Ethiopia - Petrol Rationing, by Doug Tester (1975)

It is not always easy living in the harsh third world when one is used to the comforts of a more luxurious existence. The difficulties of achieving some of the easiest tasks are sometimes overlooked and often taken for granted.

In Addis Ababa in the mid 70’s, the hard facts of life were driven home when I found myself surrounded by the poverty and the squalor that many third world peoples have had to endure. But somehow these people found a way through it – with a smile.

I remember my office boy /driver when I was working out of the British Airways office – we called him Michael – and as he always wore a white shirt with epaulettes he was often called “Pilot Michael” by his street friends. In fact Michael revelled in it – the kudos and status he got from the title was enormous. It opened many doors for him as well as for us.

Petrol was very hard to get in Addis – often very heavily rationed (odd number plates today – even number plates tomorrow. This often encouraged 2 sets of plates for the same car of course!). But often it was just not available at all.

One afternoon, I was required to be at the airport that evening for a delayed flight – but the company Mercedes (an old one!!) did not have enough petrol to get there – never mind back again. All the petrol stations had been out of petrol that whole week - and as a curfew existed after 10 at night I was considering not risking going out at all. The Ethiopian military (at least the ones with the guns!!) did not have very reliable watches!

Call for Michael! I explained the problem – he understood exactly. What could be done? He said, “leave it to me”. Then he asked me for some plastic give-away biros with the British Airways logo on the barrel. I gave him a handful and off he went with the car keys. Half an hour later he returned with a big smile on his face, a tank full of petrol and still some biros left over to boot!

Apparently he had struck an arrangement with a garage owner who loved to give pens to his kids (for their school) – and we never ever ran out of petrol again. And I mean, never, much to the jealousy and chagrin of my compatriots.

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