Okay, I hope you’re prepared to be totally wowed today. When people join the State Department they usually picture all sorts of adventures in far off lands, and today’s feature on Addis Ababa is beautiful adventure through and through. Today’s Notes from the Field comes to us from Sara, the blogger behind Our Yuppie Life, as well as baker behind Lady Troupe Sweets (mmmm!) and as you’ll see from today’s post, a pretty extraordinary photographer. I’ve had Lalibela in Ethiopia on my bucket list/life list ever since I saw a documentary years ago, and her pictures proved that I would be every bit as fascinated as I expect to be. Sara gives us an incredibly honest and exiting account of her family’s post to Addis Ababa. Fair warning, this post is going to make you want to go to her house for dinner asap. And it’s going to tempt you to invite yourself to Ethiopia so that you can join her on all of her adventures, from spectacular scenery to cool shops in the city. And finally, this post is definitely going to make you want a coffee right off the bat, so you might as well grab a cup and settle in for today’s trip to Ethiopia!
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Three words to describe your current post:
Challenging, enriching, family-friendly.
Best thing about living in Addis Ababa:
The weather. In Addis Ababa, it’s 75, blue skies and sunny 9 months out of the year. In the morning and evening it’s cool and breezy, and then maybe in the middle of the day, it could be 85 degrees as a high. Absolutely perfect weather.
You have visitors in town for the weekend, what does the weekend look like?
If it’s just a weekend, then we would stay in Addis and drive to the Bethel Women’s Center for a picnic. We’d grill something for lunch and explore the grounds before the highlight of the experience: the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony. That night we’d most definitely take our guests to Anitca for pizza and then back to our place for homemade ice cream and drinks.
Day two we’d hike Entoto and stop for some souvenir shopping with the local vendors on the mountain. A weekend in Addis is not complete without a stop to TOMOCA for slow roasted Ethiopian coffee beans, Piazza for Ethiopian crosses, SoulRebels for hip Ethiopian fair trade shoes, Sabahar for silk scarves, Salem’s for baskets and blankets, and then Yod Abyssinia for cultural dancing and Ethiopian food.
If you’re in Addis Ababa, you absolutely must try:
The coffee! Ethiopian coffee is the best in the world. We’ve been told that it’s illegal to sell the export-quality beans inside of Ethiopia. All the good stuff has to be exported around the world. I’m not sure I believe it though because it can’t get any better than what we’re drinking here everyday. A cup of French-pressed Haraar coffee is a life changing experience. We’ve also been buying green beans and trying to perfect roasting them at home as well.
For a traditional coffee ceremony, Ethiopians roast a large handful of bean over a hot fire in a small cast iron pan, and then pound them into a fine grind. The fine powder goes into a handmade pottery coffee pot, and is placed right on top of a pile of hot coals. The grounds percolate in the boiling water and settle at the bottom. When it’s ready, the pour it into tiny cups and pile on the sugar. The very strong espresso style coffee is a tad gritty, but smooth and delicious. Ethiopians have been drinking their coffee like this for centuries! Whether you brew it in your own coffee maker or drink it like the locals, Ethiopian coffee is definitely one of the best things about living in this country!
Biggest adventure at post?
Most difficult thing about living in Addis Ababa:
The poverty in Ethiopia is astounding. Death and hunger are things we see on a daily basis. It’s been hard for me to come to grips with how close Ethiopians and their families might be to death at any given moment. Health care is dismal in Ethiopia. Chest colds kill infants, car accidents claim lives, village fires burn, birth defects are prevalent, pedestrian hit and runs happen daily, menengitis and starvation are upon us. These things are very much daily visuals in this city and it’s heart-wrenching. It’s also an experience that humbles you. Life is so very precious and my family and I have been given an exponentially better chance at life than anyone born here. It makes me want to live life at my very best. It makes me want to inspire my children to be their very best. Living in Ethiopia forces you to ask yourself some very hard questions and look at your life through the eyes of someone who will never even come close to walking in your shoes. It can be a hard lens to look through at times.
When did you realize that you were far from home?
The moment I walked off the plane. But I was prepared for it in advance. This isn’t our first experience living in the developing world, so I was prepared before arrival. There is no experience at all in Ethiopia that doesn’t remind you just how far from home you truly are. Or, how different you life existence is compared to anyone living in this country.
When we arrived at night in Addis Ababa, and I stepped out of the airport with my newborn in my arms, and the other two girls trying desperately to move one leg in front of the other, the only thing I could think about was how quiet it was. It was cool and quiet and such a change from the other big cities I was used to. It felt nice – it was a peaceful welcome.
What’s the most important thing about re-creating your home at post?
With three small children, it’s very important for us to be able to set up the kitchen and playroom for the children. Our daughters are pretty content as long as they have good food to eat and their toys and books to play with.
For me personally, the kitchen is key. I don’t feel like it’s truly home until I have my favorites pots and pans, my best whisk, my chef’s knife and my stand mixer. When I get to the store at post to purchase a bag of onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil – then it’s home!
Three things you can’t live without at post?
My hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. The sun is intense here at 7,000 feet. For my life in general, the three things I need in general are my camera, my cookbooks/recipes, and a good Nalgene water bottle. Those three things I’m never too far from on any given day.
One thing you thought you couldn’t live without, but have had to?
The list is pretty long here actually. There are many things we’ve learned to live without. I think if I were answering for my children, it would be playgrounds, parks and libraries. Answering for myself, I would say shopping of all kinds. There was a time when I thought I couldn’t manage without a decent grocery store, shopping mall or book store. I’ve learned to be satisfied with browsing online since moving to Addis. But it’s just not the same. I love to try on shoes and browse shelves of books at book stores. I miss that – I’m a woman who needs a little retail therapy once in a while. But for groceries, I just make do.
What’s your daily uniform?
Pretty much every day I’m in a t-shirt shirt, skinny jeans and my TOMS (with holes in them). I always wear earrings, and if I go outside, my hat and sunglasses. In the rainy season, scarves as a daily accessory as well. My husband calls is my “Panama Jackie” look. I have a great collection of dresses, skirts and heels that I gaze longingly at as I throw on my uniform every morning. Luckily there are some dinners and functions we get to attend every once in a while so that I can put on something less sensible!
You’re having guests over on a Saturday night, what’s on the menu?
I’ve been dying to host an actual DINNER party! Our girls are still young so they go to sleep extra early, which makes dinner an impossible hour at our house every night. When we do host, it’s brunch or lunch. I love hosting though and if I were to plan a dinner (for after the sun has set!) it would start with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella with olive oil and homemade croutons, roasted red pepper bisque, buttery herb rolls, chicken in dijon white wine sauce, and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. For dessert, we’d have crepes filled with bananas and a spiced rum caramel sauce with vanilla bean ice cream. Lots of wine with dinner, and port with dessert. Parties at our house come with music, and for this dinner, we’d listen to the Alabama Shakes. Who’s in?
Dream post for your next assignment? Why?
Bangkok, Thailand! My goodness, everything about Bangkok is amazing. Food, shopping, history, travel, markets, people…I could go on and on. We lived in Manila, Philippines, prior to Ethiopia and there is something about Southeast Asia that sticks in your heart. We spent a weekend in Bangkok eating, riding elephants, photographing temple ruins, and eating again some more. I really want to see the floating market. Plus, I get really excited about having tailor made clothing. Bangkok is the place to do that.
One thing you wished someone had told you before arriving?
I wish someone had told me that there was a ton of fresh produce and local dairy products available year round. I was under the impression that we would all get scurvy and eat nothing by goat, beans and injera. Not so. I’ve been so happy with the locally grown fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy. The strawberries grown here are so much better than the ones from California that end up getting shipped all over the US. They taste garden grown. Everything is fresh and I love that I can still see the earth on my lettuce and carrots when I buy them in the store. Of course we have to bleach everything at home before eating it, but our fridge is full of great piles of vegetables. And the tomatoes! It’s tomato season here year round and they are red and juicy and flavorful. It’s just wonderful, and I love cooking here.
I was fairly adamant about not wanting to live Ethiopia. It was not a destination that sounded exciting to me, but I’ve been proven wrong time and time and time again since moving to Addis Ababa. I’ve found it to be a wonderful place to build an enriching home life for my family. Mostly, I’ve found our time here to be slower paced and quiet, which has given me a lot of time to be reflective, creative and mindful about my personal time. Ethiopia has inspired me to build a new career for myself. It’s not for everyone here, but if you’re a fairly low-maintenance person, or think you could turn into one for a few years, you might find Ethiopia to be just right.
What are three favorite posts from your own blog?
Brutally Honest – gives readers a good sense of the struggles I have in Ethiopia.
Meskel Celebration – my favorite Ethiopian holiday!
Falisides Bath – my favorite religious site we’ve visited in Ethiopia