Summer in Ethiopia

28023F00-EA82-4D4A-8DFF-681A5632F301Addis in the early morning

This summer I accepted an internship working on public health in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and I thought I would try to resurrect my blog.

I’ve been here for about six weeks now, with a friend of mine from Columbia: Alex. We are doing the same program at school, pursuing an MPH with a certificate in Public Health and Humanitarian Action.

My work here is with the government – a subsector of the Ministry of Health – so I won’t be able to share much about the work, but I’ll definitely be writing about what Ethiopia is like, how it is to live here for a summer, and I hope to go on a few short trips throughout the summer as well, so I’ll be sharing about those.

Addis is an interesting city, and we’ve been stumbling through the culture shock and getting used to living here.

I honestly am a bit surprised at how difficult it has been thus far. I have so much experience living and working in other countries that I thought I was fairly well-prepared for this. But this city and this work situation is very different than anything else I have experienced, and it’s requiring a new set of skills that I am striving to build as time goes on.

A few observations about Addis so far:

Addis is a surprisingly expensive city, especially in terms of housing.

IMG_7713The building where we live

We aren’t being paid for this internship, and Columbia gave us only a small stipend for the whole summer. We had A LOT of trouble locating a place to live that was less expensive than living in New York, even for apartments that were inconveniently located or lacking in amenities. It was quite surprising.

Now that we’ve been here for a while, I see that inexpensive places do exist (as I knew they must). It’s just that as foreigners, we were getting an inflated price, and we didn’t have any local friends to help us when we arrived. Apparently most foreigners who come here are working for the UN, WHO, or other international organization, and they get a generous living stipend. This has inflated the housing market in Addis and as graduate students with relatively little money, we ran into trouble with this.

We did eventually find a place (pictured above from the outside) – still more expensive than we were hoping, considering Alex and I are sharing a room and we share the apartment with another woman. But we’re happy with it. It is a modern apartment, with tile floors, a television, hot water in the shower, a functional kitchen, and a balcony that looks out over the city.

Apparently the city relies on hydroelectric power.

9E1F36F6-522F-4722-BBBF-8D27E9211AC2Dinner by candlelight

This is very exciting from a climate change and environmental perspective, but it also means that because this is the end of the dry season, the water level is low and there isn’t enough water to power the whole city.

So, the government has been shutting off power to in shifts throughout different parts of the city for 4-8 hours a day the whole time we’ve been here.

So some mornings we wake up and there is no power for the hot water heater in the shower. And some evenings we come back from work and we can’t cook anything because the stove is electric and needs power, so we eat bread and peanut butter by the light of a flashlight or candle. It’s a slight inconvenience but it’s manageable. We do have consistent power at work, due to a backup generator that turns on automatically in an outage, so that helps in the ability to at least keep essential devices like my phone charged.

The coffee is plentiful and fantastic.

IMG_7541Traditional coffee being brewed

Ethiopians have a huge coffee culture. They brew a special type of traditional coffee that is prepared in a wooden jug over a charcoal stove and served in small cups. It reminds me a bit of Turkish/Greek coffee in that it is thick in texture and very strong.

Small coffee stalls abound throughout the city. These are small affairs, often informally placed and protected from the sun and rain by a tarp, with crowded seating on small stools or benches. The operation consists of one woman who sits on a low stool and busies herself with the various tasks of preparing the coffee – roasting the beans, pounding the roasted beans by hand, brewing batch after batch of coffee, washing the tiny cups over and over as people cycle through and pay 5 birr (the equivalent of about 17 cents) for each cup of coffee.

Drinking coffee is a communal experience in Ethiopia. Our coworkers go out for coffee every day after lunch (they’ve been kind enough to adopt Alex and me into this tradition) and someone always picks up the tab for the whole group. They find the American idea of everyone paying for their own drink to be hilarious.

It’s a nice part of my days – a few minutes spent sitting around, balancing a tiny saucer and cup in the palm of one hand, chatting and enjoying a cup of coffee that Alex says tastes like chocolate in its richness.


Needless to say, there is no Starbucks here. Ethiopians are proud of their coffee and they don’t want an expensive global chain coming in and changing things.

That’s all for now. More soon!

P.S. If you want to see more photos of daily life in Ethiopia, you can follow me on Instagram (@ckay444). I post photos to my Insta “story” almost every day, when I have internet connectivity, so feel free to keep up with me there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s