Domesticity — Sunday, March 2, 2014

Daylight comes quickly at 6:30 and it’s time to get started with the day.  The night watchman is relieved of his 12 hours’ duty by the day watchman, and we get started with breakfast – usually a couple of eggs (hard boiled) toast with honey and peanut butter (American import!), fresh mango and bananas.  We drink mild Ethiopian tea— which is delicious.

The driver from Ayder Hospital picks Lewis up at 7:30, to take him to work. Kiros, our housekeeper, arrives to spend the day doing housework and laundry shortly thereafter.  She comes 3 days a week and she is wonderful! She spends some time sweeping up the dust blowing in from the road and tends to the laundry. Laundry is done by hand in cold water, but clothes don’t take long to dry in the Ethiopian sun. The weather is terrific—a lot like sunny southern California (but without the traffic!)

We discovered we are not alone in this house.  Lewis saw a four-legged “guest” skitter across the kitchen floor one night.  Some low-quality Chinese rat traps were completely useless, so we had to escalate the battle!

One day last week, Kiros brought us a little white kitten! Her job is to simple:  she is the “indoor watchman” charged with keeping rodents from visiting the house.  She already had a name:  “Burra”, a common cat’s name which means “Silver”.  She’s about 2 months old, very playful, and active at night – maybe a sign that she is doing her job!

Kiros and the cat.  Rodents, beware!!

Kiros and the cat. Rodents, beware!!

Burra, the cat.

Burra, the cat.

We are very fortunate to live in a lovely house. It is lavish compared to the average Ethiopian house—and spacious while also cozy.  The glass in the windows is tinted yellow—and is reflective—so the house stays cool.  When we first saw the house, we noticed it did not have a dining room table, so we requested that one be provided.  Tough and demanding tenants!  At the time we thought this was a simple request, but soon we realized that this was not part of culture in Tigray.  People sit and eat with their hands off of low tables:  nobody has a “dining room table.”  Finding one was surprisingly difficult.  We had no idea that this would be such a major request!

About two days ago our dining room table and six chairs arrived—trucked in from Addis Ababa, over 300 miles away.  It is a beautiful table, made of solid wood and painted dark brown.  The padded chairs are upholstered with soft red fabric. My placemats look great on it!

The new dining room table!

The new dining room table!

We prepare our food on a stove fueled from a propane gas cylinder.  The stove has two electric hot plates, but they will not even boil water.  This is not a problem with stove; rather, it is a reflection of the underpowered and somewhat unpredictable electrical power grid here.  (Our cheap Chinese microwave oven takes twice a long to cook atsthe one at home, for the same reason).  The toaster is also a bit slow, but the electric kettle (a staple) works great. The water in Mekelle is so hard that it would destroy this appliance in a matter of months, so we only use bottled water in the kettle.

The Electric Kitchen Trio of Modern Conveniences (intenational):  microwave (Chinese), toaster (French), electric kettle (Dutch)--and they all get along (unless the power goes out!).

The Electric Kitchen Trio of Modern Conveniences (intenational): microwave (Chinese), toaster (French), electric kettle (Dutch)–and they all get along (unless the power goes out!).

Our meals can best be described as “indoor camping!”  We have had lake fish fried in the skillet (delicious), hamburgers (also fried in the skillet), pasta with canned tuna fish, eggs (scrambled, boiled, fried or served as an omelet with onions, tomatoes and red bell pepper), and other simple delicacies.  We have also had a few Ethiopian meals here, so we are branching out and will report later.  We have to boil water on the gas stove and do the dishes by hand.

This blog has everything INCLUDING The Kitchen Sink!

This blog has everything INCLUDING The Kitchen Sink!

Shopping is a challenge.  There are a couple of “supermarkets” in Mekelle, which carry a reasonable selection of canned goods and household supplies, but it is definitely not “one stop shopping.”  The supermarkets have no fruit, vegetables, bread or eggs.  Every other items requires (at least) one trip to a specific location for purchase.  We buy vegetables in the market or by the side of the road.  They are very fresh but need to be eaten within a day or two. Bananas are small and tasty, and cost about $2 for 3 Kg supply (which only lasts a couple of days—bananas are a staple!).  Fresh mangoes, papayas and avocadoes are also available.  We buy our bread at a local bakery for 5 Birr per loaf (25 cents).

Honey is a special delicacy in the Tigray region (famous throughout Ethiopia, and deservedly so) and there are specialty honey stores dotted around the market that sell nothing else!  A few bees are always present at these stores, too! Honey comes in large barrels in different grades and is scooped into plastic containers and weighed out by the kilogram. The purest honey is very light-colored and thick.

Inside a honey shop in Mekelle.

Inside a honey shop in Mekelle.

Scooping up honey for sale.

Scooping up honey for sale.

Weighing up your purchase.  The current price (it just went up) is 190 Birr per kilogram, or just under $US 10.

Weighing up your purchase. The current price (it just went up) is 190 Birr per kilogram, or just under $US 10.

Shopping can be a challenge as it generally involves hunting for individual items in many places across town.  Asmarom (our friendly local bajaj driver) is a godsend here.  He used to be a manager at the Axum Hotel and, as a result, he knows everybody in town, knows where the best bargains are located, and helps translate and negotiate when we are trying to “close a deal.”  He’s also personally familiar with many of the vendors.

On Saturday, Lewis and I had a long shopping list, and we filled up the back of his bajaj with eggs, bread, honey, vegetables, limes, bananas, frozen fish and a couple of plates and a bowl.  The eggs are counted out individually and carefully placed in a plastic bag. They are small, very flavorful, and of course, free range!  Live chickens are also for sale, hanging from a pole strapped to the vendor’s back.  The rest of any chicken processing must be done at home.  We haven’t made it that far yet…

Our friend, Freweini, took me to her hairdresser’s salon to get my first Ethiopian haircut last weekend. It was quite a challenge for them to cut hair of this kind and it  took 2 people to tackle my straight, springy and slippery hair. One hairdresser held pieces up whilst the other one cut it.  Freweini translated for me. My haircut cost 30 Birr ($1.50) and I walked out looking a lot more presentable than when I walked in!

Helen gets her hair cut!

Helen gets her hair cut!

Lewis generally arrives at home just before it gets dark, and we have supper shortly thereafter, such as it is.  Last night the power went out a couple of times, before and after we ate. We keep flashlights and candles handy at all times. One day last week we had a power outage lasting 14 hours!  Yesterday parts of Mekelle had no water, but we were lucky.  Other days, not so much…

My time has been spent getting our house organized and soon I will be ready to do something else.  I’m looking at a number of options, about which more later.  My little sewing machine traveled well in my hand luggage all the way from St. Louis, and I have set up my sewing machine in a sunny spot on the balcony. I have already sewn up a shirt for myself.

Helen's sewing nook on the balcony overlooking the living room.

Helen’s sewing nook on the balcony overlooking the living room.

Another item that is surprisingly hard to find is bookshelves.  We have been all over Mekelle looking for a small bookcase to equip Lewis’s study.  Yesterday we looked at half of the “furniture showrooms” in Mekelle and found nothing, nada, zip.  Finally, in desperation, Asmarom took us to a carpenter shop.  I drew a sketch of what we had in mind, we settled on a price, and he promised it would be done by 2 PM today.

Around 3 PM Lewis and Asmarom came back, grinning, with the bookcase strapped to the top of the bajaj.  Another successful day of shopping in Mekelle!

Bookcase delivery by bajaj:  handcrafted, built from scratch, and delivered in less than 24 hours!

Bookcase delivery by bajaj: handcrafted, built from scratch, and delivered in less than 24 hours!

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