Morning amber sunlight punctures through the smoky interior of the hotel coffee room, a space so large and stately the proprietor saw fit to cram in over a hundred leather armchairs. Resemblant of faux-colonial times past (unlikemost of the continent, Ethiopia never was colonised) the grand décor oozes clandestine meetings and philosophical prose as subdued whispers travel the breeze from open terrace doors. Two ice-cold Cokes sweep through the room on a silver platter masterfully manipulated by the head waiter. They pass by in slow motion – and I’m a sucker for advertising. I order one with my coffee, pondering if they did it on purpose.
The Flintstone Building #1Barnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
A globally celebrated building of epic proportions, huge volume, and natural air conditioning. Recently counted as one of Africa’s most important architectural designs, the Flintstone building sits square in Lideta sub city, Addis Ababa, attracting attention from locals and tourists alike.
Children of BoranaBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
A fleeting moment in time captured for eternity.
DoyoBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Al Jazera drones on in the background with news of Israel and Gaza blowing up. The rhythmic hissing and chugging of an overworked coffee machine lays hidden somewhere in the depths of the lounge. The hundred or so well-loved armchairs sit at obtuse angles yet somehow neatly hug low wooden tables scattered with silver milk jugs shimmering in the morning light. It’s a dimly lit room but one can still make out the bar in the corner; a well maintained pantry filled with a myriad of native coffee beans and spirits for all occasions. This oasis evidently offers respite 24/7.
Debre LibanosBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
The Flintstone Building #2Barnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
The facade of the Flintstone building is covered on all sides by window-like holes, open portals acting as natural ventilation during the 13 months of sunshine.
Outside AwassaBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 50 f1.4 / Ethiopia
Between shining shoes and cleaning cars, these boys are the best in the business. Period.
There’s only one armchair free and it’s not yet 10am, the cavernous space already filled with students, businessmen and women, and local humanitarians pouring over books and documents. The internet is down so I return to pen and paper, relegating my digital attire to the occasional voice note. The EF nib on my 2k still excels to this day, deep red Diamine gliding like melted butter.
TimkatBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Walking ahead of the main throng, a man dressed in priest garb slowly returns to Bisrate Gabriel after a night celebrating the annual Timkat festival.
A Tigrayan Cattle MarketBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D850 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Outside Bahir DarBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D850 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Somehow the coffee lounge at The Axum has managed to retain its original features. Heavy wooden cross beams support the ornate ceiling, plastered filigree tracing the outer edges in a creamy white. The walls glow in smoky browns and subdued reds, painted and papered with artwork positioned at acceptable intervals that look adequately fit for purpose. On the terrace, a sea of umbrellas and aging foliage shade clientele from east Africa’s aggressive sun. They too cannot access their emails, instead sipping coffee and staring contently at their surroundings.
Primary ClinikBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D850 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Crossing the Blue NileBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Looking BackBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
A new armchair opens up in a better position so I move sharpish, sliding into the slightly less-aged chair in a darker corner of the room. I’m now within reaching distance of the bar and, therefore, coffee. I pick up a dinner menu and glance at my watch – a long time to go, so I settle in and start eaves dropping on a conversation across the table.
Celebrating MeskelBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Baby on the backBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
The spice marketBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Ethiopia's Sidama celebrate ChambalaallaBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Ethopia’s Sidama celebrate their annual new year, Fichee-chambalaalla, during a turbulent time in Ethiopia’s history. With no official autonomous geographic zone registered to the Sidama, a constitutional right for all peoples and nationalities of Ethiopia, demonstrations can and do flare up in and around their claimed capital city, Awassa.
Update – In late 2019, c.6 months after this image was shot, the Ethiopian government granted the Sidama administrative self-determination via a national referendum.
A ping from across the room breaks the morning lull as someone, somehow manages to receive an email before the network crashes again. They swear loudly and enquire if anyone in the room has a Sat phone; a unanimous groan settles the answer firmly and I return to my notes, ordering another coffee as the waiter sweeps past.