#SomeoneTellEthiopians thank you for the many lessons they taught me for the short time was in Addis. When I left Kenya for Addis Ababa, there were two things I was told to look out for; spices in food because of my sensitive stomach and the beautiful ladies because of my curious eyes. Neither the ladies nor my stomach disappointed.
It was rather easy to identify me as a foreigner the first few days and for obvious reasons. I was clearly disturbed by the beauty in Addis. Thank God for a friend who affirmed my seemingly rude and remote behavior by confirming that my reaction was not unique and that soon, I too would get used to the beauty. I never thought that was possible.
Beauty was not my only disorientation. In Addis, vehicles keep right and they are all left hand driven. I cannot even count the number of times I almost got knocked down because I crossed the road looking in the wrong direction. Something else that I could not get my head around was the number of big hotels in Addis. Maybe it’s because it hosts the African Union headquarters but hotels in Addis could very well be what exhibition shops are in Nairobi. (Exaggerations mine)
It was easy to identify that Ethiopian businessmen and businesswomen are not as aggressive as their counterparts here in Kenya. I walked into shops and restaurants where the attendants just looked at me from the comfort of their counters waiting until I called out to respond. Orders were forgotten a couple of times and even took longer to be served. We actually had to walk out of some shops because the attendant did not seem as if they wanted business that day.
The transport industry is very similar to the Kenyan one even though the PSVs and taxis in Addis are quite old. PSVs in Addis still carry excess passengers and are driven recklessly. I still feel Kenyan PSVs are still leading in recklessness and unruly road etiquette. Ethiopia might soon catch up.
The most impressive thing about Addis was how much Ethiopians love their culture. From their food, coffee, music and dressing, it was evident that Ethiopians are proud of their culture. Coming from Kenya where we have different types of food to Addis where ‘Injera’ (Ethiopian national food made from teff flour) is served daily, it took me a while to adjust. Ethiopians love to have a cup of coffee after their meal. This is not the sachet coffee that Nairobi hotels whip up when you order. Its well brewed fine tasting coffee. I don’t like coffee because it give me heartburn but the coffee in Addis is so good that it was irresistible.(I never got a heartburn.)
Ethiopians love their music! You will hear it everywhere. What was even more surprising was how much they enjoyed listening to other Ethiopian communities’ music. I have to say, even though their music eventually grows on you, there are no adequate dancing styles to their songs. For Ethiopians, the mid-section of their bodies are seriously underutilized unlike in Kenya where every part of the body moves with more special emphasis on the waist line. Ethiopians dance a lot with their head, shoulders and feet. I felt as if I was in an aerobics studio each time I got up to dance to Ethiopian music.
Even though there are over 7 different tribes in Ethiopia, they seldom describe each other on tribal affiliation. They don’t have demeaning jokes about each other’s cultures. To them, they are one even though they are quick to admit that the ‘tribalism venom’ is beginning to creep up on them. It is very easy to assume that Ethiopians are a single culture and tribe community because they coexist so well.
I love my country Kenya. It’s a beautiful country with very rich cultures but it’s not until I saw how Ethiopians promote their culture that I realized how much we have lost in the name of modernization. There are many cultural centers across Addis where different Ethiopian communities sing and dance as they eat injera with other accompaniments including raw meat. The audience in these places – foreigners and Ethiopians alike enjoy these acts.
Ethiopia provoked me. I was inspired by the national identity the citizenry has and are proud of. They are not busy trying to keep up with the West. They try to make what they have work best for them. Ethiopians however, do have a long way to go when it comes to political, governance and freedom of expression issues. Kenya on the other hand has a long way to go to build believe and sell its own brand to the world. We have more than 42 reasons to believe in Kenya. Today, all that tourists want to see when they come to Kenya, is a Maasai Moran – and so many other communities are learning to masquerade as Maasai Morans.
Who are we as Kenyans apart from people living in Kenya? What are the more than 42 reasons why any tourist would leave their country to come to Kenya? Better yet, what are the more than 42 reasons that you and I are proud to be Kenyans? We almost “lost” a couple of intellectual properties that we have always thought were uniquely Kenyan (Kikoy, Kiondo, Shuka etc). How much more do we need to lose before we, like the Ethiopians find what works for us as a country?
Edited by Wanjiku Kimaru