Many visitors to Ethiopia spend merely an afternoon or an overnight in Addis Ababa before hitting the Northern Historical Circuit, heading east to Harar or trekking south to witness tribal traditions. In doing so, these travelers miss out on quite a bit. I have gotten to know Addis well after using it as my travel base for nearly a year and felt confident that I had figured out the most interesting spots in this city of a few million residents. But after a recommendation from a good friend, I ended up getting to see some new and fascinating parts of Addis.
My friend had told me about the Behind the Scenes tours conducted by Pamela of Tatu Tours. These Saturday morning excursions offer an intimate look at places you wouldn’t otherwise discover. The theme of this Behind the Scenes was “Made in Addis.” Pam led us to a few fun sites, starting with a leather goods maker at (who knew?) the stadium near the center of the city. The leather maker had a storefront full of very high quality bags, jackets and other accessories open to the public, but we were able to gain access to the workshop beforehand and then, to the storerooms.
The back rooms were filled with beautifully-colored leather, which the employees took time to discuss with me and showed me their favorite pieces.
After the leather goods, we went to a rug and carpet maker in the Arat Kilo neighborhood. I had seen the familiar “welcome” mat below at countless homes around the city, so I was excited to view the spot where the weaving took place. The pictures below are representative of the entrepreneurial nature of Ethiopians. Not only can you purchase some handmade rugs – you can also buy fresh produce for a salad!
We toured the looms and Teshome, one of the personnel, demonstrated how the wool was stretched a dozen meters between two of the wooden devices below. A bible study was located on the same grounds, which provides a sense of the interplay between religious devotion and craftsmanship so common to many parts of the country.
The third stop was the Konso store on Churchill Avenue in the Piazza neighborhood. What seemed like a 20-square-meter shop was actually a virtual warehouse of authentic carved pieces, many with deep cultural or religious significance. A circular stairway leads to a lower level filled with more items and, at Pam’s request, the owners opened a hidden door to a massive room that houses Konso’s largest wares. I have no idea how they get these pieces to this level and I had the satisfactory feeling of seeing something special when I pulled back the curtain and walked into those rooms.
After Konso, we headed to what would be my favorite part of the morning. Sabahar is a small company that makes hand made fabric items. Their silk products are stunning and here are the guys who start the process.
While visitors typically are not permitted to enter the work areas, we were able to walk among the looms, which were filled with color. While others shopped at Sabahar’s, I explored the garden. In a rapidly growing city where development usually takes priority over aesthetics, the moss-covered stones and sculptures were a nice escape. Bonus points for a friendly house cat.
The tour concluded with an optional trip to Sole Rebels, which produces eco friendly shoes (I had a lunch date with the wife and had to pass). Overall, the Behind the Scenes tour was an excellent departure from my typical weekend here and gave me the chance to discover interesting sides of the city. If you’d like to join a Behind the Scenes tour or if you’d like to see other unique parts of Ethiopia, just get in touch with Pam at Tatu Tours.
I was provided the Behind the Scenes tour by Tatu Tours on a complimentary basis in exchange for this post. I retain full editorial control over all content on Cook Sip Go and any opinions expressed above are, unequivocally, my own.