When the PA at the consultancy firm I worked at in the early 2000’s introduced me to one of the directors, with the words, “He wants to send you around the world,” I was a little taken aback to discover they meant Ethiopia. Brought up in the eighties, I’m ashamed to say that Ethiopia only meant famine and desert to me.
The director hastily added we would be housed in a five star hotel, and indeed we were, when I joined the team who’d already arrived, a five star hotel with six restaurants and several pools, which felt somehow wrong when on the streets we saw children carrying home newly dead dogs, but I had no means of enunciating this.
These days I will admit that I was too young to make the most of this experience. I had not been long in London in my very first job, and was pretty much over-whelmed to be sent away again. It takes a certain amount of entitlement to go out and explore when you’re told not to go without security, or to understand that you can really step in and embrace the culture. But my employer arranged horse-riding, which again highlighted that I was the only one who did not know how to horse-ride, a visit to Merkarto and its vivid pools of spices, a sight more common in these Instagramming age and was taken to eat Ethiopian food
In the evenings, to burn off the ridiculous quantities of all-inclusive (a concept I had never encountered) luxury food, I would swim in the pool which was a darting experience of avoiding un-named bugs, legs frantically struggling to stay afloat. This was where I first discovered caviar, and Belgian chocolate mousse – no not together. Needless to say, my swimsuit grew smaller over the month
Entitlement also helps get involved with the work, and my daytimes were locked into the ‘office’ a square of desks where we all sat typing on humongous laptops, or in my case, trying to find typing to do from the defensive managers. It was hard to email in those days, we would take it in turns to connect the unreliable modem, sometimes taking hours to download a single email, typically there was no email for me. There were people I thought about emailing, but surely they would have emailed me if they wanted to talk to me?
Occasionally I went on information gathering exercises amongst the company’s staff, bemused by their concern about being judged due to a rogue fly that had entered the office, not noticing my fear of being judged as totally out of my depth. More fun was visiting the patisserie on the Churchill road, amongst Emerald skyscrapers. Patisseries were the new thing at the time, and everyone wanted a business in them. As apparently the only white people in Addis Ababa, eager strangers with a kind air would walk alongside us wanting to talk worldwide politics, the US, the Nile.
And mostly what struck me, other than the experience of the Ethiopian meal, the amber tej and pollo wot, (my future as a food reviewer was already budding…) was that the crescent moon lies on its back on this side of the equator, like a glowing cradle in the mountains. And nobody had ever told me.
From the writer of the ‘Engaging and Uplifting’ (Daily Mail) HELEN AND THE GRANDBEES, artist Alex Morrall explores themes of love and isolation in her novella, Adrift.
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