Steve Dorst’s Blog
St. George Slays the Injera
If you’re a butcher, don’t open up shop in Ethiopia—the country is fasting. For most, this means not eating meat or dairy. They fast for Lent, which seems to go on longer than normal. And people fast Fridays. And Wednesdays. And yes, there are other prophets, and people fast for them too.
It’s my first day in Addis Ababa, and the fasting explains why my unit producer, Addis Alemayehou, is angry. Or maybe that’s because he picked this week to quit smoking.
In any case, Addis looks like he can take it, so I rub it in: “This injera with spicy beef is pretty good,” I smile, still baffled that meat is literally off the table 200 days a year.
Addis heads 251 Communications, a local PR and business facilitation outfit that’d riding the crest of Ethiopia’s economic boom. He’s also the former Chief of Party of a successful USAID project (I’m here to tell the story of how it made a difference). Addis grew up in Canada, is whip smart, and seems like the perfect bridge for a dynamic Ethiopia looking to nail down new markets.
During the next five days, I film different entrepreneurs and their businesses. They’re in different sectors—apparel, shoes, handicrafts, tourism—but all have benefited from USAID support, mostly in the form of technical advice to improve their production processes and “export-readiness,” as well as trips to U.S. trade shows. As a result, they’ve increased exports to the U.S., grown their revenue, and hired more people. My client is IESC.
The second night, Addis (the friend, not the capital city) takes me to Yod Abyssinia, which is part restaurant, part cabaret. I join a gaggle of expats and friends who are enjoying local music and dance. In what is swiftly becoming a trend, I eat more injera. I try Meta beer.
Meta is supposedly the upscale beer, but I prefer St. George. It’s an unassuming light lager, like 90% of beers in Africa. The way it slays your thirst after a bite of injera and spicy beef is just like how a Miller Lite washes down a Ben’s Chili dog at Nats Stadium on a summery DC day. It quenches, it doesn’t inebriate (suffice it to say, I’m not a fan of this rating of Ethiopian beers).
The next morning, I film another business. My driver is the genial Kirubel Melaku, and his new van I dub “Big Red.” It looks like somebody dipped Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine in a red bath. It has red carpet on the ceilings. Need I say more?
Outside of Addis, the country gets poor and hardscrabble pretty fast. It’s the dry season, and dust whips across the fields and highway. A pack of gaunt horses assembles on the highway median, inches from speeding vehicles—it’s the only place with wind, explains Kirubel, so bugs bother the horses less.
We fit in an afternoon of b-roll footage, and I find myself shooting in Trinity Church. There, I find myself at the grave of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God.
Lots of buildings are going up. Outside the city, there are scores of roadside scaffolding shops. Long, denuded trees are stacked and bundled, ready to be transported to construction sites, where workers will scale the fragile trellises. My only thought is that if they don’t stop using trees for scaffolding, there won’t be a tree left in the country.
Kiru drove Bono around last summer when he visited Ethiopia, and shows me pictures. Another passenger downloaded the Billboard Top 100 on Kiru’s phone. That explains why, as we crawl through bumper-to-bumper traffic, I put Pharrell’s Get Lucky on loop. Somehow, it fits.
The Chinese are everywhere. The largest shoe factory, the largest steel factory, building the largest highway—trucks and motorcycles and phones. I wonder if the Chinese write stuff about us on their blogs: 美国人到处都是。最大的汉堡包特许经营店，含糖的可乐类饮料，最糟糕的不合身的运动服。和美国的游客大声，脂肪和忘却。
By the third day, I realize I can’t say a single word in Amharic. It’s not for lack of trying, but honestly it’s super tough! So the whole day I’m trying to learn something, but it goes in one ear and out the other.
Suddenly, I have the most bizarre synapse and am saying “thank you” without a hitch. “Ameseginalehugn,” is the byzantine six-syllable expression of thanks. My breakthrough is this: its iambic pentameter is strangely analogous to how I learned to say “Hello” in Hungarian: Jó napot kívánok. Six syllables each, same rhythm. It’s odd, but it works!
All in all, the people I meet are bright and friendly. And especially going there on the heels of a film trip to locked-down Kabul, Addis is like a breath of fresh air! I’d definitely go back to Ethiopia again.
Finally, no dispatch from Addis Ababa would be complete without a knock-down drag-out darts competition with a dozen locals at a German pub:
I'm a documentary director, DP, and
filmmaker based in Washington, D.C.
I like cycling, playing piano, epic powder,
electronica, and CA--while sipping an IPA.
Thx 4 reading! What about u? What are u into?
- Live: Dorst MediaWorks 2016 Reel
- JOBS for G.I.s: Joint Service Achievement Medal
- “Super Humans Unmasked”: 1.7m Facebook views
- JOBS for G.I.s on DirecTV: My 3rd doc
- Behind The Scenes: Epic Longboard Charity Jam
- Flying the Phantom 2 Vision +
- Directing for Red Bull in Hong Kong
- St. George Slays the Injera
- Best Smoothie Recipe: “Perfect Life Hack”
- Shooting in Afghanistan