Firengi in the Minibus

I beat a record tonight. It was only a personal record, but a significant one nonetheless. I am talking of course, about the amount of human being fit into an Addis minibus.

I say “amount of human being” instead of “number of people” because that record was not beaten. That remains at 20 people fit into a 12-passenger van. However, that number had previously included teenage girls and small children who fit more easily into the small space. The record set tonight was the squeezing-in of 20 full-grown, fairly large men, including myself, into a van headed from Bole to Mexico.

For reference, here is what the layout of the van is supposed to look like:


Superb MS Paint cred goes to

And here is the reality (numbered in order of non-seats typically taken first):

taxi 2

D and C represent the driver and collector (conductor?) respectively

It was truly something special.

That statement is not made entirely in jest either—I do think there is something important about cramming into a sputtering van with the rest of the town. This occurred to me largely because that record was set as I was on my way home from the first bona fide tourist trap I’ve experienced in Addis Ababa.

Due to some cab driver miscommunication, Katie, Pushpa (who just arrived!), and I accidentally ended up at a restaurant that we had tried—and failed—to get to last week. It came well recommended by the internet, so we figured it must be good. The food was excellent no doubt, and they put on a music and dance show too. But we certainly paid the price, ending up with a bill about three times the normal amount for dinner here.

The restaurant was packed to the brim with people, including a group of about 30 Americans sitting next to us. It may seem like a silly qualm, but I couldn’t help but think later that it was sad that they probably wouldn’t get the experience of smashing themselves into a van filled with Amharic and poorly vented exhaust fumes.

There are a lot of places my mind could have gone from here. I have been trained to connect everything to broad social implications, and there was no shortage of such implications to be had from contemplating the experience of this group of Americans, who were here on a charity/mission trip. At the very least, I could have thought about the significance of their presumed lack of experience with a popular form of local transportation.

But honestly, my mind was blank in those places. I just wish they had the chance to stuff into a minibus full of strangers.

I don’t know what, if anything, riding on minibuses has taught me, what it means, or if it is useful. But it feels important. At any rate, it’s kind of fun, and you certainly don’t get to do it everyday back home.

I had the same thought regarding the dancing we were all watching in this restaurant. At one point they did a dance that was in a traditional Northern Ethiopian style. When Katie and I were out on my birthday, we happened to be led to a small bar in a isolated part of town that was full of this traditional Northern Ethiopian song and dance, and it was amazing. The way the dancers moved their bodies was nothing short of incredible, not to mention surreal; it was if someone possessed was popping and locking. The dance we saw in the restaurant simply did not display the intensity or personality of the dancing we saw in that bar. Again, I don’t know what there was to learn from it, but I wish the big group of Americans could have had that experience.

Katie called to the dance floor

Katie called to the dance floor

Really, I wish everyone could have that experience. Seeing it was cool. It was fun. It was interesting. And yet so few people around the world will get to see it, let alone get there in a packed minibus.

I suppose my only recommendation to you, readers of this blog, is to come and do it yourself.

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