Written by Ben Robinson
Arriving in Ethiopia, the senses are most definitely overwhelmed. Little sleep on the flight, mainly due to lights going off at 2am and back on at 4am UK time on the flight definitely contributes, being surrounded by an alien language doesn’t help, the natural disorientation of somewhere new, and coming to terms with the idea that life (restaurants, cafés, shoe-shining and hawking, and above all conversation) takes place on the street can be a little daunting at first.
However, the office in Bishoftu definitely marks a peaceful retreat. Just a five minute walk of the main road, its leafy balminess is reassuring. Within a few days a routine develops, largely based around an excellent macchiato, fūl (which resembles a bean stew and is a popular Ethiopian cuisine) for lunch from Kuul Caffee, just a ten minute walk from the office, and picking up a bottle of water and a St. George’s beer from the local corner shop all help one settle in, not to mention the welcoming nature of the Bishoftu team.
Despite the main road, which is in essence the ‘raison d’être’ of Bishoftu, as an established town south of Addis the surrounding scenery is charming. Whilst trucks pile through the town – clear evidence of the rapid growth that Ethiopia is seeing (and the Chinese number plates indicating where that investment is coming from) – the backdrop is beautiful. Rolling hills surround the area, and it’s a 20 minute Bajaj ride to the tranquillity of the crater lakes.
In essence Bishoftu is a town typical of modern Ethiopia. The beautiful scenery is changing, but the town is rapidly developing. The evident investment and ubiquitous wooden scaffolding offers great optimism, and the resorts dotted around the crater lakes tell a story of growing tourism and the emergence of a wealthy elite based in Addis. A bypass around the town is currently under construction and only a year or two from completion. This will again alter the nature of Bishoftu, and this state of flux perhaps typifies Ethiopia at this time.