By my second week in Addis Ababa, I had visited all of the notable museums listed in the Lonely Planet. I wanted something a bit more authentic. So, I hired Million, the taxi driver who is buying a goat for his sister, to drive me up Entoto Mountain – the mountain range just outside of Addis, and supposedly has a great view of the city.
Strong Ethiopian Women
As we drove up the mountain, I saw women walking along the road with a massive amount of wood on their backs. There were many. I was impressed by their strength. There are no backpacks especially design to contour to their backs, just a lot of wood and ropes. Later, I found out that this is how these women earn their livelihood. And for all that wood on their backs, they get a mere 50 birr ($2.50). How many trips a day must they make to earn enough?
I visited a church and a museum on top of the mountain. By now, I’ve seen so many churches, they begin to blend together. On the drive down the mountain, we stopped for coffee at a colorful shack that an enterprising woman had set up. This turned out to be one of the most memorable moments of my entire trip.
Mountain Top Coffee
The woman set up this colorful coffee stand two years ago when her son was born. She needed something to support the baby. I didn’t enquire, but she must be around my age, or perhaps younger. She set up charcoal to cook the coffee, and she let me have a hand in it. I fan the charcoal and then poured the coffee into cups. She got a real kick out of it. I thank her for partaking in the experience.
With Million as my translator, I began to learn about her story. She lives in the village just above the hill on the mountain top. When they need to go into the city, they often go on foot. I asked her what she does with the coffee stand in the rainy season, she proudly tells me that in the rainy season, the entire set up is different. She has the entire thing enclosed with different materials, and visitors often stop in to wait out the rain. She does very well in the rainy season because the Arabs visit increases during that time.
As we sip the coffee, she burns eucalyptus shells in the charcoal. She said the foreigner really like it when she does this. I explained that in the US, the oil extracted from the tree sells for a lot of money! As we were chatting, her friend, who sells small snacks to go with the coffee, came by. I bought some. We sat guessing my nationality. By this time of the trip, I had gotten so much tan that she actually threw out African as an answer. (This is not the first time I’ve received this…) I like these women immediately.
When I asked Million to take a group photo of us, the café lady plopped the cow-skin hat on my head and a big necklace around my neck, to accessorize, of course. There is something amazing about human connections. I don’t speak her language, but I know if I were a Peace Corps Volunteer in her village, we would be good friends.
I had asked how many people per day on average she has to drink her coffee. She said between 30-50. But, at 10 birrs (50 cents) per coffee, the profit margin isn’t exactly high. But the smart entrepreneur that she is, she makes more money selling crafts that her friends make and snack then the coffee themselves. (Of course, I bought some.) I was impressed by the ambiance of the place and the decor. Given my café loving ways, if I lived in the village, I absolutely would frequent her place.
Strong women of the world inspire me. This is why I travel. Not just for the churches and ancient ruins, but to learn the stories of individuals whose lives are so different from mine, yet who share the same conviction to be independent individuals in this world.