My Hometown Top Travel

Diversity and wonder in Addis Ababa

A busy street in front of an apartment complex in Bole , Addis Ababa. (Lyat Melese/YJI)

In the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, I grew up a city girl, or at least my version of a city girl. Addis is a melting pot from people of different backgrounds. It is busy, crowded, and always full of vibrant life.

Compared to the quiet suburban town in Virginia where I live in now, Addis had excitement and adventure around every corner – an adventure anybody can be part of.

Addis Ababa is a loud city.

Every morning, the streets are crowded with people rushing to get to work. Woyala attendants hang out of the blue and white minibus’ windows, loudly hollering their destination to the long line of customers waiting to board the buses.

Traffic is heavy during rush hour. It took 30 minutes for my mother to drive me to school every morning and another 40 minutes for her to arrive at work.

Riding to school in my mom’s silver Toyota Yaris, I saw drivers obnoxiously honk their horns in the slow morning traffic, some even sticking their heads out to curse the car in front of them.

A herd of sheep might suddenly flock into the road, a sheepherder urging them to cross to the other side. The procession would slow traffic more, agitating the drivers as more cars started honking.

Livestock, traffic and road rage all mark a typical morning in Addis Ababa.

During the rainy Kiremt season, we sometimes stopped to buy Bekolo or roasted corn. Addis runs on the informal market. Women line the sidewalks with coal stoves selling Bekolo while others push bamboo carts filled with tropical fruits.

The largest open market in Africa is found in Addis. You can find anything from spare car parts to your weekly grocery needs in Mercato. Produce is balanced on people’s heads in baskets or sacks as they are delivered to vendors.

Coffee is among the biggest staples found in Mercato. Coffee is an important part of Ethiopian culture. It isn’t just a drink, it’s a ceremony.

Coffee beans are always roasted fresh right before being brewed in Jebena clay pots. People gather in a circle as incense is lit and coffee is poured into the small cups, a rue leaf usually added for flavor.

A woman scrunches her eyes from the sun as she sells Bekolo. (Lyat Melese/YJI)

Traditionally, Ethiopians drink coffee with salt rather than sugar. However, in more urban settings sugar is sometimes preferred.

Although the beauty of the city can be seen in the vibrant culture, diverse people, and bustling streets, I also noticed the not-so-beautiful reality of Addis: poverty.

Beggars are common on the streets. Well-paying jobs are scarce so toddlers and mothers with children beg on the streets while the slightly older children sell gum or work as shoe shiners earning as little as 2 dollars a day.

An increase of migrants from rural areas trying to find jobs has caused overpopulation and even higher unemployment rates for the city.

Addis Ababa is a strange assortment of all things.

Herds of livestock walk over the newly constructed roads.

Shanties of plywood and corrugated iron lean on four-star international hotels.

Everywhere there is a mix of the rich and the poor, the new and the old.

That diversity is what makes Addis special and unique.

No matter what walk of life you come from Addis Ababa is a place where anybody can feel at home.

Lyat Melese is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

Read other Hometown pieces by YJI students by clicking here.

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