I’m not sure if this Addis local took Coco’s advice before setting off this morning…
“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” —Coco Chanel
But then again, with his wooly handbag comfortably settled, perhaps he preferred listening to Diane von Furstenberg.
“Attitude is everything.” —Diane von Furstenberg
It’s impossible to guess the age of Amareche. She’s one of the many timber woman that make the long walk up Mount Entoto early in the morning to gather large sticks to sell in Addis.
Like all the other women doing the same work, Amareche is bent double under the unwieldy bundle of tightly packed wood. The load is so awkward and wide, cars swerve around her as they speed down the mountain. I wonder what she thinks about as she makes the same difficult journey every day. I imagine it’s her family that keeps her going… step after step after step.
I know I will recall images like this when I am tired, when I feel I can’t carry our 18 month around any more… when my body aches… when rheumatoid arthritis and all it’s quirks pushes me over the edge… I know I’ll remember Amareche and her daily journey.
Names are important in Ethiopia and Amareche means ‘She is beautiful’ (Amharic). In her past someone carefully chose that name for this woman whose life was always going to be tough. Watching her now as she continues her journey down the mountain, it’s clear she’s so much more than just ‘beautiful’. She’s brave, loyal and one of many women in this country that gives all she has, every day, for those she loves.
I imagine we won’t eat many snacks straight from the wheelbarrow when we go home to Australia.
Here in Addis Ababa you don’t have to go without a sweet fix for long as every few streets or so you’ll come across a young man wheeling a load of one of the most popular street snacks there is – sugar cane.
For just a few Birr he’ll use a slightly scary looking knife to chop off a section of cane and hand it to you ready to eat. Eat is probably quite an optimistic word at this point. The first time the children and I took on this national snack we stared at it dumbly… a little confused about just where to start.
After quite a bit of whispered conversation we finally asked our taxi driver where we should start and should we swallow the fibrous strands? The answers… just start chewing and no, don’t swallow the strands… just spit them into your hand once you’ve chewed all the sweetness out.
Good to know.
We immediately dubbed it the Dr Seuss house. Officially it’s known as the Ben Abeba restaurant in Lalibela in Ethiopia’s north, but the unusual shape of the building and layout could only have come from a wild imagination somewhere that perhaps ate green eggs and ham for breakfast.
Since moving to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, food has become an obsession with us. We have all lost quite a bit of weight (Steve wins that particular race losing about 10 kilograms so far). So, our first family trip out of Addis had us salivating at the thought of eating something delicious and our gaze was firmly fixed on the strange looking restaurant across the valley from our hotel.
Our walk through the cobblestoned streets of Lalibela to the Restaurant became a town event with small children joining our procession happily practicing their english and wanting us to take their home made necklaces. The garden at Ben Abeba was an explosion of colour and the winding path hinted at what lay beyond… we knew this was going to be a special night. On and up around the series of platforms that make up the restaurant we reached the top level and were silenced by the view. If awards were given out for the best restaurant views in Ethiopia, this place would have to be at the very top. Have a look.Perched 2500 above sea level at the top of Chul Amba mountain, Ben Abeba (‘Hill of flowers’) is the dream of a retired Scottish Home Economics teacher, Susan Aitchison and her Ethiopian business partner Habtamu Bayu. Initially Susan moved from her native Glasgow to Lalibela to help a friend set up a remote school 35 kilometres from town. At the end of her three years she faced going back to retirement in Scotland but her driver Habtamu shared his dream of opening a small, simple restaurant in Lalibela – they talked, she stayed and a dream became a reality.
Ben Abeba opened in 2011 and immediately became a favourite with locals, visitors and ex-pats. Local youth are trained and employed to cook, serve, clean and manage the business. The recipe of a good idea, passion and the right people works as we felt so welcome and were looked after so graciously by the staff – the entire experience was a total joy.
The structure itself comes from the imagination of two Addis Ababa architects. Made of rock and wood the restaurant is more of a sculpture really as it spirals up with raised levels, platforms and water features, eventually revealing the top level with three ‘flowers’ named the Zaff Tree Terrace. This is where diners enjoy the sun slowing setting over 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains and village life below. Unforgettable.
We eat at Ben Abeba both nights we’re in Lalibela and Susan is a gracious host pausing to chat each time. The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an unexpected treat and Kuleni and Tracy both show their enjoyment the traditional way by drawing in the smoke from the roasting beans so it can be fully appreciated. Our four year old just tries to eat as much of the popcorn as she can with Susan warmly encouraging her. We all feel very much at home.As the stars come out, we hear the distant wail of someone in the valley below singing a mournful tune. The fire pit is lit at the base of the restaurant and guests gather, sipping hot drinks, wine or eating dessert and chat about their experiences.
Lalibela doesn’t offer a lot of public transport but getting back to our hotel is not a problem with Habtamu providing transport for a small fee. So, after our big day exploring the rocky surprises of the Lalibelan churches, a wholesome delicious meal and good conversation we’re content to sit back and watch the fire burn down. Completely relaxed… some more than most.
Goodnight little one, sleep well under the Lalibelan night sky.
A priest briefly looks up from his deep reflection, his bare foot resting on rock chiselled in the 12th Century. Lalibela and her astonishing rock-hewn churches is a such a unique place. Moments like this are common and history truly comes alive.
Of Lalibela’s 8-10,000 people, more than 1,000 are priests. The extraordinary architecture, simplicity of life and foundation of religious ritual with it’s processions, fasts, festivals and dancing priests make cobblestoned Lalibela a place that seems timeless.
And if you look at this priest in particular, it’s obvious he knows he has all the time in the world.