Losing track of time in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

     It’s the early afternoon. I’m in a stationery store. I ask the woman what time it is. She says, “8:30.”
     It’s not 8:30. It’s the early afternoon. I must have misheard her. I ask again. “8:30,” she says.
     I look her up and down. She runs a business. I haven’t done anything for her to yank my chain. She doesn’t even know I’m American. I ask, “Are you sure?”
     We look together at her cell phone. It says 8:30. I thank her and leave the store confused. Only later it dawns on me that Ethiopians measure time based on their own calendar and the Ethiopian day starts at sunrise, which they call 12:00 and what everyone calls 6:00. Got it?
     And the present year is 2003.

     Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar was a stereotypical African bus trip that I am perpetuating. The (only six month old!) bus broke down a couple of times, and then there was this delay.

     Doesn't Bisrat look like Charles Barkley?

     I keep thinking I should be coming up with deep thoughts and Truths about what being in Africa is about, but I’ve only been here a week or so and am still feeling my way. But what about this: at the Ghion Hotel I proofread and edited some documents for Bisrat, the manager in exchange for a hot shower in his office and a discount on a boat trip the next morning—and I don’t even stay at the Ghion!
     The point is to have the liberating feeling that anything is possible. Tomorrow I may feel the opposite, but just to have the feeling, however fleeting it may prove to be, makes being here exciting.
     Everyone gravitates to the Ghion. It has an ideal, relaxed setting next to Lake Tana, good food, cold drinks, soothing breezes and horrendous mosquitoes at dusk. Bisrat is a fixer, able to arrange everything you could need: transport, hotels, tours, communications, etc. I like him because he not only looks like Charles Barkley, especially when he raises his eyebrows, but he has a sense of humor that I like.
     He had an employment poster for a new hotel opening in Addis Ababa and I said he shouldn’t show it to his staff or they might leave. Without missing a beat, he deadpanned, “I hope they leave.”
     He made a call for me to a hotel in the next town I am going. While on the line he said to me, “They’re full.” As a joke I said, “Tell them I’m American.”
     In an authoritarian voice he barked into the phone, “He’s American!” and then with professional comic timing, “Hello?” faking that they hung up on him.

     The Ghion restaurant behind the giant tree

     Mellow Bahir Dar is a good place to get settled into Ethiopia. It lies 575km northwest of Addis Ababa on the shore of Lake Tana, which is the source of the Blue Nile River. And of course you know that the source of the White Nile River is Lake Victoria on the Uganda/Kenya/Tanzania borders. And we all know—it’s common knowledge by now—that the two rivers meet in Khartoum, Sudan before rolling north through Egypt to the Mediterranean.
     These days Egypt is pretty miffed with Ethiopia for damming rivers for hydroelectric projects. Ethiopia doesn’t get along with any of its neighbors very well, it seems, save the pseudo-country of Somaliland.
     A few of us “faranji” (foreigners) made a trip to the Blue Nile Falls about 35km out of town. It was market day so the trail was busy with people bringing livestock and whatever else they have to sell. We walked a loop of about two hours and didn’t see any settlements whatsoever; they must have been walking a while. Below are some whole, dried cow hides being brought to the market.

     Doesn't this look like it's from a movie studio set? A button is pushed and water comes pouring down the hill.

     I gave this girl in the middle my shirt that is around her neck. It's incredible that women---young girls---carry such big loads. This guy came over and I assumed he was going to carry it for her, but he merely made sure she was balanced OK. I hope she doesn't give him the shirt.

     One reason I came to Ethiopia is that much of it is at high elevation with few mosquitoes, meaning a negligible malaria risk. Malaria pills mess up my head and I want to avoid them. Only recently did I read in Lonely Planet that in Bahir Dar, elevation 1800 meters (5300 feet), “Malaria is endemic.” Great. At sunset I dress like a mummy.

     The most common thing to eat in Ethiopia, beyaynetu, a melange of vegetarian delights. $1.30. Ethiopians are magicians with chickpeas and lentils (which are five of the top six items you see on this platter), so why do I not see falafel here? It really wouldn't go over well? They deep fry potatoes on the street. Why not take it to the next step? Another free business idea from The Dromomaniac!

     Another tour was done on the lake, visiting a church with these mural images:

     Mosque at sunset. Ethiopia is about 1/3 Muslim and 2/3 Christian.

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Losing track of time in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia — 8 Comments

  1. Time and date are always confusing between the ferenjis’ and locals’. Yes we are in 2003 and this implies you are 7 years younger, isn’t it cool?
    I know Bisrat a few years back, while i was in Bahir dar. He is a young entrepreneur who manages Ghion hotel. He provides a meeting area for Blue Nile Rotaract club in his Hotel and participate on some of the projects. I am glad that you met him.

    You took nice picture shots specially all those Bajajs (Tuk Tuk). Those are a cause of traffic jam in Bahir Dar though a nice means of transportation.

    It is a fasting time for all Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia, called (arba tsome) which refers to the 40 days of fasting. also it is called (Udadie tsome) which I don’t know the meaning. this season or time you could find Beyayenetu where ever you go. When we fast, we are not allowed to eat meat, chicken, butter, egg, milk and fish for some people. The only thing that you could i is vegetables. other than this fasting season you could find a lot of foods which has meat, like Quanta firfir not (fafafel) hehehe, u had it in Addis.

    Next wait you in Gondar !

  2. Was that crashed truck in the Blue Nile Gorge? Looks like it. It was a tough bike ride, since there’s a brand-new asphalt road down into it that has already developed terrible washboarding and ruts. The ride up was tough, too, with the heat.

    There’s a great coffee shop in BD (Starbuck’s? Starbacks?) that serves the best omelettes and fruit juices imaginable.

    Glad that you’re having fun; I’d hate to have lured you to Ethio under false pretences.

  3. Great post and great pics! Looks like you’re having fun. Really interesting stories… Looking forward to some more “Ethiopian insight”!

  4. Hi Graydon,
    yes, that crash was on the south side of the gorge. I can imagine how
    hard it would have been to cycle down and up that thing. Our bus
    didn’t even make it without trouble!

    Was Starback’s cafe so good? I saw it but didn’t try. I am only now
    beginning to get used to avocado juices.

    I have had fun here until my Simiens fiasco (details soon), but I am
    regrouping. I feel like I should go to Japan to help out, but what can
    I do?

  5. Kent, what a interesting story you tell. Btw, there’s a huge dispute about the number of Muslims and Christians in Ethiopia due to political reasons. I heard the Ethiopian gov tends to over estimate the Christian population so they can get more donations from the Christian West.

  6. Elyas, Christaianity has been in Ethiopia way before you even came out of you European cave, well at least longer than your aid, so I don’t see why ethiopians have to make up numbers to prove themselves. your comment is typical of some westerners trying to patronise Africans…

  7. @ elias,

    what makes you think Elyas is a European ?

    1. well, he or she could be an anglo-saxon(from the US,UK,Canada,Australia or New Zealand, because those countries seem to have issues with Ethiopia), or German or other west European. It is unlikely that he or she is an East European or from Spain,Portugal or Sweden.

    2. He or she could be an Eritrean. One said Ethiopia is the reason de etre of Eritreans despite the fact that we are two separated countries now for over 20 years. They show up everywhere in the cyberspace where Ethiopia is the issue to spew venom, of course not all of them. The internet is full of stuff posted by them meant to harm Ethiopia.

    3. He or she could be related with Arabs and muslims, like a north Sudanese or a Somali or even an Egyptian. Egypt is recently very worried about Ethiopia’s activities along the Nile and it has agents who spread venom about Ethiopia like the so-called Dr Mohammad Shamsaddin Megalomatis.

    Concerning the problem with western countries like the anglo-saxons who so much like to destroy Ethiopia’s reputation it is in reality a power struggle. They see Ethiopia as a threat to their imperialistic ambitions, and that at least since the 1930s.In a book with the title “Abyssinia the Powder Barrel: A book on the most burning question of the day”, 1934 Gregorian Calendar, Baron Roman Prochaszka called ” for the complete ‘eradication’ of Ethiopia, which he described in his own words as “this plague-spot in East Africa".
    Another recent example to show this fear of Europeans and this power struggle is what a CNN journalist said 11 years ago during the millennium celebrations: “even in Egypt and China the millennium is celebrated, but in Ethiopia it is just another day.”
    Westerners, in particular anglo-saxons, feel unease when they realize in Ethiopia that they have not manage to subjugate all peoples. That is a kind of an unfinished job, that is why they are busy today in Ethiopia to westernize the country by force, the government they installed in 1991 is supportive of that agenda.

    The relationship of Ethiopia with the west is a bit complicated.

    To the owner of this blog, Bahir Dar (meaning at the sea) is called the most beautiful city in Ethiopia. It is already a main tourist destination and with a great future. In 10 to 20 years the city could grow from 1/4 million now to over 1 million and sure among them would be many foreigners from the west who have settled there owning shops, hotels etc. The city has a great future and maybe a chance for you too.

    take care.

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