Musings on life in Ethiopia for a middle aged IT professional...or "Dilbert goes to Africa"

I will be working on a major upgrade to the Budget and Expenditures application for the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance during most of 2009 (I have been in Ethiopia since October, 2008). What follows are some somewhat random thoughts about life on a new continent.

Send me comments or feedback at JohnJeunnette (at)

Orienteering in Addis Ababa
So, what is an "address"? How do you find your way to a residence or business when there are no "addresses"?

One of the things I think I am pretty good at is finding my way around. Whether it is in a strange city or in the mountains I have a pretty good sense of direction. (My wife has other opinions since much of my direction finding is "seat of the pants"-based and she has stopped believing my "a couple of blocks" distance estimates.) I know how to read a map and apply what I see to the geography around me. When I got to Addis Ababa I felt totally lost for the first few weeks. The fact that I arrived at night did not help but I could not make the one map I could find match the variety of "streets" around me. What I would call a boulevard with a large median in the center appeared on the map a faint line and tiny cobblestone alleys showed up as wide lines. Half the time the names for things seem to shift with the weather and did not seem to match anyting on the map, either. (And the spoken names were in a language that did not register with my brain as language.) I had far less trouble in when I was in Delhi and Khatmandu. Fortunately, we had a driver to get us to work and back and to places like the grocery store. I have slowly begun to recognize landmarks and specific spots in the city and, within a small area, feel comfortable getting around.

It looks like standardized addresses or house numbers are one of those things that westerners think are essential but the rest of the world does without. Since Ethiopian mail delivery goes to post office boxes what do you need a house number for? Actually, in Addis Ababa, each lot does have a specific address. It looks like "Mekanisa subcity, Mekanisa Road, Higher-23, Kebele 13, House no 1853". I'm not sure what the whole thing is used for since no one publishes the address and there are no numbers posted on the buildings, and most of the streets do not have visible names, and many of the streets have changed names several times, and maps are few and far between. But that is life in the developing world.

So how do you find a specific house or business? Hand drawn maps and directions are pretty important. If we invite someone to come to our house we usually use something like

"Start at Sar Bet (Pushkin Square) and go south on the road to Mekanisa. Turn right just before the Vatican Embassy. Turn left on the first street on the left at the top of the hill. At the end of that block and the end of the road turn left. We are the fourth gate on the left."

Not too bad, huh? (Embassies are all over town and are frequently used as landmarks since they tend to be well marked.)

Business listings in an advertisement or directory usually include a map or reference to a local landmark (next to the Shell Station or behind the Old Post Office). Asking people on the street usually works, too. Finding a restaurant for the first time (or going back without our driver) is always a challenge.

I feel I have developed some minimal urban navigation skills here, can even negotiate with taxi drivers like I know where I'm going, and get on the right minivan for a few places most of the time. If any of you remember the minicomputer-based Adventure games from the seventies I often feel like I am in "twisty little passages that all look alike", but it is getting to be part of the charm of this place.


Other Entries:
December 2009
   12/27/2009:   Snowboarding in Breckenridge
November 2009
   11/22/2009:   The Great Ethiopian Run, Take Two
   11/14/2009:   Mule
   11/01/2009:   DV2011
September 2009
   9/27/2009:   Meskel
July 2009
   7/31/2009:   People
   7/12/2009:   Traffic
May 2009
   5/03/2009:   Bubble wrap quest
April 2009
   4/18/2009:   Options: Electricity
March 2009
   3/22/2009:   Italian Connection
   3/01/2009:   Blue Donkeys
February 2009
   2/14/2009:   Eucalyptus Trees
January 2009
   1/31/2009:   Story
   1/25/2009:   Security
   1/21/2009:   Obama and Lions
   1/07/2009:   Merry Christmas and Goats
November 2008
   11/30/2008:   Ethiopian Road Construction
October 2008
   10/05/2008:   Ethiopia Introduction

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