Last week I travelled to Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia and the cradle of civilisation and other ancient traditions. I was really looking forward to meeting my long-standing business partner. Every time I visit him there is a wonderful evening meal with his family. And this time was no exception. 
Unfortunately I caught a cough on the inbound flight and so I wanted to buy something for it as soon as I’d
landed. I immediately made my way to the Addis Ababa Merkato, the largest open-air market in Ethiopia. You can literally find something to meet life’s every need here.

So I was battling my way through the colourful crowds, searching for a chemist. Suddenly, I found myself in front of one of those colonial-style buildings. I passed through the baroque glass door to discover women dressed in lab coats, a long counter made from finest mahogany, highly-polished grinders, silver pots and mortars. “Medicines still prepared by hand here.” I liked the idea of this and went in.

The chemists listened to their customers’ needs with solemn looks on their faces, before disappearing into the back to noisily prepare the appropriate medicines. And they always emerged from the back room with
a meticulously-prepared coffee, with the medicine following afterwards. I turned to one of the free employees and pointed to my throat: “I need a strong syrup for my…” − my words were lost in the noise that came from the back room.

The lady fetched me a freshly-prepared espresso. I thought this was a nice gesture to help me pass the time while I waited. But each time she came back out with some medicine it was for someone else. I grew impatient eventually and pointed to the bag under her arm. “I am so sorry, I misunderstood,” she apologised and came back with a stack of bags. “Some extra portions because of the long wait.”

I thanked her and took a taxi straight to my business partner’s house, where I explained the reason for my late arrival. He seemed puzzled at the pile of bags I was carrying. “Isn’t that from Addis Ababa’s most famous coffee house?”

I became suspicious, opened my bag and discovered the very strongest kind of freshly ground coffee. And it slowly dawned on me. My chemist made coffee and not cough medicine! And so expertly that you’d think it was prepared by the finest physician.

My business partner cried with laughter at my faux pas, before adding with a glint in his eye: “We have been celebrating the healing properties of coffee for the last 4,000 years – so a coffee house is not the worst place to go with a bad cough.”




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