An adventurous family move from Meath to Addis Ababa

This is a land of extremes: ancient tortoises, extravagant wealth, abject poverty

The Tuttlebee family from Co Meath  in the mountains just outside Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, where they now live.

The Tuttlebee family from Co Meath in the mountains just outside Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, where they now live.

 

The torrential rain beats against our windows, bursts from the confines of the gutters, seeps through roofs and gouges craters from the roads. This is a land of extremes: giant grasshoppers, ancient tortoises, extravagant wealth, abject poverty.

A year and a half ago, we moved to Ethiopia to live and work at a mission school on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.

Typical Irish preoccupation with the weather ensured many of our friends worried about how we would cope with the African heat.

But life 2,500 metres above sea level, more than twice the height of Carauntoohil, brings cool breezes and heavy rains, and we mourn central heating far more than air conditioning.

Evan (11) with one of the giant tortoises that lives on our compound.
Evan (11) with one of the giant tortoises that lives on our compound.

Vultures

But the rains bring their novelties too; a committee of vultures returns from its daytime scavenging at twilight each evening and nests in the lofty eucalyptus trees that line the perimeter of the school.

A stroll underneath their customary flightpath regularly uncovers various mammalian body parts, picked clean of any flesh: a section of a windpipe perhaps, or the skull of a rodent.

Usually the vultures observe us from their thrones in the tallest branches of the trees, but today they have condescended to join us on the school playing field, strutting through the lush grass, waiting.

Suddenly the ground shimmers as a swarm of flying termites rises spinning from the soil after their long season of incubation, and the vultures pounce: this termite treat happens only twice a year.

When the rains subside, the vultures will leave too, and a family of kites replaces them in their eucalyptus thrones.

Outside the school walls, the sheer number of people is overwhelming: they spill from one-roomed homes onto the pavements to sell fried foods, fruit and flip-flops. Clothes are washed outside shopfronts and hung on the barriers of roads to dry in between the deluges.

The rich heady smell of roasting coffee mingles with the stench of untreated sewage from the river.

Children offer a shy “How-are-you?” when they see my white face; I answer in hesitant Amharic. There are seventy separate languages in Ethiopia and I have not yet mastered one.

Confusion

Blue and white Hiace vans are the public transport of choice. With enough seats for perhaps ten passengers, I have counted up to 18 on board.

These Hiace vans vie for road space with donkeys and tuk tuks, while herds of goats are driven onto the pavements, sold for fattening up come the Ethiopian Easter, held a week later than at home.

Hiace vans vie for road space with donkeys and tuk tuks.
Hiace vans vie for road space with donkeys and tuk tuks.

While Ireland adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, Ethiopia has clung resolutely to the Julian calendar, meaning that over here it is still only 2011 and we have the privilege of two New Year celebrations - the firenji January 1st and the Ethiopian September 11th. 

To add to our confusion, time is different too; our 12 o’clock midday is six o’clock for Ethiopians, as it has been six hours since the sun rose. This leads to considerable panic at written government appointments; does 7.00 mean 7am or 1pm?

When the rain subsides, we need to pick our way carefully through the brown foaming water that surges down the road.

We are becoming familiar faces here: the movie man who sells the bootleg DVDs calls me over to tell me about his new lij, a baby girl; the guards outside the church wave and call to us whenever we walk past; the lady in the souk from where we buy phone credit and soft drinks knows we like Coke straight from the fridge and not at room temperature as our Ethiopian friends prefer it.

As night-time falls, we can just make out the vultures settling; bats emerge to forage and soon the mongooses begin their night time vigil through the school campus.

The call to prayer from the neighbouring mosque echoes through the site.

But some things never change, whatever the continent: every evening I boil the kettle and pop one of the tea bags we smuggled from Ireland into the mug; a taste of home in the midst of this strange new land.

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