Letter from Ethiopia #2

By Dandew Serbello - July 2001


Dear Readers, I close my eyes to create my own figments of imagination and visualize you sitting comfortably, perhaps listening to the sound of music, and reading this letter. Oh, I want to tell you some thing about the weather of this morning. For the first time in decades Addis Ababa was so foggy that you could hardly see the palm of your hand, as the English would say. Visibility was so poor for about 5 hours that inbound aircrafts had to fly to other airstrips aside from Bole. And when I think of other towns I think of Gashe Aberra Molla alias, Silesshi Demissie, whom I was going to write something about his city cleaning and beautifying activities in this letter. He is now touring and sitting as guest of honour at ceremonies being held on his behalf and marking the campaigns of his motto all over the big towns which are even more responsive than the capital.

I am afraid I have to push the topic aside for now to tell you something different, perhaps historic. Addis is celebrating the centennial of the introduction of piped water to the capital perhaps in the country.

Again (advisedly said) it was Menelik II responsible for the advent, perhaps his advisor the Swiss engineer Alfred Ilg must have tipped him on the need of safe water in this time and age of modernity. What he did was tap the water at Entoto, the spring source of river Kebena, construct cement duct all the way to the Grand Palace, a distance perhaps of little more that five miles.

Then the water was pumped uphill to the huge dining hall doorstep for diners to use before they went to their tables or after they finished eating. The generator was bought for 7 thousand Eth. Birr by Leul Ras Makonnen, the father of the late Emperor Haile Selassie on his return from Europe where he was sent on a diplomatic mission.

                         indih yalew negus yenigus kelatta (kelbyatta)

                         woha bemezewur segenet awetta

                         ahun kezih belay tibeb keyet limetta?

An azmari (a traditional singer) is said to have coined this verse, which compliments the king for being wise enough to command water to flow upwards, and wonders what more wisdom can there be to appreciate. In his biography Metshafe zemen ze daagmawi Minilik Tshafe Tizaz Gabre Selassie tells us that people invited in the Grand Palace were appreciating the water (untreated) better than the Tej and Tella, the two highly popular brews at the time and even to this day if pure honey and only barley are used as major ingredients. The appreciation was more on the thoughts that water was subservient to the Emperor following him everywhere he went. (This was when water gushed out of the faucet every time and every room he opened and closed it.)

Later on it became the sign of prestige and dignity to have tap water in oneís residence like it was the case with the telephone apparatus, which was introduced to the country only 16 years after its invention by Graham Bell. What is even more interesting is that water supply was privatized in Ethiopia as early as one hundred years ago. Ras Desta Damtew for instance had built his own reservoir and was selling water albeit for nominal price and give it free for those whom he thought deserved it.

Talking of prices, do you know that to day in the city of Addis you can buy a truckload of water for just one buck? One US dollar is about 8.5 Br. One cubic m. of water costs half a Br. With one dollar or 8.5 Br you can buy 17 cubic m. (or 17,000 litters) of water. One truckload tanker contains starting from 13,000 litters! There you are. AAWSA (Addis Ababa Water and Sewage Authority) is trying to communicate to the general public that things are different these days. There is stress of shortage of water and we have to share the responsibility. I think they are trying their best to put across the message.

My countrymen and countrywomen out there, please lend me your ears. I did not write here to expose AAWSA or praise the powers that be. They are all honorable agents of change. All I am saying is the efforts that have just started to create awareness among the general public that for the most part associates the value of water as low as something used to wash a dead corpse, something God given should not be charged, is surely an attitude that ought to change and change too soon . Donít you agree?

 

Yours,

Dandew Serbello

Sidist Kilo, Addis Ababa



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