When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
There, obviously, aren’t any Romans in Ethiopia. But there are plenty of Ethiopians. So 2 out of the last 3 nights we have been out to restaurants serving traditional Ethiopian food and performing traditional Ethiopian dances from the different tribes around the country.
As previously discussed, the primary part of Ethiopian food is a type of bread called injera. A round, flat, fried dough made from the small grain Teff. It is used as both crockery and cutlery. The difference in these restaurants is that, rather than individual dishes served to each person, the food is served on a central platter placed on a large wicker table while your whole group is seated around it on a cross between a stool and a chair. I’m aware im not making it sound too comfortable, but it actually is fine, and much easier than eating your food off your lap in front of the TV! As you are expected to eat with only your (right) hand, a silver jug and basin is brought round to wash said hand before the food commences, very novel, and much less hassle than having to go to the bathroom to wash your own hands. Is this living? I think it might be! Once the food comes it is a free for all, with a large variety of different meats, pulses and vegetables to accompany the injera all in a varying levels of flavour and spice. Im sure usually it would be whoever eats the quickest gets the most food, but with our group it has seemed to be who has the best technique at picking up the food without a fork! Once everyone has made a fair, but ultimately failed attempt, at finishing what’s on offer the silver jug comes round again to wash to the food you didn’t manage to get in to you mouth off your hand (and wrist and elbow in my case) and leaving you squeaky clean for the evenenings enternainment that has been building atmospherically on the stage during your meal.
At both restaurants, in front of us, on the stage a band, singers and a troop of dancers rolled through performances of Ethiopian cultural song and dance. It was brilliant, the dancers control of their shoulders necks and head was almost not human. The energy of the routines was ridiculous, particularly at this altitude, and when we were invited to get up and join in, we quickly demonstrated the difference between these skilled performers and our novice attempts. Some of our group were invited up on stage, others (like Suzanne) invited to dance individually with a dancer and the rest of us in a group round our table.
The second of the meals was organised by the Great Ethiopian Run committee and so we were able to mix with members of the organising committee, VIPs and other international groups in Addis for Sunday’s run. There was a great mix of people including South Africans, Chinese and other Europeans all, like us, in Ethiopia for the first time to run in the 10k race. An indication of how well the organisers have done at selling the race internationally, with 42,000 runners expected on the start line, it is Africa’s largest race and bigger than the London marathon. But then I guess this place is known as the land of runners.
As well as the two meals out, we have had a couple of beautiful days exploring the surrounding country side around Addis and have also been transferred down to our hotel in the City ahead of the Great Run via the press conference where we watched Haile (Gebrsellasie, but seeing as I’ve met him I think we’re on first name terms now) answer questions about his career, his future plans and the race itself.
Driving about an hour North East of our base at Yaya, we went exploring for monkeys and rolling country side. What we found was probably the caricature of African planes that I was expecting. Rolling brown hills, lone trees standing in the distance, straw shacks grouped together for dwellings. Amazing. Our guide also took down into a valley in search of wildlife, we managed to find a few monkeys hiding in the trees protecting their babies from a large eagle owl circling above the waterfall and rocks.
The Press conference was quite interesting, of course the main attraction was Haile, who still commands a large following in his native country. Despite retiring from competition last year, he is still very active (just been elected president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation) and is central to the organisation of the race. There were also clips of previous years races (it took them until the 8th edition of the race to complete a legal start at the first time of asking!) and the sheer volume of excitement and enjoyment of the runner was great, the race itself should be more like a festival especially if we get stuck in the middle of the masses and struggle to get any proper running done!
So were are now settled down in the middle of Addis, in the thick of it. Almost a world away from the serenity of the hill top Yaya Village but a couple of degrees warmer which is nicer when you’re out of the sun. This morning we’ve been down to watch the children’s race, their mini marathon equivalent. Organised chaos is the best way to describe it, but at least they could manage to find the right size t-shirts for all the runners unlike our apparent one size fits all policy!! The kids were enjoying themselves even the tiny ones who could probably run before they could walk, but then with role models like Gebrselassie, Bekelle and the Dibaba’s is it hardly surprising?