Monday, 30 November 2009

Water, lack of it, food and Paradise in Ethiopia

Simon Pope (SPANA's Director of Communications) and the second part of a blog from Ethiopia

It is, in some ways, rather churlish to poke fun at a hotel in somewhere like Ethiopia. A place that provides a bed, food, is safe, quiet and doesn’t cost the earth is sometimes all you can (or should) hope for in many sub-Saharan countries. But what makes visiting places like this so enlivening is the sheer idiosyncracies of these hotels. Jeremy had said that finding a hotel with that perfect, planets-in-alignment combination of electricity, water, bath plug, food and affordability was only a hoped for Nirvana like dream. So, the Pyramid Paradise hotel in Debre Zeit had a lot to live up to.

True it had decent food. And in fact for me, as an Ethiopia newbie, I can honestly say that Ethiopian cuisine is a revelation. Tasty, interesting combinations of meat and vegetables with the unexpected bonus of a boiled egg seemingly thrown in at random.

In the firmament of Ethiopian cooking is my personal favourite, Doro Wat – a spicy, complex sauce in a bowl with chicken and the ubiquitous boiled egg which you discover, unnervingly if you are unprepared for it, like the top of a bald man’s head about half way through. Doro Wat must also surely join the legions of national dishes that sound like the baddies in Star Wars movie – Doro Wat, Tarka Dal and Khorkhog. Forming an obligatory accompaniment to every Ethiopian meal is the ubiquitous njera. This resembles large flat pancake, variously described as both an edible tablecloth and eating implement, has the look of a rather grey old dishcloth and the consistency of carpet underlay. It does not, however, taste quite as bad as it looks. This is largely due to the fact that it actually doesn’t taste of anything. It is, however, very filling and great for mopping up all the sauces, and bits and pieces that form the composite ingredients of a meal.

So the Pyramid Paradise scores on the food test but as to water.....

There was water for the shower in the morning. More, it was even warm, because the water heater and storage tank hanging precariously off the wall was almost proudly displaying a red warming-up light and making vaguely promising warming-up noises. There was, however, something fickle about my shower as it coquettishly flattered to deceive. Instead of the water issuing forth from the shower head in a steamy torrent it simply dribbled rather lamentably. This was nonethless an improvement on the cold bucket of water we’d been issued with the night before, around the surface of which various forlorn nocturnal insects were now silently floating.

Now wise to the subtle arts of Ethiopian water heaters, once it had refilled again and warmed up, I turned off the drain-cock so that the warm-ish water would still be there when I got back. I was foiled by the maid, who later turned it back on to clean the bath. The next morning I not only turned off the drain-cock but took the tap off as well. And hid it. When I got back to the hotel that night I discovered that my room had no electricity and smelt vaguely of melted cables. Surveying the bathroom by candle light I found that I may have shorted out the boiler which had been trying to heat an empty cistern.

Bang went half the hotels electrics.


Karen meanwhile had no water at all, either cold or hot. She went in search of search of the manager but discovered en route that the pump from the main tank had broken. Disconsolately trudging back to her room she nonetheless wished a happy morning to the gardener who was merrily watering the lawn with a hosepipe.

Errr, so how does that work?

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