A stroll through Awasa
Walking along the asphalted streets of Awasa, among the crowds of high school and university students, merchants, aid workers, and cycle commuter, it’s hard to imagine that not so long ago these streets were dirt tracks. Awasa was founded only fifty years ago. As the capital of the southern region, it rapidly became a boom town. Benefiting from the de-centralization policy of the government, a construction rush over the past decade has transformed the town, ushering in a new mood of optimism and enterprise.
The new structures, interspersed with palm trees and newly opened restaurants, are making the town increasingly vibrant.The lakeside locations have especially made Awasa a favored destination for weekenders from Addis Ababa and the recently opened Lewi and Haile Resort are particularly popular.
With over 126,000 residents, Awasa is one of the fastest growing Ethiopian towns.
Smallest of the seven Rift Valley lakes, Lake Awasa has light fresh water and provides good fishing. The waters, teaming with tilapia, catfish, and barbus, attract good birdlife. These fish are preyed upon by the large concentrations of fish eagle, kingfishers, herons, storks, plovers. The lake side park of Amora Gedel has very pretty views across the lake to the mountains beyond, and is close to the early morning market where you can pick up a tasty fish for lunch. For a good view of the lake, you can climb Tabour Hill, around 5km south of town.
The town has a university, agricultural college, teacher training college, and a nursing institute. Its student population makes it a living city, rather than a petrified theme park. The nightlife is a highlight of any visit to Awasa. The streets transform at night and glow with neon lights. Network Club, in the Dashen Bank Business Centre complex, and the Fidel Bar and Restaurant are frequented by the university students. The Egovai Club in Piazza area is a custom-built dance club that serves the wider population.
The town’s chaotic, buzzing market, located just at the back of Arab Sefer (which harbors the biggest Muslim community), is a great place to absorb street life and pick up ripe, seasonal fruit. Commodities, such as coffee,cabbage, potatoes, grains are brought to the market and are directly supplied by the rural people themselves. Straw hats, baskets, and mats are available at the market.
A monument in honor of the Sidama people, the predominant people living in the area stands in the center of the town. The mosaic statue has a form of the enset plant, an essential plant that forms the main food of Sidama and southern people. It has a climbing tower and a fountain.
During my stay last weekend in Awasa, I learnt that some people are unhappy about the monument because they say it blocks the view of the Bete Gabriel Church, a large and impressive structure that stands in front of it. Some people suspect the monument was deliberately erected in the place to put the Orthodox Church out of sight which was becoming the landmark of the town. Protestantism is strong here and surrounding area following many decades of missionary activity.
Bicycling is a popular mode of transportation in Awasa, many residents commuting to work regularly by bicycle. Smaller lada taxis and scooters also choke the streets of Awasa. The scooters (called bajaji) have a bit of notoriety for racing one another through the streets, routinely picking up and discharging passengers in mi-traffic.
While the main roads are clean and neat, other smaller roads are not. As in most other urban areas of Ethiopia, no sewer system exists in Awasa. Liquid waste is disposed in the compounds of individuals or on the street.
Yet still Awasa is an extraordinary place, with the tropical vegetation and lovely, warm climate. Just give it a try and you are sure to get mesmerized with it.