A Travellerspoint blog

The Elevator

March 20th, 2011

sunny 20 °C

I remember a few years back there was a social experiment, or maybe it was a comedy sketch, about elevator behavior. A person got into an elevator and faced the back of the elevator instead of towards the door. Essentially it doesn’t matter what direction you face when riding an elevator but the fact that this person was riding it “backwards” shocked and worried other riders.

At my six story office in the Oromia Health Bureau we have two elevators, one that goes to even floors and one that goes to odd. The even floor elevator is broken a good 75% of the time (I’m on the 4th floor) which means everyone is forced to ride one elevator that maxes out at 6 thin people; I am often reminded that I count as two. At first I avoided the elevator as it seemed crowded and unreliable but one morning I was incredibly sore from running the day before and thought I’d give it a shot. The result was an remarkable observational experience into the elevator culture that exists here in Ethiopia.

First off, there is no orderly way to get on the elevator. If there are 20 people waiting and you are near to the elevator that does not mean that you get to get on the elevator. Maybe there is someone in front of you who doesn’t intend on getting on (seemingly ever) but is simply chatting up others who are also seemingly waiting; maybe someone’s friend is already in the elevator in which case they obviously need to be in there too; maybe it’s just not your turn based on some inexplicable rule. Once on the elevator you must not face the door, which would be just plain odd as everyone knows the acceptable direction to face is in a circular like pattern very close together. This allows for chatting and well wishing at a joyously close distance with your fellow co-workers. You can imagine how awkward I was on my first ride, desperately trying to face the door as everyone else shouldered me into the ‘correct’ position. It is also acceptable to push a different number floor than the one you intend to get off on as this gives you a chance to see who is on that floor and wish them a good morning.

Getting off the elevator follows the same pattern as getting off public transportation here so at least I caught on to that pretty quickly. Depending on where you are placed in the elevator or on a public bus exiting can be as simple as a quick step off or similar to childbirth (you being the child). If you are unlucky enough to get the back seat on a minibus or the back corner of the elevator you must unearth yourself, through a sea of unmoving sweaty bodies, till you gloriously find the light. Inevitably this less than graceful endeavor results in a caught up bag or slight trip which is quickly followed by a chorus of “Izoysh” (Be strong), as if strength had anything to do with it.

I think tomorrow I’ll take the stairs.

Posted by Gail B 05:19 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged addis ababa

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