partner on this new water drilling project is very well connected. However, it’s not because he has an over-authoritative, bullish nature. He’s managed to make friends all over the country (connected friends) by his gentle and loving nature. We interviewed many people in the lobby of the Radisson Blu for positions and potential partnerships—most of them were willing, accommodating, and excited about the fact that a new investment project could help the state of their country. We met ministers, bank officials, and were also very privileged to have coffee with the Ethiopian president at Haile Selassie’s Palace on Ethiopia's New Years Day.
Coffee with the President
Visiting with President Girma Wolde-Giorgis (seated)
The president, Girma Wolde-Giorgis, welcomed us into the Palace (my partners and I had met him a few years earlier). He freely talked about the success of the New Year, and that he had just released 2,000 prisoners to freedom. He’d given the amnesty because of how well behaved they were—changing during their time in prison. He was happy to share this with us and mentioned that he was the first Ethiopian president to do this.
His home office was decorated with numerous pictures, statues, gifts, and many books. On his desk was a picture of himself wearing a proper cowboy hat given to him from Governor Perry in Texas during his visit to the USA in 2007. It seems to be something he treasures, and in his attitude of humor, he wore sun glasses with the cowboy hat. We were served coffee and biscuits, and continued a very positive conversation regarding new projects, the state of the nation, and his love for the Bible. Two hours later we left the Palace, said our goodbyes, and made arrangements to go and see the President's home town when we returned.
We then headed to the other end of the city, passing 40-year old blue Toyota Corollas that still held their shape. “Cars are expensive here,” said Dr Getahun, our philanthropic contact and founder of Bright Hope International, “It’s why we are such good mechanics. We have no choice but to keep these little things running.”
We arrived at Bright Hope's national headquarters. Because it was the first of the Ethiopian year (2006 to be exact), the office was empty. We went up to Dr Getahun’s office where he told us how he had managed to build and run 500+ churches and care for 800+ orphans all throughout Ethiopia, while also managing a skills training college to help with the unemployment problem in the nation.
Off to his home for a traditional Ethiopian dinner, where you only get offered more food if you are very welcome in the home. I was told if I didn't get offered more lamb curry and injera (a type of spongy flatbread), then I would know that I'd messed up somewhere. After being offered additional portions 4 times, I got the hint that maybe I was welcome.
After dinner, our hosts brought out a contraption that I fell in love with. An old stove with a hot steel plate and burning coals at the base was placed in the lounge. A little wooden stool accompanied it. I watched in utter joy as green coffee beans were poured onto the steel plate. Roasted slowly over the coals, the beans filled the home with a beautiful aroma. After the beans reached a dark brown color, they were quickly crushed and the ground coffee was poured into a cast iron kettle which was filled with water and placed over the same plate of steel. It’s what they call “Coffee Ceremony.”
“We conduct this whole process with friends. It gets everyone talking about their problems, fears and also how they can improve the communities they are from.” The exquisite unique taste forced me to take 3 refills. The family watched curiously as it was past 9:00pm at night. Little do they know that coffee puts me to sleep.
Our little water project grew into something very meaningful—the project became the sub-focus and the real focus became the relationship.
I was already addicted to their coffee, but this time spent in Addis Ababa made me fall in love with the people. So much so that I found myself almost crying in the animation movie “Epic” on the plane on the way back to Harare.
All jokes aside, we have a few investors lined up for this project and will be getting all the necessary certificates, licenses, bank accounts and other documents in line within the next 45 days. A full project update once we have things in order.
A few other points about Ethiopia:
- Swedish massages in Addis are really cheap.
- Only pay 250 birr (13 $US) to taxi drivers from the airport into the City.
- Bring earplugs if you are a light sleeper. The local dog population is alive and kicking at night.
- The Ethiopian New Year begins in September.
- Eat at Szechwan Chinese one building down from the Inter Continental (according to the waitress, they were featured on CNN).
- 5:00pm could mean the next day.
- Pilot’s water means “Orange juice and champagne."
- You can buy a visa at the airport on arrival.
- Be careful of the wristwatch thieves in terminal two on your way out when you go through security.
- The coffee is always good and strong. Thick like oil, but great tasting.
- Awash International Bank is the best private bank to set up a commercial enterprise. Pioneers of private baking in Ethiopia.
- Development Bank of Ethiopia is giving 70% project capital for renewable energy projects. Which ties in very nicely to the White House initiative.
Bonus: Cockiness and arrogance won’t get you far in Addis. Gentleness, humor, and honesty will.
(photo via maria zerihoun)