The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Twenty Years in Ethiopia

Author - Maureen Stanley


I enjoyed reading the article by John Hester (News File, Spring 2005) and decided to put down some of our own experiences. My husband Stanislaw and myself arrived in Addis in 1956. We had come from Canada where Stan had been offered a job in the newly-formed University College of Addis Ababa (UCAA) to teach Economics. Sadly, Stan died just last year so I write this on behalf of both of us - we had so many good memories of Ethiopia. I was head-overheels with excitement because Africa had always been my dream; I was ready for everything it could offer and, as it turned out, it offered plenty!

We travelled via Frankfurt and Cairo where we boarded a DC6 of Ethiopian Airlines - a lovely plane with plenty of leg-room and a good-looking Ethiopian pilot who invited us into the cockpit - unheard of these days! As we approached the landing strip (the modern airport did not exist then), there were all these horsemen galloping across in full warrior regalia, lion head-dresses and all. This startling sight was enhanced by the sight of the maskal daisies in full bloom, surrounded by hills covered in mauve which turned out to be young eucalyptus trees. "What a wonderful welcome!" I said to Stan. "Well, you can leave me here forever; I am not going to leave!" "Hold on," he said, "You're not off the plane yet!" Well, we didn't manage 'forever' but we did stay nearly 20 years which was the next best thing.

A crowd of University staff met us at the airport and we were escorted to our first home, on the Asmara Road - the house of a Government Minister who was absent. His servant, Gebre, I shall never forget ... such an imposing man who greeted us effusively. He was dressed in the traditional shama and jodhpurs. From then on we were in his hands. He presented us with the specialité-de-la-maison - two brimming plates full of spaghetti and tomato sauce. We soon found out this was his favourite offering plus, of course, the famous crème caramel so beloved of Ethiopian cooks. I, of course, was never allowed into the holy of holies, the kitchen.

Stan had to report to work next day so I was left to my own devices, which soon ran out! There was a crowded bus going into the Piazza so I used to take that and then change to a gharry or a Vespa. The Vespas were my favourite as there was a certain amount of excitement and risk involved - especially going up and down Churchill Road, the driver in front on his motorised bike and me in the back in a little tent with 2 windows in it - I wonder if these exotic contraptions are still around, they were so useful!

The Piazza itself was a hive of activity - there was Garabadian's material shop, full of fantastic rolls of cloth. I soon found this out as I used to make my own clothes - ready-made being in short supply - and could easily run up a dress in one evening. There were some good pastry shops and restaurants, the post office and, of course, a bit further down, Mattress Alley where we subsequently acquired our first furniture - string chairs on wooden frames, very comfortable. It reminds me now of dear Innes Marshall singing one of her songs:

No, I don't like shopping,
but I do like stopping,
in the Ras Makonnen Bar;
of all the parking places,
it's the best oases
in the P I -A -AZZA.

One day I was asked if I wanted a job in A. Besse &h; Co. I accepted and you'll laugh when I tell you one of my functions... once a week I went out to Akaki to check loads of butane-gas bottles for leaks. How was this done? By plunging the bottles into a water-tank and if bubbles appeared the bottle was faulty - off with its head and back to the depot! I caught many like this. The safe bottles went on to the distributors in the town (Mr. Avakian was one of those).

Soon we moved into our new flat on the UCAA campus at Arat Kilo opposite Belonios Supermarket and Samson's Bakery and next door to Menelik School, run then by Robbie Roberts. We were very pleased with that flat, with its balcony overlooking the monument where HIM Haile Selassie used to take his visiting dignitaries to place flowers and sing national anthems accompanied, of course, by a band. The Emperor would arrive in his landrover with a lion sitting comfortably on the hood. I distinctly remember President Tito coming once or twice.

Stan was very happy with his work and would often go into the 'bush' studying different cultures and accompanied by student interpreters. In the meantime I had become Registrar of UCAA. This was the job of my dreams, so diverse and always another challenge. There were very few female students then and we also had quite a few blind ones to cater for. Exam papers had to be put into Braille and this was done by the Institute for the Blind in London. I remember visiting that Institute - they donated some Braille watches for the students and various other aides. The administration of the Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate was always a great annual event; we used to use Christmas Hall for the local exams where the pigeons and doves used to coo and fly around at will completely ignoring the seriousness of the occasion! We had many a laugh and woe betide any bird who had the audacity to contribute any droppings!

We discovered the lakes and the joys of camping out in the wilderness. New horizons always beckoned and most weekends were spent in this way. We were both 7 years younger according to the Ethiopian calendar and to this day I still like to believe that! Good old Julian Calendar!

Stan planted 12 Jacaranda trees around the tennis courts at UCAA and they used to bloom profusely - I wonder if they (or the tennis courts) are still there. I like to think so.

Sadly we left Ethiopia in 1974 - a change that involved both psychological and physical upheaval. It was the end of our way of life, but, as usual, another door opened and we went to Vienna where I had been offered a job at the UN. We stayed there 12 years before retiring to Spain and yet another life. Stan and I remembered Ethiopia with much love and thought ourselves privileged to have had the chance to spend so much of our life there. Yes, we did have problems too - but they have faded and only the best memories remain. Would I go back? Yes, if the chance comes I'll be there, because...

There is a saying,
perhaps you may have heard,
That if you drink of the waters of the Nile
You will return like some migrating bird
To taste of them again after a while.
It may be so - but this I know:
Once you have drunk of the
Waters of Ethiopia,
You will return to imbibe them again,
There's no use in fighting it,
according to the tale,
I'm not second-sighting it,
I've never known it fail,
For once you arrive in another city,
You'll think it a pity that you went away.
Why take a chance on some other city?
Take heed of my ditty -
you might as well stay,
For - Once you have drunk of the
Waters of Ethiopia,
You will return to imbibe them again,
So we won't say Goodbye, but Au Revoir,
We'll be seeing you then.

(The Waters of Ethiopia - song by Jim Marshall.)

If anyone remembers the Stanleys then Mrs Stanley would like to hear from you - please get in touch via the Secretary and your correspondence will be forwarded.

First Published in News File Winter 2005

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