A local shop
Just before we left for Ethiopia our church home-group kindly raised some money for us. The purpose was to help alleviate some of the needs that we would encounter in Addis. I used part of these funds this week. Some of our Y’Tesfa Birhan girls had been asking for several weeks if we could get them an Amharic/English dictionary to help with language learning. Knowing that this would be a useful Christmas gift we sought to purchase twenty four.
However purchasing anything here is always an experience and this occasion certainly was. Two of us visited the Book Souk over the road. This was a tiny corrugated iron affair where the narrow counter across the width of the souk (as soon as you ducked under the awning) formed a barrier between the customer and the books. Behind this stood a well-worn Ethiopian man wearing a brown house-coat. We pointed out a copy of the dictionary we wanted. This was a single copy, housed between assorted books of various titles.
Our shop keeper seemed to understand what we had requested and began searching the piles of books stacked floor to ceiling and in some cases several piles deep. However the store was not arranged in sections; in fact there didn’t seem to be any order or system that we could work out as he pulled out one or two copies from random places around the narrow room. Each time he placed a copy heavily on the counter a small cloud of dust rose into the air. The covers were variously sun-bleached too. He stopped at ten copies and after an extensive search which involved opening a number of paper clad piles, he asked us to return in an hour.
This we did and it was somewhat of a surprise to find the other fourteen copies waiting for us. I counted out the twenty-eight 100 birr notes required. Then we requested the "hisab" (bill) as I wanted to be accountable for the money I was spending. We thought we had already exercised patience but much more was needed. A woman was summoned from next door and following instructions disappeared and returned with a pad of receipts. A pen was located before a series of questions and answers flowed to and fro until she had completed each column. Either her calculation or a slip of the pen resulted in another 80 birr being added to the total, but as we hadn’t had to pay it and fearing further delay we left triumphant.