Saturday, October 29, 2011

Snow, birthdays, and ethiopian food...

Well, we have had quite the week...

B turned 3!!!

We wanted to catch-up on missed birthdays, so he had a few extra "parties":

Birthday candles in his egg-free pancakes at breakfast:

Birthday celebration at an Ethiopia restaurant (party of 4-Mama, Ababa, B, and Miss A-M)

Birthday celebration with his friend who turned 3 in August (B "helped" me make the cake:-)

Two of his favorite presents are a backpack (that he was given at our shower but we just now gave to him) and a scooter we inherited from a friend:

and then snowed...A ALL DAY...this was taken in the morning!

My awesome husband got some great shots of our precious little boy enjoying his first snow:-)

Also, B loves his new photo album of our Ethiopia trip so much that we're reading it about 20 times a day so, I ordered two more (with a few more photos in them).  Now he has one for now, we have one, and we have one for him for when he grows up.  I LOVE mypublisher, and if you wait for the BoGo codes, it's really affordable!

Awesome egg-free yellow cake from Madhuram's eggless cooking:

Eggless Vanilla Cake Recipe

Prep time: 15 Mins
Cook time: 27 Mins
Yields: 24 Cake Slices

  • 2 and 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour2 teaspoons
  •  Baking Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 2 tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 can Condensed Milk
  • 1 cup Water (I used orange juice b/c I was afraid it would be really bland, but it was so good that next time I will try with just water)
  • 2 tablespoons Vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 cup Melted Butter
  1. Preheat the oven at 350F/180C for 15 minutes. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch pan and line it with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix in the sugar.
  3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the the wet ingredients one by one. Stir the mixture together using a whisk. Some lumps is okay.
  4. Pour the batter in the prepared pan and tap the pan to even it out and break the air bubbles if any.
  5. Bake it for 25-27 minutes.
  6. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and remove the cake after 15-20 minutes. Place the cake on the rack for it to cool down completely before slicing it.
I baked it in a 9X13 pan lined with a silpat.  Cooled it in the pan and frosted with 1 batch of old fashioned chocolate frosting.  It was DELICIOUS!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

1 month ago we arrived home!

Okay, so this post is a little late:-)  But I just wanted to say 1 month ago on Friday (the 21st) we arrived at JFK.  Sick (me), tired EXHAUSTED (me), giddy with excitement (B), overwhelmed with happiness to be together again (Ababa)...home!

B enjoying his 5 hour layover in Frankfurt while I laid across three chairs, burning up with a 103 degree fever and trying very hard not to vomit or fall asleep (either of which would have left my 2 year old roaming on his own through the airport).  He loved the layover...and the flights...and customs...and the wait for Ababa who was stuck in traffic jam from an accident...and the car ride, not so much:-).  I am so glad to be home!

It feels like an eternity since we got back.  In New York City it feels like you are living 3 lives at once, at least that's how it feels for me.  I work full-time at a very intense (unnecessarily so) fast-paced company, am a full-time hands-on mom in the morning and at night--bottle, breakfast, dinner, bath, stories, snuggles, etc., and am gearing up to start my MBA program again in January, and navigating the health insurance/readoption/name change insanity that greets newly adoptive parents when they arrive in the U.S.  I surf the web with three windows open at the same time, skimming back and forth from page to page, talk on the phone while typing, while sorting through/reading papers on my desk.

In Ethiopia it was me and B, and for the first two months Ababa.  We got up, snuggled, had a bottle, ate oatmeal, played and read stories, snuggled some more, walked to a restaurant for lunch, read more stories, had more snuggles, napped together, walked to a restaurant for dinner, read more stories, had more snuggles, took a bath, went to bed together...rinse and repeat...for three months.  Occasionally we would take a cab or minibus somewhere, have an activity like going to the Lion Zoo or Entoto Mountain or a market, or a day trip further afield to Bethel Womens Center, Desta Mender, or Debre Zeit, but almost every day we were just chilling at the Weygoss, usually cocooned in our room.  We met some awesome people and I am grateful to have been able to stay in Addis for so long, but it was long, and hard, and boring, and stressful b/c we had no idea when we would get home and couldn't plan any trips as everyday there was something that "might happen" that kept us in Addis; however, life in NYC was kind of a shock after those three months in Addis with our much slower 24/7 together lifestyle.

Honestly, it feels like we have been home way longer than we were in Ethiopia, even though we were in Ethiopia for 3 long months.  In fact, Ethiopia is quickly fading from my present thoughts.  Although in some ways it is easier this way, I don't want to forget.  In fact, I want to learn more.  I want my eyes to be opened to the beauty and suffering and reality of life in Africa, and to pray for healing; restoration; practical, sustainable solutions for economic and social issues, and above all for transformation of people's hearts and souls.

I have no idea what that looks like or how I am supposed to be part of it.  For now, we are sponsoring a beautiful little girl in Ethiopia and a gorgeous little baby in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the atrocities that have happened there/are happening there that are rarely, if ever, mentioned in the US mainstream media are horrifying)!  We believe that the organizations we are sponsoring these children through are operating ethically; are fiscally responsible; and are working for effective, culturally informed and sensitive solutions to big problems.  But sponsoring 2 children is not where we feel this ends for us.

Although my immediate thoughts are no longer in Ethiopia all the time, I will never be the same as I was before I went.  I saw suffering, poverty, strength, and hope in orders of magnitude that I never thought possible.  I see depths of loss, and confusion, and love, and strength in my son's eyes that I didn't know were possible.  And I know that as small as I try to make Him, my God is so much bigger than I could possibly imagine.

He loves the old women who carry unimaginably heavy loads of wood down Entoto Mountain, and the legless beggars crawling on their hands on Bole Road, and the leprous weaver with no hands at ALERT, and the teenage street kid huffing glue in Meskel Square, and the man who pees openly in the water cistern on the side of a busy road, and the widow with three young children who silently sits on the rocky side of the road and holds out her hands....He loves them all, he knows their thoughts, their hopes and dreams, their pain, their hurts...just as much as he knows mine...just as much as he knows the "richest" king or the most "powerful" investment banker/corporate chairman/politician.  That is the deepest and most important thing that Ethiopia taught me.  We all have the same value in God's eyes.  We are all made in His image.  No amount of money, or power, or social status, or good health can change amazing, and humbling, and mindboggling is that?!?!?  All this stuff that we spent 24/7 chasing (money, power, success, health...), doesn't really matter at all.  In the long-run, it does not increase our value in God's eyes one tiny bit, and all these things that we find truly horrifying (poverty, sickness, weakness, powerlessness...), they don't devalue us one iota in God's eyes.  How is that possible?  I don't know, and I don't understand, and it stretches my mind, but I do believe that is true!

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. I John 3:1-2

I don't know where our lives will go next or what the future holds for our family.  But I know that God has an amazing plan for our lives, a plan to use us in some tiny way in his amazing plan of redemption.  For now, we are in NYC.  This is where we believe we are supposed to be...for now...This is the family we are meant to have...for now...and we are trying to trust that God will lead us where he wants us.

Who knows what another month could bring...or a year...or five years...or fifty years...

Truthfully, despite this long-winded post, right now, I am just happy that I got some pictures from our trip into an album:-)  Although we only took photos on our crappy cell phones (and downloaded some from our awesome friend L who is a good mom and actually brought a CAMERA on her extended stay in Ethiopia, imagine that:-), I put together an album last night on mypublisher.  I can't wait for it to get here.  It captures most of our highlights from the trip.  I wish I had taken better pictures, that my giggly, adorable son, didn't plaster a look that would put an undertaker to shame on his face when he hears a camera shutter click (while proudly and earnestly saying "Mommy, I smile"), and that I had included some pictures of souvenirs/crafts/markets, and that I had taken pics of the Mercado and the Weavers Market and the awesome, giant fruit stand on the way to church and at the NGO bazar...etc.  But you know what, mostly I am just glad that I put the photos in an album and that we have it for B and for our family:-)  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fun days!

B came to my office at the end of the day yesterday (it was a childcare handoff b/c Ababa had to work an overnight shift in a hospital).

I had to stay late for an hour or so finishing up some work, so my handy assistant helped me file, pick-up copies from the copier, clean off my desk, and color on the backs of old presentations:-)

Then it was really late, so we got his favorite Indian food at a nearby restaurant.  He was a total champ, though dinner took forever and neither the food nor the service were anywhere close to Sangam's (I have GOT to figure out how to make yellow dal like they did!)

Then we walked to the subway and saw A LOT of buildings on the way.  B was yelling, "building, mama, that's a building, and another building, and ANOTHER BUILDING!!!!)  His eyes were as big as saucers and hw had a HUGE grin on his face!

Then we walked past two excavators parked on the side of the road and some piece of construction machinery that I have no idea what it was.  Then we had a special treat...PINKBERRY!  (We split a small with plain with kiwi and strawberries on one side for him and peanut butter with jam, chocolate chips, and coconut for me--delish! (and their peanut butter flavor is amazing!)

Then we rode the subway all the way home, took an escaltor, walked the 4 blocks home, and trudged up the 4 flights of stairs (our elevator is closed for the next month for an upgrade:-(  By the end he was exhausted and it was after 9:-(  He had a little meltdown getting ready for bed but was asleep about 5 minutes after his head hit the pillow.

This morning we were both abruptly waken-up by woosha barking his head off to announce that Ababa was home.  After breakfast, Ababa passed out on the couch and B, woosha, and I went for a long walk, played by the Hudson River, saw the Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge in person and had a great time.  There was running, walking on a beach, climbing rocks, throwing a slobbery wet ball for a neighbor's black lab who was out for his daily "fetch and swim"outing.  B took a loooooong nap today and then we got pizza for dinner (he still hates cheese but makes an exception for Domino's thin crust pizza).

What a great day!  I left my camera and phone at home so no pics, but I'll try to get some tomorrow (if the weather is good, we're thinking about picnic and playground after church:-)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oh's a good thing you are cute!

Today was an "interesting" day.  B didn't sleep well last night, so Ababa and I didn't sleep well last night, so we were late to church.  After church we went to the playground.  B was tired and cranky but then got over it and had fun--he can't resist a good slide:-).  We came home and ate lunch (corn, potato, and squash chowder--this is important to know for later in the story) and then B went down for a nap.

So far so good...

Then at 5 I went in to wake B up.  He was just waking up on his own and was happy and cuddly, but his room smelled foul.  I thought it was the cloth diapers which were in their bag on the way to the laundry today.  I took him to the po-po like always after nap, unsnapped his diaper to put him on it, and was faced with a TON of poop (super nasty poop given his lunch).  The is the first poopy diaper B has had since he came into our care.  He has been adamant about pooping in the po-po (potty) since July 1 when he came to live with us in Ethiopia, even when he had giardia and was going 10 times a day with gross diarreah.

The poop was contained in the diaper (yay!  cloth diapers totally work:-) but it was everywhere.  While I was shaking it off into the toilet as best I could, before I could clean him off, woosha came up and started trying to LICK IT OFF OF B's BOTTOM!!!  GROSS!!!  AND...IT STARTED DRIPPING ON THE FLOOR!

Ababa was taking a nap, B was in a great mood and wanted to try and run around (with poop all up and through his bottom and halfway up his back), woosha was trying to get a "snack" was a poopstravaganza!

Question:  What do you do first when you have a poppy kid, a poopy diaper, a poopy dog, and poop all over the floor?!?!?!??!?!   Answer: Yell really loudly that Ababa's nap is over and he better get up RIGHT NOW:-)

I put the poopy diaper in the bathtub, wiped off the poopy kid, made the poppy dog sit/stay, wiped up the poopy floor, picked up the poopy diaper and rinsed it in the toilet, wiped off the floor, cleaned out the bathtub, ran a bath for B (wipes were just not going to cut it), and then when Ababa finally was awake and functioning, sent him downstairs with the week's worth of diapers to wash, including the most recent nasty addition.

B thought the whole thing was hilarious and has been in a great mood ever since (I would be too after the giant load he got out of his system!)

Not sure if his tummy is upset or what since he seems to feel great.  We only fed him a little fish and rice for dinner with just a few pieces of plum and is going to bed a little early just in case.

I really hope that this is a one time deal and he goes back to being poop potty-trained tomorrow (we're still working on the pee potty-training) b/c this was not at all fun!

Good thing he's so cute:-)

The pic is from Ethiopian New Year (Enkutatash) at our guest house in Addis.  I did not have enough hands to take any pics during today's incident--they were full of poop!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Betcha didn't know this...:-)

Some more B-isms for your weekend enjoyment:-)

Betcha didn't know that...:
  • The city where we live is called U-Nork
  • Posessive pronouns are always part of a word regardless of whether you are discussing it in the possessive, e.g. a mouth is always called 'zamouth and a nose is always called 'zanose and 'sawatch, so Daddy's watch is "Daddy's z sawatch" (he sticks an extra "z" in just because:-)
  • The best thing to do before bed is have a "coconut ovo-oile massage"
  • Naptime, bottletime, bathtime, and snacktime are the best part of everyday and warrant excited skipping and giggling throughout the house
  • every jeep, everywhere MUST be identified by shouting "JEEP!  Mama, JEEP" and Rav-4s, Landrovers, and most SUVs are also considered Jeeps in this house:-)
  • tootsie rolls are very, very hard to chew (I'll post the video later, it's HILARIOUS and apparently Ababa didn't even catch the funniest part on video...mama was at work and missed the whole episode:-(
  • Morning is always referred to as "good morning" and birthdays are always referred to as "happy birthday", e.g. we will go to a birthday party in the morning is, "We will go to a happy birthday party in the good morning"
  • pasta and cheese in any form are so gross, I think I am being poisoned whenever someone tries to feed them to me
Oooooohhhhh, I love this little boy so much!  He has brought so much joy and laughter and love into our lives!!!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Wacky Cake

YUM, the new go-to birthday cake in our house:

I've used this recipe since college.  In college I would sprinkle chocolate chips over the warm cake and spread them when they melted or just let them melt enough to stick to the top of the cake.  For birthday cakes, I frost with old fashioned chocolate frosting.



  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Sift flour, sugar, salt, soda, and cocoa together into an 8x8 inch ungreased cake pan. Make three wells. Pour oil into one, vinegar into one, and vanilla into one. Pour water over it all, and stir it well with fork.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes (until a tooth pick inserted comes out clean). Frost with old fashioned chocolate frosting OR sprinkle chocolate chips over the warm cake.

This cake is moist and delicious.  No one will EVER guess it's safe for egg and milk allergies!  



  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream butter, sift together dry ingredients.  Alternately mix in part of the dry ingredients, the milk, and the vanilla.

I don't even like frosting generally, I usually eat the cake and leave the frosting, but I LOVE this frosting (it tastes like a slightly softer, even more delicious version of the chocolate frosting at Buttercup Bakery).  It's amazing!  Seriously, tonight I may or may not have licked the beater and spatula and eaten some with a spoon...


Life as a family of three is going great.  We're doing well with bonding; spending time together; introducing B to our friends, family, and neighborhood, and learning how to be a family...we're not doing to great with laundry; responding to calls, emails, or gifts; or giving people detailed accounts of our time in Addis.  My job is very demanding and has proven to be very unfamily friendly right now, Ababa's EMT class is going well but very busy for him.  So, it's taking all we've got right now to focus on our family.  Hopefully in the next few months we'll start getting the other things together:-)

For now, here are a few photos and B-isms to introduce you to our amazing little guy.

B is a HUGE sponge and mimic.  He's pretty much fluent in English now and is great at letting you know what he wants.  He also repeats EVERYTHING, so mama is working on cleaning up her potty mouth (which needed to happen anyway).  Some our favorite B-isms are below.

"Mama, Happy Birthday Cake" "More candles...candles are fire...mama, candles"
I heard this for about 2 hours a day, EVERYDAY during our last month in Ethiopia as B's favorite activity was making playdough brithday cakes with candles (which meant I made the cakes and candles and then he cut them into little pieces).  B celebrated 3 birthday parties for other little kids and figured out really quickly the joys of birthday parties (namely cake and fire).  Since he's severely allergic to eggs, he only had cake once (only in Ethiopia is it common and relatively easy to get a "fasting" cake which has no milk or dairy:-)  We celebrated Ababa's birthday tonight with an egg-free Wacky Cake (mommy's recipe from college, cheap, easy, and yummy). B isn't really scowling, he just makes a serious face for pictures while saying "mommy, I smile"...and yes, mommy-fail, we had no birthday candles in the house (note to self-must rectify before B's birthday later this month) so I just stuck a taper in the middle of the cake.  It kind of looked like a torch:-)

B has discovered the joy of the playground, especially the slide.  he also got his first playground injury.  As you can see from this pic, he decided after many runs down the slide to mix it up by switching from seated on his bottom to lying on his tummy MID-SLIDE!  Yeah, not a great idea!  He wacked his face on the slide and got a bloody nose. (It's a sad miracle that I caught this moment on camera as we take pics with our crappy cell phone cameras that have 5 second delays on all photos, since our digital camera sucks the life out of batteries like no other...we're saving to get a new digital camera for Christmas:-)

We are still co-sleeping and I have to say it has greatly helped bonding, sleeping, and fostering a sense of family...but...B drools...ALOT...'nough said!
I was very sick for about a week after we got back from Ethiopia.  Once I was feeling better, we ordered pizza from Dominos one night.  The online order ticker was Pirate-themed and a parrot keept squacking "Auck, prepping your order".  B thought that was HILARIOUS and now walks around the house randomly saying "Auck, pemping your ordah"...B is a great eater.  Loves anything with fish and rice (his two favorite foods), soups, stews (like Ethiopian wats, Indian dals, chili, etc.) and he loves fruit (especially, apples, pears, oranges, plums, tomatoes...).  He also loves corn on the cob and chicken.  He cleaned his corn cob the very first time and had his first drumstick the other day.  He sucked the bones dry and even ate the cartilege!  The only foods that he really hates so far are pasta, cheese, pickles, and peaches.

He repeats everything we say, but doesn't always get the meaning quite right.  So, currently he says "that's gis-dusting" when he thinks something is good (b/c I say "that's disgusting" when something is yucky:-) and "mommy, that's Masty" when something is funny (b/c I say "that's nasty" when something is yucky:-)

We just started official pottytraining today (he has pooped in the potty ever since we met him, but pee is usually in his diaper:-(  He loves the book "Everybody Poops" (which Ababa and I think is kind of disturbing and gross).  We started rewarding him today when his diaper is dry AND he pees in the potty and he had a dry diaper all day.  So, we'll see.  After 3 months of diapers, and at almost 3 years old, it'd be awesome if he was potty-trained.  But, if he needs more time that's fine with us too...For now, we are using the bigger diapers in the awesome cloth diaper stash I amassed during the past 2 years and we're learning the joys of cloth diapering in the city...

Internet and Phone in Addis

Practical Travel Info: Internet and Phone

Internet-The Weygoss charges 30 birr per hour for wireless internet and 75 cents Birr for using their computer for internet.  The internet is very slow, went out frequently, and was entirely unavailable for over 2 weeks during our stay.  We ended up inheriting a mobile hotspot (EVDO stick) from a family who was leaving and our internet experience was MUCH better.  I would HIGHLY recommend buying a hotspot if you will be in ET longer than a month.  You can buy them in ET for about $150 US and then have to pay a monthly fee and buy the phone cards to load Birr onto your account, or you can look into options in the US that might work here.

Phone-We brought a global phone (thank you A-M!) and then just had to buy a SIM card here (approx. $30 US I think).  We got ours at a phone kiosk in the lobby of the Getu building.  You can also buy phones here for a reasonable amount ($30-$50 US often).  You then need to buy Birr to load onto your phone and internet stick, we got the green cards which come in 100 Birr denominations.

We only used our phone for making local calls and for incoming local calls, all other calls we did through skype.  Once we started using the EVDO stick skype was great.  The regular Weygoss internet often dropped skype calls.

There are also internet cafes throughout Addis.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Transportation in Addis

Practical Travel Info: Transportation in Addis

There are several transportation options in Addis.  We chose the Weygoss b/c we could walk to a lot of places and are glad we did.  There are also buses, mini buses, taxis, and hiring private drivers. I think that you would need to be clinically insane to try and rent a car in Addis.  It is expensive, and the driving is crazy.  Meskel Square literally has like 27 lanes of traffic that come together with NO TRAFFIC LIGHT (not in a round about, it’s like a K-shaped intersection) and occasionally donkeys or sheep walk across it—‘nough said!

Walking: If you can choke down the smog that flows from vehicles in Addis like water and if you are savvy enough to avoid pickpockets and can deal with beggars, walking is a great option.  Violent crime is very low in Addis and we never felt unsafe in that way at all (remember we are somewhat grizzled New Yorkers thoughJ)  The pickpockets are annoying, but pretty easy to avoid if you know what to look for (kids with boxes who are trying to “sell something” and group of kids with nothing to do are the main culprits—kids shining shoes, selling books or maps,  or selling lottery tickets are not usually an issue beyond heckling you to buy something).  Beggars range from annoying to absolutely heartbreaking.  Make up your mid before you go outside if you want to give them money or not.  We found the best options were to fold 1, 5, or 10 birr into a very small shape and drop on their lap surreptitiously or to put it in a bag of food.  If you are obvious that you are giving money to a beggar, many more will pursue you.  Walking is great, and was often our preferred method of transport for trips of approx. 1 mile or less.  If you have asthma like me, bring your inhalers!  Between the smog and the elevation it can be tough going sometimes.

(For the first few weeks, and always for longer distances, I would carry B in the Boba carrier.  I think any stroller except maybe big rugged jogging strollers with thorn resistant innertube tires would be pretty much useless here.  If you have two little kids and it’s just you, maybe try carrying one on your front and one on your back, or possibly bring a Bob Revolution or Baby Jogger and see if they can work.  We saw several people with McClarens and pretty much laughed at them, as they carried the stroller more than they pushed it!).

Buses: Do not take the red/orange city buses if you can help it.  There is a lot of petty crime on them and farengi (foreigners) are not usually treated well.

MiniBuses: The blue and white mini busses are AWESOME!  The fare is approx. 2.60 Birr to anywhere the bus you are on goes (no free transfers, so if you change busses you have to pay a new fare).  The drivers don’t often speak much English, but you can usually communicate the route you want.  We often used the Bole Road (runs down Bole away from Meskel Square), Mexico Square, and Mekanissa (this was the route to the International Evangelical Church) busses.  They are cheap, relatively fast, and come frequently.  The biggest drawback is that they can be CROWED (think 16+ people in an 11 passenger van with several people also carrying children).  When you want to get off tell the operator “gurage” (sounds like garage but with a “u”).  There is often at least one passenger who speaks English, so if the operator doesn’t know where you want to go see if any of your fellow passengers can understand you.

Cabs-Taxis are everywhere.  They can be yellow or blue and white.  Our area of Bole Road had mostly Blue and white cabs.  Negotiate a price with a driver before you get in and know landmarks near where you want to go as drivers often won’t know where exactly it is, especially if you are going to places that ferengi go but locals don’t.  You can get most places in Addis for around 40-100 Birr each way depending on how hard you negotiate.  If you tell the driver you want round-trip it is cheaper and they don’t mind waiting.  E.g. if you want to go to Island Breeze restaurant which is in the Piazza area near the old post office a driver might say 100 birr each way, but will happily accept 170 birr round trip including waiting for 2 hours while you eat.  Do not pay them anything until you have completed your return tripJ Our most frequent cab driver was named Marshahl and he waits at the cab stand by New York New York.

Drivers-We didn’t hire a driver until we’d been in Addis for about 5 weeks.  We walked or mini-bussed everywhere, or took an occasional cab.  If you want to get out of Addis though, a driver is best.  Also, if you want to go up Entoto Mountain, but sure to confirm your driver and their vehicle can make it up there as many can not!  Like cabs, negotiate a rate a head of time (usually a half-day or a whole day rate) and don’t pay anything until you are back home.  When we were in Addis, a half-day rate was approx. 300-500 birr and full day was 500-700+ depending on your negotiating and the driver.  You could get less, but the vehicle/driver was often not so great.  Most drivers have vans so if you chip in with friends you can have a pretty affordable outing. The driver we used mostly was named Melkamu.

For longer trips (like to Awassa) check-out sky bus which is an upscale bus option.  That’s what we were going to take if we went on our planned trip to Awassa and Aregash Lodge (which never happened due to delays by our agency that kept us in Addis far longer than necessary).

Monday, October 3, 2011

Money in Addis

Practical Travel Info: Money in Addis

It is quite easy to get money in Addis, but like everything else, there are some quirksJ

We have a Mastercard debit card and our bank does not issue Visa debit cards, so we knew that we were limited to only using Dashen Bank in Addis.  If you have a Visa debit then you have more options.  Fortunately, there are two Dashen Bank ATMs and an actual Dashen branch in the Getu building right up the street from the Weygoss.  Unfortunately, there are usually lines as everyone in Addis seems to prefer Dashen ATMs--they can be used with Mastercard or Visa, you don’t have to have a Dashen account to use them (you have to have an account with many of the banks in Addis in order to use their ATM machines), and they don’t charge extra fees.  More unfortunately, the ATM computer network has issues and individual machines frequently break-down or are out of service, so there is a pretty high likelihood (I’d say about 40%) that the ATM won’t be working.  The Dashen ATM on the outside of Getu seems to work better than the one on the inside of Getu.  There are several more Dashen ATMs around Addis, including at the Hilton and the Sheraton. ATMs dispense 100 birr bills.

We tried not to let our birr completely run down, but sometimes it did.  We brought about $400 US in $20 bills as our emergency stash for the 9+ weeks we were in Addis and are so glad we did!  You can change money at most banks, the Hilton, and occasionally in very small amounts at the Weygoss front desk in a pinch—we had to do this several times!

With the exception of our guesthouse bill, we operated on a cash-only basis in Addis.

Laundry at the Weygoss is quite expensive but was the best price we could find.  It was exponentially higher at the various laundry/dry cleaners we visited in person.  Having one week’s worth of clothes washed (keep in mind we wore everything at least twice and often more and B was pretty neat and had no intestinal issues or accidentsJ) was about 400 Birr.

We budgeted $170/week for food, water, laundry, and internet as well as $50/week for transportation and $25/week for souvenirs.  Our estimates were pretty accurate. We under spent on drivers and over spent on souvenirs it was basically a wash in the end J

***Be careful walking around with large sums of money (US or Birr) as pickpockets are rampant. Especially watch for the kids with boxes (of gum, tissues, whatever) they will use that as a ruse to pick your pocket.  We were never pick pocketed, but we often surprised kids by pulling their hands out of our pockets.  Many of our fellow guests who were not quite so street smart/observant were pickpocketed.  We kept our USD in a belt we bought for Ababa (looks like a regular leather belt, but has an interior zipper where you can put folded money) and in my wallet which was inside our diaper bag which was inside our backpack which had the zippers locked with a small combination lock***