On many occasions, finding a number of people guzzling juice and devouring vegetables after 7:00 in the evening is a somewhat uncommon trend to observe in Addis Ababa since it is usually a time when people go to bars to spend a couple of hours sipping beer. Likewise, one can feel a bit strange when looking at the increased number of pedestrians strolling on the streets of Addis at this time of the evening. So what is the main reason for this change in style of living? Well, many from the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church have already started the Lent season.
At this time of the year lifestyle is enormously subjected to paradigm shift. It is a time where people stop listening to music and get connected to the spiritual world, intertwining oneself within the liturgical hymn murmured by the elders. Similarly, it is a time when the vast majority becoming vegans and avoiding alcoholic drinks. Fasting becomes more intense over the 56-day period of Lent, when no meat or animal products of any kind, including milk and butter, are eaten. As a result, Ethiopian juice marts and vegetable stores are somewhat busy and profitable due to this change in eating habit. It will also inevitably result in low consumption of dairy and meat products. Similarly, this is a time when nightclubs are stripped of their patrons and nightlife becomes desiccated. But that is not the case across the board.
Usually, the lights and the high-tempo music at most of the city’s lavish night clubs are exhilarating with club goers dancing and having fun with friends. However, it was the exact opposite of this common scene that was observed last Saturday. Some four guests sat down in a scattered manner trying to cope with the humdrum night. Even the DJ was not fully engaged as he repeatedly went out and came back inside after a few minutes to change the rhythm of the music played for only a handful of guests inside. “It went on like that up until midnight,” Samuel Tessema, one of the customers, says. After an hour, Samuel and his friends left the nightclub, which is located around Haya Hulet. They decided to change venues and went Barel at Bole Medhanialem–a famous spot in Addis Ababa. “It looked less crowded than usual but it was a better place to spend some hours,” Samuel says.
What has been labeled as a perplexing scenario by many Addis Ababans is that these days Lent is seeing a steady flock of club goers in many of the night spots of the city. While some totally abstain themselves from drinking and partying for the whole two months, some stay indoors for at least a couple of weeks in to the Lent season and gradually start going out to clubs. As a result of the slowdown, some nightclubs, lounges and bars suspend services and under go renovations until the non-fasting days arrive while others welcome the non-fasting patrons.
One of the city’s most jubilant reggae spots have already closed doors but, according to the manager, the decision has nothing to do with Lent. “We are not operating well in the market anymore for a number of reasons. Higher rent price and small number of guests are the major factors,” Abraham Shiferaw, manager of Jams Addis Reggae Nightclub, says.
In fact, the nightlife is not part of most people’s lifestyle. The once who are active in that regard go out once a week to relieve their fatigue. Some people have other ways of relaxation which includes going to the movies. All the same, going out to nightclubs–especially on weekends–nowadays seem to be urbanites’ way of life regardless of their religious and other social backgrounds. These days, many Addis Ababans are very eager to experience what other resident of cities in developed countries are accustomed to. According to Getahun Dana, a lecturer of philosophy at the Addis Ababa University, the capital city is eager to signal a kind of metropolitan status through its physical infrastructure and is also spurring its residents towards the sophisticated way of life of a metropolis. As a result, the young generation hardly harness the traditional and religious principles, he says.
In spite of this assumption, others believe that there are youngsters who are serious about their religious and traditional values. And for them, the best moment to witness this is the Lent season for the Orthodox Christians and the Ramadan for Muslims.
This year’s Lent is advancing and has almost reached half way. And so far this has forced the nightlife in Addis Ababa to stagnate to some extent. “We are not experiencing any significant impact on our business because of the fasting season but it is obviously not as reverberant as other times of the year,” Zekarias Engidaw, a night-shift manager at Jubilee Lounge, located off Mickey Leland Street, says.
Zekarias, who himself belongs to the Orthodox Tewahdo Church, feels that Lent is something that should be solemnly observed by the faithful but does not mind if there are some who do not want to be part of that. “I don’t mind it at all and it is a matter of personal preference,” he says.
For many people, who consider themselves faithful, watching others consume alcohol during Lent is something unpleasant. In fact, they would never go to bars even for a couple of beers; but for others it is not an issue. “I’m a modest follower so I think it is fine to have a couple of beers. There is a small bar across my apartment that I go to. I just want to relax and have a few beers after a weary day,” Andualem Mengiste says. For him, not observing Lent is disadvantageous not just spiritually but also economically. “You can cut spending by a significant amount,” he says.
The nightlife in Addis offers a taste for everyone, from hookah bars, low-key lounges, and high-paced nightclubs to a small place to call refuge till the early morning hours. Frequent nightclub goers make friends with the bouncers and managers and themes of certain nights become more popular at particular venues. However, during Lent-season there is relative serenity. Women sporting mile-high pumps, miniskirts, and accessories and the men wearing blazers and dress shoes are some of the signature nightlife outfits, which at the first two weeks of Lent become rare but later on gain pace. Still, this is not an everyday activity for many residents of the city as religious holidays and culture norms still have the power to interrupt it at any given time. Yes, the weekends can be crowded, even on these days of Lent but nightlife appears to be a little bit tranquil.
Nonetheless, the nightspots and exotic hookah bars in the capital still cater to expatriates and members of the diplomatic corps and according to a waitress, who requested not to be named, the nightlife in Addis Ababa is vibrant and whether it is Lent-season or not the impact minimal. Working at Jolly Bar and Lounge for a year and a half season she says that nightlife is little affected by fasting seasons. “Some times, during Ramadan business might be a bit slow since some of our customers are from gulf countries,” she says.
All in all, testing the Addis nightlife during the Lent might give a perplexing view to some, forcing them to stay indoors until the colorful Ethiopian Easter arrives. Nevertheless, it will not be long since things will return to their usual ways after a few weeks. But Lent is also somewhat considered by some to be an interesting break for those who fast only for the first two weeks and then get back to their normal routine.