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long and low and clean, sun-beaten and busy

Posted on 2008.02.28 at 19:32
We have just returned from Harage region, spending one night in Dire Dawa and one in Harar city. It's a lot dryer and warmer than in the capitol or the southwest.

Monday it was up at 4 a.m. to head to the airport for the 55 minute flight to Dire Dawa. All the guidebooks I have seen tend to sniff derisively at Dire Dawa as a travel destination. But I loved it. I think perhaps it's the difference between seeing a place as something to be enjoyed and then left behind versus seeing it as an integrated part of your life.

Anyway, self-important travel philosophy aside, I found Dire Dawa to be vibrant, colorful and alive with activity. It's the second largest city in Ethiopia, and much warmer and more Arabian-feeling than Addis (if I may phrase it that way). The streets are long and low and clean, sun-beaten and busy. Walls are painted bright blue and turquoise and sometimes bright pink. Dire Dawa doesn't seem to bother justifying itself with cultural or historical claims; instead it teems and moves and bustles of its own accord.

Dire Dawa, not Harar, is the center of the coffee trade in Hararge region. We visited the exporting mills of Ogsedey (home of the famous "MAO Horse" coffee), of the equally famous Bagersh, of Mawi Coffee, and of Abadir Coffee. We saw rows of women, old and quite young, hand-sorting the coffee as it came spitting out of the mechanical sorter onto long rubber conveyers. We attended the commercial auction (you saw the Addis version in the movie "Black Gold"), and we cupped with the Coffee Liquoring Unit cuppers there at the auction site.

In Harar city, the next day, we visited the former home of Arthur Rimbaud... I kind of didn't want to leave. It was so beautiful and strangely peaceful despite the voices and animals on the streets below and the call to prayer echoing from minarets on all sides.

A clever boy named Anwer, with excellent English (and Oromo, Tigrai, Spanish, French and a bit of Italian to go with his native Amarigna) and who seemed to know every street vendor, led us through the winding streets of the old city. I have never seen irridescent colors like I did on the whitewashed walls reflecting the crystal blue sky and the turquoise trim on the mosques. Scouting groups of small laughing children followed us at a distance, ducking behind this or that stone or doorway shouting "Faranjo! Faranjo!" (foreigner), or sometimes "I love you!"

Unlike in Jimma, the coffee we drank in Harar was reliably terrible. Perhaps I just need to spend some more time there to find the right places to go.

I am in Addis now, and for the foreseeable remainder of my trip, though there is a possibility of more cupping at Amaro Gayo at the end. The Ethiopia Limited cupping begins tomorrow, though this afternoon we are warming up with a couple dozen coffees at the facility of our friends Teklu and Getachew at IPS Exporters.

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