Sunday, August 11, 2013

Six weird things I saw this week in Addis

I figured people might enjoy this. The list is not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it meant to belittle the city or its residents (there were plenty of weird things to be seen in DC as well).

  1. Ox gallstones for sale -- This was the headline of a poster on the bulletin board inside the entrance of a ferengi supermarket, along ads for imported Landcruisers and the like. The headline was accompanied by a shot of solid earth-brown lumps that I'm going to have to assume were--for lack of a better theory--exactly what they claim to be. I'm guessing the audience was the Chinese population, but its hard to know for sure.
  2. Chechnya -- One of the of the neighborhoods of Addis (along Telebole, around Atlas Hotel and, appropriately, the EU compound) apparently gained this nickname when heavy construction in the area brought with it a general lack of safety and security, and when conflict was ratcheting up in the contested Russian region. I think this speaks to the sometimes cosmopolitan nature of Addis. It's an official enough designation to make it onto the pizza boxes of a popular place there.
  3. The First Laughter School in Africa -- I have almost no idea what this is, but its advertised by a large billboard along one of the city's main roads, centered on a cheery African man and a middle-aged white woman. (It is a real thing apparently -- if you want to learn more I've done the service of Googling it.)
  4. Old Mercedes -- Legitimate luxury cars are a relatively rare site here, and when I do spot them it's often either an official vehicle accompanied by a police escort or as part of a string of fancy cars, draped in wreaths and honking wildly, which are contracted to celebrate a wedding. Occasionally, though, I see a more dated luxury model, and when I do it also prompts me to wonder whether the current owner, or perhaps a previous one, collaborated with the old, pre-1991 regime.
  5. Chai Latte at Kaldi's -- Addis has a chain called Kaldi's coffee that is often described as a Starbuck's clone: same green and white color scheme, same font, tries to project a similar ethos. So not long ago I made my first trip to Kaldi's and wondered what I'd get if I ordered my typical Starbucks non-coffee drinker standby of the chai latte. (I held off on asking for soy milk, although that's apparently widely available here due to the frequenet fasting days when Ethiopians refrain from meat and dairy). What I got -- while a useful learning -- is not something I'd order again: a cup of frothed milk, and a tea bag.
  6. Cast-off American t-shirts -- I recall an interesting piece I once read or watched (I haven't tried to source it for this) that tracked clothes from America's donation bins to Africa's markets. Walking down the street here, it's not uncommon to see clothing clearly in its second or third life, and every so often a fragment of American culture on one of these pieces will stand out as particularly humorous, apropos, or personally significant to me (if not necessarily to the wearer). A disproportionate number of them are sports related--perhaps these have a shorter American half-life. Some of the--often well-worn--shirts I've seen include a commemoration of the 1997 Cleveland Indians' American League pennant, a shirt for members of the Washington Huskies women's basketball supporters, and shirts for a Boston College-sponsored kids sports team and a little league pitching camp in Kuwait. My favorite so far, though, is one I saw yesterday. As we drove toward the Eastern outskirts in search of a delicious and deliciously-non-assimilated Chinese restaurant, I saw a man in a worn orange shirt with "Pump This" as the motto on the back. As improbable as it still seemed to me, when we passed on by I could see that below that slogan it really was a shirt from the Village Pump in Kelleys Island, Ohio. Brandy Alexanders all around!