Getting around Addis can be quite a hassle. Public transportation is provided by hundreds of ‘mini-buses’ that are actually secondhand Toyota vans from Europe. While it’s cheap, it’s certainly not the most efficient method. All summer I’ve been scheming and brainstorming different methods of transportation. Unfortunately, the tax on cars is something like 240%, meaning a twenty year old Land Cruiser runs you about $20,000 USD. Not exactly within my budget. Donkeys are readily available and cheap, about $60-80 USD, but they are a little undersized. Bicycles are expensive, approximately $120 USD, and you are limited to the city, unless you are Lance Armstrong. Bajas, three wheeled golf-cart like taxis, are one of my favorite means of transport, but they are too expensive unless you plan to use it as a taxi, roughly $4,000-5,000 USD.
That left one option: a motorcycle. My top two choices, Yamaha or Suzuki (also the most popular models in Addis) where both too expensive. You can always count on the Chinese for an affordable option though, and that’s exactly what I went with: a Loncin 125. I know, it’s a small engine; give me a break, it’s all I can afford.
The other day I was humming along, on my way to the gym when the bike started sputtering and then ran out of gas. Luckily, I was going downhill, so I coasted to the bottom where I knew a gas station to be. I pushed the bike into the station only to find it was a diesel station.
Time to push it back up the hill, to a Shell station about a half-mile away. Ethiopians are some of the most willing people when it comes to helping a commuter in distress; two guys immediately helped me push it up the hill. This was not because I was a ‘ferenge’ (foreigner). I have, on numerous occasions, witnessed people help push broken down cars and buses.
After reaching the Shell station I gave the guys a few birr for their help and then asked for a fill-up. ‘Sorry, petrol yellem (out of gas).’ A gas station out of gas, fantastic I thought; time to walk home and leave the bike. I parked my bike in the corner of the lot and started walking but was immediately called to the gas station café by an Ethiopian who was having a beer with his buddies. His English was near perfect and, to my surprise he asked me if I would like to borrow his car and jerry-can to fetch some gas. I was about to accept, and then decided I did not want to take the risk of a fender bender in someone else’s care.
Tsefay, my new friend’s name, was as polite as he could be. Rather than simply wishing me well when I declined, he asked the gas attendant to suck a liter out of his car and put it in my bike. Wow, what I guy I’m thinking. He then asks, ‘What’ll you take?’
‘Giorgis, of course,’ I said as I ordered the local beer. While we enjoyed our beer, along with a host of his friends, he told me he learned a lot from US soldiers stationed in Ethiopia when he was kid. The two main takeaways being spoken English and beer drinking. At least you are still doing both well, I thought to myself. I also learned that he had had a bike for over twenty years, and knew what it was like to be stranded. As we talked, one of his friends slipped out and told the attendant to transfer 3 liters of gas, rather than the initially ordered one liter.
When I saw what was going on, I worried Tsefay would get mad and take it out on me. I immediately offered to pay the difference, but he laughed it off and said he’d get his friends back. I finished my beer and told them I had to be on my way. Before leaving I bought them all a round and thanked them for their generosity. As I jumped on my bike however, I had a hard time getting it started. Tsefay came out, visibly concerned that the beer had affected my judgment.
“Are you OK with the beer?”
“Yes, I’m fine with the beer, I have experience.”
“Doesn’t look like it, are you sure the beer is OK with you?”
“Yes! I just need to get this bike started. The bike’s not OK with me.”
Eventually, we got it started, but Tsefay would not let me leave without promising to call him when I arrived at my destination. I was afraid he may not even let me go, he was so worried. I called him upon reaching the gym. He was thrilled and relieved that I had reached my destination safely.
I’m from the South, as the southeastern part of the US is referred to, and we like to pride ourselves on hospitality. I am not sure, however, that even in the South a perfect stranger would receive the type of generosity and hospitality that Tsefay showed me. The Ethiopian people are truly some of the most generous, hospitable people I have met.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia