Pakistani pop, country music and our commonalities

This post was written by Javed Cheema

Thursday 5/22 was an interesting day. Niraj and Katie had already left the day before and it was my last night with the gang as I was leaving the next afternoon. It had been the desire of several of us to check out a Korean restaurant that had come highly recommended to us. After Ale and I came back from the Red Terror Museum, we really wanted to share a cup of coffee with our driver, Tikelun and Madame Mebrat. Protocol was such that all of our previous attempts at invitations had failed. Tikelun was the hardest to crack. This time, we asked him 3 times but then gave them no choice as we opened the driver’s door and forced the invitation. We were so happy to share the warm sips of coffee with our hosts and knew we made a connection when the driver refused the hotel-made pastry and accepted to partake from Danny’s stash of kollo – the genuine local article!

We set out a little after 5 for dinner and so began a 2.5 hour search for the Korean restaurant Rainbow. Earlier Carla had pulled out a rough sketch from Google maps and our hosts had politely informed us that they knew what the map was pointing to. Either the map was outdated, or way out of scale, or our hosts misjudged. Either way, thus began an interesting and somewhat comical search for Rainbow. We must have stopped in 3 different neighborhoods and taken several u-turns. We stopped policemen, people on the street, and even rival restaurants for directions. Each one was wrong and we almost gave up the search were it not for the finding of another Korean restaurant and discovering that the same owners owned Rainbow as well. We finally reached the address only to find a closed gated with inside lights turned off! Hoping against hope, Danielle got out and rung the doorbell. A person off the street confirmed what we suspected by now.


What a treat this turned out to be! We had spotted the Armenian restaurant, Aladdin, a few turns back and knowing it was recommended in the guidebook, set out for it.

Food was great. No question one of the best meals we had in Ethiopia. But even greater was what happened during the meal; we really broke the ice with the former soldier in Tikelun. We found out that he was really into action movies – especially Rambo and other Stallone/Schwarzenegger flicks. Just then a familiar tune hit my ears and a few moments later, a startled me started telling the group that this was a pop song from Pakistan – the 1st one to introduce the genre to that country! Mebrat told me that it (Nazia Hasan’s “aap jaisa koi”) was still a popular song in Ethiopia. An obscure song from the 1970s from a country thousands of miles away… what are the chances of that?? Thus began a sharing of commonalities. We asked our hosts of what music they listened to and the movies they liked. A group of us broke into choruses to several songs that they would hint at and we would get nods of approval if the mark was right. The song “Jolene” and other country westerns were definitely in. Michael Jackson was a veritable African son whose death was mourned greatly in Ethiopia. We were the only table singing, clapping and laughing ourselves silly with abandon.

What a way to end the trip!

Dropping Javed off at the (wrong) airport terminal. Oops!
Dropping Javed off at the (wrong) airport terminal. Oops!

Building Language Skills One 18 Letter Word at a Time

18 Letter German Word

Before diving in to how Team DHL dealt with overcoming the language barrier in its first 48 hours within Germany, it’s worth noting that I took three years of German in high school. Combining that decade old education with four 15-minute lessons in Duolingo last week and needless to say, my hubris towards reading, writing, and speaking German was at an all-time high when our wheels touched down in Frankfurt on Saturday morning.

And it only took a few hours to be brought back down to Earth.

Luckily for us, the Frankfurt airport is very much a German/English hybrid, with both languages used in tandem on all signage. Most of the customer service agents spoke English as well, which was incredibly useful when we went to pick up our rental car. Even the guy that brought us our car greeted us with a giant “SUP GUYS?” when we arrived at the garage, quickly picking up on our Americana. So much for blending in.

Upon arriving in Koblenz (which is a charming and quite nicely sized German city that sells itself short in its marketing materials – GAP 2015 project?!?!), we quickly realized that we wouldn’t have the same dual language luxury of the Frankfurt airport. I had the genius idea of parking in a garage marked “Frei – 400”, correctly assuming that “frei” meant “free” but failing to realize that it was commentary on the amount of open parking spaces and not the cost of parking itself.

Natalie and Sruti with Church

After we set up shop in our apartment, the team hit the road for an authentic German meal. We found a cozy restaurant in one of Koblenz many, many squares, and after correctly nailing down a table for six, we quickly realized that our German vocabulary was limited to niceties and had a shocking lack of culinary terms. Our waiter, like the attendant in the parking garage, instantly recognized that we were Americans and came prepared with an English menu. We each ordered traditional German fare, with varying different types of meat, potatoes, and sauerkraut. I was in heaven.

First Meal in Germany

We next headed off to the local bars to get a lay of the land. The first bar we went to felt like a dive bar back home. US state license plates adorned the walls, and we even found a confederate flag which was… weird. Our cozy table featured a basket of peanuts, and we were scolded for not throwing our discarded shells on the ground like the rest of the patrons.

More of Irish Pub Night #1

For our nightcap, we ventured into the Irish pub across the street from our hotel. Having patronized many an Irish bar in my young adulthood, I felt in my element. I suavely (or so I thought) ordered “ein Guinness und ein Magners”, coupling my shallow German skills with my deep knowledge of Irish adult beverages. However, the bartender was having none of it, and replied back with the price… in English.

Irish Pub Night #1

Overall, we had a fantastic weekend in Koblenz. We still have much to learn on the language front and on how to not stick out like the traditional American tourist. Tomorrow, we begin our project at TRW, one of DHL’s customers. Stay tuned for more info on our project!

Mistranslation of the Day: When a crying woman approached Devin asking for directions, and Devin replied (in German) “No… do YOU speak German?”


Arrival in Addis Ababa

Fifteen hours is a long time to spend on a plane. But it makes sense when the journey you’re going on is to such a different place from Ohio as Ethiopia.

tracking our flight
tracking our flight

We had a smooth flight. There were many adorable yet crying babies on the plane, so sleep was limited. The arrival process was fairly smooth and quick too. Asres, our kind guide from the University of Addis Ababa, met us at the airport and drove us to the hotel.

The hotel helped us hire a driver who took us to the Piazza area, a busy center with many stores, cafes and restaurants. We had our first cup of strong Ethiopian coffee at the popular Tomoca cafe, and then walked around to find places to meet our basic needs: an ATM, pastry shop (!), and phone card for additional cell phone minutes.

Tomoca Cafe
Tomoca Cafe

Some things we noticed our first day in Addis:

Traffic: is basically organized chaos. There are few street signs and street lights, many roundabouts, tons of cars, buses and pedestrians. Yet everything flows together somewhat smoothly. Cars drive very close to each other and people, yet somehow nobody got hurt (at least not yesterday. Carla mentioned that Addis has one of the highest car accident rates in the world). Also, horn honking was surprisingly low and considerate.

Poverty: Yes, there is poverty here. We saw some small areas that looked like shanty-towns where the houses were basically concrete slabs with simple corrugated metal roofs and tarp walls, and many people begging or sleeping in the street. A few little kids came up to Danny and Niraj, grabbing onto their pants and begging them for money with their sweet little smiles and open hands. For the most part we ignored beggars, but brought little trinkets (pencils, marbles) that we will give out to kids during our trip.

Busy, bustling street life: Even amidst some poverty, many cafes were full of people drinking coffee and tea, eating snacks, relaxing and talking with friends on a Friday afternoon. People waited in long lines for buses that choked the streets. There were people working; with many active construction projects in progress and tall buildings scaffolded with long wooden poles.



Friendly and polite: We met several locals who were willing to help our clueless tourist selves navigate language barriers with bilingual assistance. One very kind shop owner helped us add minutes to our Ethiopian cell phone, and several times people helped me (Danielle) while I was waiting in line to buy something, (apparently) looking confused. Thank you, kind people!

Prices: We knew the cost of living here would be much lower than US standards, but we still experienced reverse-sticker-shock when buying things. One doughnut and three cups of tea cost about $1(total!) in a cafe, and our delicious meals at the hotel restaurant were about $3-5 each.


Painting in Hotel Taitu
Painting in Hotel Taitu

Style: The women in our group had been concerned about wearing appropriate clothes here, wanting to blend in and dress modestly. But I was surprised by how fashion-forward many of the women in Addis are. Skinny jeans, colorful makeup (especially bright lipstick), trendy hairstyles (braids, twists and side-sweeps), and leopard-print scarves are popular here. Many women wear stylish hair coverings made from sheer, jewel-edged fabric or with varying patterns. Cute flats and some high heels were spotted too, though I’m glad we were advised to wear comfortable shoes for walking.

Rain!: There was a very strong thunderstorm yesterday afternoon. Some of the streets were muddy.

ViewMost strongly we have notice scenic beauty with mountains in the background, colorful flowers everywhere, lots of trees and birds… mixed with exhaust from so many cars and buses. We keep seeing hints of other places we’ve visited or lived in here. The traffic reminds Niraj of India (but minus the cattle), the beggars are less aggressive than those Alejandra has encountered in Peru, and the narrow elevators remind Carla of Tel Aviv. The beautiful landscape and flowers look like Hawaii, and the hustle and bustle, busy activity and organized chaos remind me of New York City.


Overall, we’re so happy to be here and can’t wait to explore more!