Waiting for Addis Ababa Food Not Bombs


After a short two hour flight on one of Ethiopia airlines new jets we arrived in Addis Ababa. As I was going through customs to get our visa I told the officer that I was attending a conference hosted by the Ethiopia Vegan Association. That surprised the man behind me in line who remarked he was pleased to know their was such a movement. I told him I volunteered with Food Not Bombs and that farther interested him. I got my visa, picked up my bag at the carrousel and sure enough my hosts were there to pick me up. They were all smiles and so welcoming. The drive to the Ras Hotel was quick. My bank card didn't work but fortunately I had $25 U.S. and they took that for the evening. The room was on the Nelson Mandela floor and a photo of a jail cell with the words Nelson Mandela's cell for 27 years hung outside my room 210. The room was fantastic. New washroom fixtures and two comfortable single beds. A complex shower and a TV with four channels one of which was tuned to the BBC news. After being so careful with the water in Nairobi the hot shower seemed like a blessing.

Keith talks about Food Not Bombs

Climate Change and Sustainable Development Conference

Vegan lunch at the conference

The next day I had the wonderful Ethiopian breakfast and sat on the cafe porch for a few minutes when Dr. Anteneh arrived in a little blue taxi. We sped off to the Global Hotel for the conference. Ballroom A was huge and had tables, chairs set across the far end. The guys from the Ethiopian Vegan Association greeted us. I place my flyers on one of the registration tables and soon cases of fresh water in bottles arrived followed by a steady flow of participants. Each person filled out the registration form then carefully collected one copy of every flyer I had set out on the table. By the time all 60 or so participants had arrived every flyer was taken. This proved to be very good as it took some time before all the technical issues of the projector and computer were worked out but soon the conference was under way. The December 9th conference "Acting on Effective Solutions to Climate Change and Sustainable Development" was organized by the Ethiopian Vegan Association (EVA) in association with International Fund for Africa (IFA) and Save Mothers and Children of Oromia (SMCO).

Keith, Doctor Anteneh and Worku Mulleta

Attending the Climate Change Conference

Conference participants listen to speakers

After Doctor Anteneh opened the conference Worku Mulleta gave a powerful presentation called "Veganism & Climate Change" Worku explained some shocking facts. Half of the worlds harvest is fed to livestock. The grain fed to animals could feed 2 billion people. He reported that the World Watch Institute claims that It takes 6.9 pounds of grain, 44 gallons of gasoline and 430 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of pork. It takes 4.8 pounds of grain, 25 gallons of gasoline and 390 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef while a pound of Apples take 49 gallons; Carrots 33; Potatoes 24; and Tomatoes use 23 gallons per pound. He also pointed out that the United Nations reports that meat production is responsible for 30 percent of climate change from deforestation of rainforest to produce grazing land to the methane produced through factory meat production and use of fuel for transportation and cultivation needed for meat production. Dr. Anteneh highlighted many of the same details but made the point that while the people of Africa were not responsible for causing climate change through their eating of meat if trends continued they may add to the crisis while at the same time the people of Africa face greater impact because of the droughts, floods and other effects caused by the destruction of the climate.

Powerpoint on climate change

Vegan food for all

Lunch at the conference

The participants included many interesting people, several that worked for the Ethiopian government's department of Agriculture, an organic gardener and people seeking to end hunger by dehydrating potatoes. Once we broke for lunch I had time to meet and speak to many of these informative people. Once lunch ended the activists with the Ethiopian Vegan Association filled baggies with the left overs. They packed parts of each dish in nearly 100 bags.

Putting the meal in bags

Injera made from teff

Packing the leftovers

Each bag included injera made of teff which is used instead of silverware. Teff is unique to Ethiopia and is one of the oldest and smallest cultivated grains. It is like a thin crepe. The other foods are placed in little piles on a sheet of Injera and little rolls are used to scoop up the lentils and other preparations. Injera task two or three days to make. The Teff is ground fine and mixed in water with yeast and a tiny amount of flower petals. THis is left to sit for two days until it ferments and starts to get air bubbles. The batter is cooked on a griddle called a Mitad. Once cooked it is a brown grey with tiny holes on one side and smooth on the other. We placed several rolls in every bag so that our vegan meal could be enjoyed it a typical Ethiopian manner. The hotel workers were very pleased and helped us take the food to he basement garage where we waited for a van. The volunteers negotiated a private fare and after explaining to the general public that we had secured the vehicle for ourselves we headed out to find the hungry.

Food Not Bombs ready to take the van

The Canon

The first to eat

It wasn't long before we came to our first location where we out our plastic bags of vegan Ethiopian food to the hungry at Theodros Square on Churchill Avenue about three blocks from where I was staying at the Ras Hotel. We found many homeless people in the vacant land around the square. A huge replica of the giant cannon used in the war against the British sat in the center of the square. After feeding a dozen very hungry people we took the van up to the Piassa area outside St. George's Ethiopian Orthodox Cathedral A line of over fifty people was organized along the outer wall of the church grounds. The church was built in 1896 in honor of St. George, whose relic was carried at the Battle of Adwa where Ethiopia defeated the Italians marking Africa's first military victory against a European army.

Sharing food near the Canon

Homeless and his puppy eat

Homeless sleep by monument

We started to hand out the vegan meals as soon as Mesfin arrived with their special banner announcing that that Ethiopian Vegan Association, the International Fund For africa and Food Not Bombs International were supporting the action. A local homeless man helped organize the people so that the blind and children were served first. The people were gentle even though they all reached out for the food eager to have something to eat.

We share more food near the Canon

We move to the church

We hang our banners

Just as we were about to share the last of our food a couple of local men started to ask us why we were taking photos. They became quite upset and soon a crowd was busy discussing the issue. Several children pinched the the skin on my arm to see if my white color would come off. One little boy was very kind to me and held my hand.

The children wait

Sharing outside the church

Reaching for the vegan meal

As the other volunteers talked with the men that wanted us to explain ourselves a drunk man would try to grab the little boy who would have a look of horror each time he was approached. I had to pry the boy away from the drunk man several times. At one point the drunk man reached inside my pants pocket to take something but I took his hand way and he was not able to take anything from me. After nearly an hour of talking with the men that felt we had committed a crime by taking photos we agreed to go to the police station with them.

Sharing with the blind

Sharing outside the church

Police question us

The station was down a very rough street behind the mercato or market area. We waited our turn and soon we found ourselves talking to the local captain of the Addis Ababa Police. He was a gentle man and saw we were just interested in feeding the hungry. He told the men that brought us in to apologize and soon we were all hugging one another. The activists gave the guys who turned us in Vegan Association pens and wished them well. We returned to the area near the church and everyone caught their van rides home.

The children wait

Sharing outside the church

The polce stop us

Mesfin then took me to see the mercato. We passed the plumbing area, shoes shops, rugs and cloth and then the narrow allies of spices. We stopped off at the produce market with colorful bags of tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, eggplant and all variety of beans. He introduced me to the venders with huge bags of colorful spices. I tasted the brilliant red powder and it was such a rich taste I had to know more. We sampled another vender and realized the spice known as Berbere had many tastes. Mesfin bought me a bag of Berbere and then introduced me to toasted grains and bought me a bag. On the way to visit the Khat venders he bought me a bunch of fresh Chickpea plants pulled from the ground just a day or so before. The fresh Chickpeas tasted sweet. We soon found the Khat venders. Mesfin told me that if we had come in the morning the entire plaza would have been staked in Khat. There were still small piles around the yard and the rooms surrounding the plaza were lively with dozens of men and women with glazed eyes balancing on makeshift benches chewing away on spindly green leaves. Mesfin explained that there were many kinds of Khat each that created a different speedy feeling. The short stemmed Chirra, the powerful Umerkule, red leafed Kuda, fresh Karabule and Abba Chebsi named for an important Khat dealer. Mesfin was doing more then just organizing Food Not Bombs he also owned a mushroom commpany and saw that as a way he could provide vena food in a limited space. Later that evening we went to see a Jazz concert and then back to the Hotel Ras.

MeRo Mushroom Farm House

Oyster mushrooms

Harvesting the Oyster mushrooms

The next morning I sat on the patio drew a picture of the Ras hotel and spoke with a number of local people including a young student named Mekonnen Tilahun. He told me about his problems with college and studies in accounting. I also bought a copy of The Land of The Yellow Bull, a novel by Ethiopian author Fikeremarkos Desta from a street vender that had been walking outside the hotel holding a stack of 30 mostly used books. A tiny man that couldn't stand shuffled on his bottom past the hotel smiling at everyone. The traffic control officer, a pleasant young woman broght him tea which he drank sitting on the sidewalk. I included him, his rasta knit cap and bright smile in my picture. As soon as Mekonnen departed Mesfin arrived. We reviewed the steps to starting a Food Not Bombs and before long Dr. Anteneh arrived and off to enjoy a traditional Ethiopian meal at the home of one of his friends. That afternoon we met at the "Executive Lounge" on the top floor of the Addis Ababa Hilton and talked more about how The International Fund For Africa, the Ethiopian Vegan Association and Food Not Bombs could work together.

Produce market

Caskets for sale

Fruit and vegetables

The next day I set out to draw a picture of the lion monument a block from my hotel in Unity Square. The Lion of Judah Monument was designed by French sculptor, Morris Calka and constructed in 1955. The monument sits outside the National Theater to honor the Silver Jubilee of Emperor Haile Selassie. An earlier Lion of Judah Monument stands outside the main train station. I had a lot of help in finding a place to sit along Churchill Avenue. People tried to direct me around the plaza and when I finally found a view I liked others found card board for me to sit on. At first the people that helped me set up were the only ones interested in my activity but as the drawing took shape they started to direct people over to see what I was doing. At one point a white couple passed by and my supporters were sure they would be interested but they swiftly walked by ignoring the enthusiastic suggestions. Soon a crowd was around me watching every line. As I was about to finish a child saw that I had other drawings in my sketchbook and lifted the page. The crowd encouraged me to show them all my drawings so I turned the book to the audience and slowly turned each page. As each drawing appeared my audience would whisper compliments. "Very good, very good" remarked one of the children. An older man told me his son was an artist and would be having a show at the end of the month. When I came to the final picture, the drawing I had just worked on the crowed clapped and cheered with excitement as though they had just watched a movie or concert.

Gift shops in Addis Ababa

Hotel Ras

Lion of Judah Monument with the National Theater

That evening Dr. Anteneh took me out to see The venue was crowded with over a hundred people. The meal was beautiful laid out on injera made of teff. The dancers showed examples of Guragigna, Wollo, Tigrigna dance. The next day was filled with meetings. Mesfin and I first visited Flker Leselam Development Organization. I asked the young general manager Mekbibo Zerihun how he started. Mekbibo explained how he had been working with an NGO in a village outside of Addis Ababa. Each evening he would return to his hotel and on the way would see very poor children in need of food. He asked the hotel to make food for six of the children and told the staff he would pay for their meals. The hotel owner was touched and agreed to split the cost with Mekbibo. When he returned to the city he talked with some of his friends and they decided to see if they could help the orphans of parents that died from HIV aids and at the same time they met with people from South Korea that were wishing to help the people of Ethiopia. They agreed to start the Flker Leselam Development Organization and the Korean returned home to raise money. They organized a system where Koreans could sponsor a child in Addis Ababa for about 25 cents a day. The child would arrive before school to eat a healthy breakfast then they would walk to class. Each child was helped with locating a local family or relatives to live with. Special events would be organized to raise money for the child's uniform and supplies. Flker Leselam organized events like an essay contest where the students were asked to write about their life. The "winners" were given prizes donated by the Koreans and presented by local celebrities. The sponsors were provided with the child's grades and each day the volunteers filled out a form about the number of children fed and meals shared. The form even included the names of all the volunteers, weather, exact time the meal started and notes about any problems. I was very impressed by their structure and asked Mekbibo if he could provide me with a copy of this form which he did. They have been feeding nearly 500 children a day for several years. The also took the children out to the country once a year and they were staring classes in computers which started with the basics of how to use one of their three computers as well as how to repair them. It was inspiring to visit with the people at Flker Leselam.

Monument from Socialist Era

View of Addis Ababa from the Hilton

Churchill avenue in Addis Ababa

Mesfin and I then went to visit Sisay Kiffe. Sisay volunteered with the Society of Animal Welfare and provided us with their newsletter. The SAW was working with Dr. Anteneh and other Ethiopian activists to draft and pass nationwide animal welfare laws. There is a hug problem with the poor treatment of stray dogs and dogs that are chained and used for security. Another problem is the treatment of horses and donkeys that are worked very hard and abandoned once they can no longer carry their loads or pull there owners plows. They are abandoned on the edge of town as protection from hyenas and lions that attack and eat the weaken horses and donkeys instead of entering the villages to feast on the chickens and other livestock still valued by the farmers. The government has donated land for a horse sanctuary and is considering new legislation. Sisay is also working on a project called Mena Mahiber Potato Dehydrating Project and has been given land by the government to build a pilot program. Sisay explained that one important way that Ethiopia can protect its people from future famines was to dry potatoes for times when the harvests were poor. He was working with the local Rotary Clubs in Ethiopia to raise funds for the project. I agreed to speak with members of the Rotary in the United States to see if they could help.

Churchill Avenue outside the Hotel Ras

The National Bank of Ethiopia

Addis Ababa from the Hiton

After that fruitful meeting Mesfin and I took one van after another out to the edge of Addis Ababa to see Dr. Mengistu Woube's Biodifood organic garden in land donated by the city. Dr. Woube organized the cultivation of an acre of land near the city dump. He raised money to pay for his volunteers to travel to the garden and help with the planting, weeding and harvesting of vegetables and fruit trees. The garden had lines of long raised beds with paths on each end and one down the center. A huge plastic water tank sat in the middle and a shed sat at the east end of the field. They stored their tools and raised mushrooms in the shed. A family lived in one end and guarded the garden. The volunteers were rewarded with what harvest their families required and the rest was sold to local people living near the garden. They were seeking additional funding as their first grant had been spent. Onions, leeks, Collards, carrots and many other vegetables were thriving. The garden was impressive and they hoped Food Not Bombs would be interested in participating. Mesfin was such a wonderful host. That last day we walked around the city and I took the last of my photos. He had then developed and made a digital file for me. We enjoyed a vegan dinner at the Hotel Ras and he traveled with me out to the airport. It was clear the Mesfin and the rest of the activist with the Ethiopian Vegan Association will be successful in their work with Food Not Bombs. They are already planning to share food again on January 6th, the Ethiopian Orthodox day of Christmas.

The people of Ethiopia have survived famine but Food Not Bombs is working to make sure that never happens again.

You are invited to join Food Not Bombs in our work to make Africa's future bright.

Addis Food Not Bombs - Ethiopia
Ethiopia Vegan Association
P.O. Box 28305
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
meshagem (at) gmail.com

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