A couple of great things about Ethiopia: coffee and popcorn.
Ethiopia, as those of us who routinely buy Ethiopian Sidamo at Starbucks
know, is a major coffee producer–of excellent coffee. And there’s a
coffee ceremony, which takes 2 hours and involves drinking 3 cups of
espresso for fear of insulting the host. They roast the green beans,
then grind and prepare the coffee, which is served, gloriously enough,
with popcorn. On Sunday I went to a much truncated version of the
ceremony here at the hotel. What I most enjoyed–the coffee was great,
and so was the popcorn–was talking to the young woman who prepared the
coffee. She is a member of the hotel’s “casual staff,” and studies
accounting here in Addis. I asked her what she would do when she
graduated, and she said, nothing, there are no jobs. Ethiopia is very
poor, she said, and the economy only gets worse.
Other observations from our trip: traveling with a former President
of the US is nothing like a regular gig! There are about 15 Secret
Service agents and too many advance people to count. A PR firm from
Chicago runs the show, and it is unbelievably well organized. The guy
who runs the firm used to work in the White House, and he’s organized a
lot of high-powered meetings. I am so impressed with him and his team.
Everything is very unpretentious and down to earth. The President came
into the lounge this morning, wearing khaki shorts and sandals. (He
swims every morning, and Mrs. Carter told me she would also swim here,
since she does at home, but redoing her hair all the time is a real
problem!) He gets his own toast and coffee and takes breakfast back to
Rosalynn. He introduces himself to others in the lounge by asking where
they’re from, and saying, “I’m from America.” Indeed.
We travel in a motorcade, streets cleared, sirens blaring, so we
never have to worry about traffic. We flew today on a charter flight,
which meant we pulled right up to the airport–sometimes on the
tarmac–and immediately get on the plane and take off. No screening, no
luggage issues. We are accompanied by sharpshooters on roofs and guys
with machine guns lined up along the runways. The Secret Service carries
some fearsome-looking cases, which I’m sure are full of weapons–this,
in addition to the ones they are wearing!
The flight attendant begins the routine safety announcement with,
“Good morning, Your Excellency President Carter, and guests.” And praise
be, then she served me a Diet Coke, the first I’ve had in this country.
(Pepsi has the Sheraton contract.)
I am so glad I read some books about the history, culture, and
politics of Ethiopia, because there are constant references to things I
wouldn’t otherwise understand: the Mengistu regime, the DERG, the
liberation armies, etc.
Oh, and hey! Guess who turned up at the village today, but Nicholas
Kristof, of the New York Times. One of my real heroes, with all his
writing on Sudan. I was nearly as thrilled to meet him as President
Carter! More to come on the village visit. Tomorrow we go to Nigeria!