Dispatch from Ethiopia by Amos Disasa
In Ethiopia nothing is impossible and everything is difficult. Our team has laughed joyously while mimicking the phrase that captures this contradiction perfectly. Waiters respond "no problem" when you go off-menu and request Yebeg Tibes, a glorious meeting of lamb, onions, and green peppers on a sauté pan delivered with injera to your plate. My cousin Rebecca says "no problem" when I triple the number of guests I'm bringing to dinner two hours before we're scheduled to arrive. The DJ at Yetam replies "no problem" when my brother Raaji interrupts his playlist and asks for an obscure Oromo track. When we asked to occupy the lobby of the hotel next door between 2 - 5 A.M. on Saturday because the internet connection there was fast enough for us to watch our Gamecocks do a traditional Ethiopia dance on the necks of the Georgia Bulldogs, they said "no problem." Travel agents, taxi drivers, bar tenders, store clerks, and sidewalk shoe shiners that don't speak much English say "no problem" without hesitation or affectation. It doesn't mean it will be easy. It's actually an acknowledgement of challenges that can be overcome but will take time. At times, Ethiopians over-promise. Simple things are difficult to accomplish in a country with a schizophrenic power supply, inadequate public transportation, and a shortage of skilled workers.
But even when "no problem" doesn't come true and the result is a "big problem", it's become hard to complain or worry. Last night, the last of the three taxis in our motorcade to dinner at my cousin's house broke down in the middle of traffic. This was an inevitable occurrence. Addis-Ababa taxis look and ride like they are persistently fighting for their life. As the two front taxis waited a half-mile up the road not knowing what happened, the four women in the last taxi exited and walked back to the hotel. We don't have mobile phones, so they waited patiently there until we returned to fetch them after dropping everyone else for dinner. No problem.