Day 4: Gondar City-
May 5th (Monday) is an official holiday in Ethiopia and all government offices are closed. However, a subteam of our Gondar hosts had promised to make time to meet us at 1.30p. We decided to go to explore the city and check out the local market before our meeting. What an adventure it turned out to be!
First, we went to a souvenir shop which was filled with great local craft pieces – including wall hangings, dolls, decoration pieces, clothes, shawls, musical instruments and many other interesting pieces. Even though we promised ourselves that we will window shop, seek comparisons, not fall victim to impulse decisions and try our bargaining skills, the moment of truth was interesting. The pieces were so beautiful that it was hard to resist the urge, especially since we would automatically make mental calculations of how low the dollar-converted costs would be!
Our first real adventure of the day was right outside the souvenir shop where a group of 2 young boys approached us and tried to “exchange” a 20 dollar bill for an interesting story. Their concern was that they had an “old” 20-dollar bill from 1981 which the local merchants would not accept. They wanted the nice Americans to help them by exchanging it for a newer bill since we could easily pass it on when we got back home. We had an interesting dialogue about the authenticity of the bill and in the end decided to agree to disagree.
From there we got in the van and were taken to the local market which was bustling with activity of every sort – from fresh vegetables to chickens to clothes, utensils and hardware. Almost everyone we met was extremely friendly with smiles all around. We all noticed that many of the shopkeepers spoke very good English and didn’t try aggressive approaches to sell to the visiting “freinji” (local word for light skinned foreigner). We also noticed that there were quite a few women entrepreneurs who confidently ran their shops.
During this visit to the market we happened to stumble upon John, a 10th grade student who made our day! There was something about his demeanor that put our whole group at ease with him. We struck up a conversation with him to find out about how he loved fashion forward shoes which he then converted to soccer shoes when his 5 brother team rule over other kids in the neighborhood. He told us about his dreams of becoming a doctor one day and serving his nation. We not only got great advice from him about which fabric to buy or how to avoid fast colors but also got a pleasant surprise – an offer to show us where the beautiful fabric was weaved by the locals.
We had set a deadline for ourselves to leave the market by noon so that we could head back to the hotel, have lunch and get ready for the 1.30p client meeting. However, the offer was just too good and all of us make a group decision to flex our time in favor of this unbelievably authentic experience. John took us through the market until we reached a semi-residential area where small shacks housed families as well as a cottage industry of 1-2 person manufacturing units. John showed us where a person was hard at work at a small hand-powered loom weaving a beautiful fabric from threads of cotton. John would later also show us where the raw picked cotton was sold and along with the bobbins used to convert piles of raw cotton into thread which would then be used in the weaving process.
On our way back, we were taken thru another route in the neighborhood where we saw ladies cooking the day’s lunch. John took us to one of the ladies and we were able to see how pancake type batter was first prepared and then poured over a heated plate to make Injeria – the staple of the Ethiopian diet. As we watched this process, we were surrounded by many curious and smiling children. For some reason, they found trust and comfort in the faces of Danny and Niraj—whose hands they held and started to walk thru the alleys back to the market. Only after we reached the van did they finally say smiley goodbyes and went off their way.
As we said farewell to John, he offered to take us on more experiences like this should we choose to. Since he was off school for the summer, he was willing to take time off from soccer and show us around while someone covered his shop. A definite stop that we all agreed to put on our itinerary was the visit to the Jewish blacksmiths. Knowing of the historical struggles of the Ethiopian Jewish community, this experience was a must have.
Oh how lucky we got with finding John!
We got back to the hotel recounting our many adventures (some of which we couldn’t list here) in time for our client meeting. We ended up having a 3 hour meeting with them and then a 3 hour strategy session which shed new light into how to proceed with our mission in Ethiopia. Tomorrow is a packed day and if things go well, a packed week full of work.
We can’t wait to meet up with John again!