The West

The spinning top games is just one of the many of the sports fields at the Timket festival in Addis Ababa. Picture: Stephen Scourfield

Away from the priests and the golden-gowned patriarch, and holy water being hosed over the many thousands of people who have packed these sports fields in Addis Ababa for Timket, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church's celebration of Epiphany, a small crowd gathers around a plastic bottle.

It's a big, used soft-drink bottle, with a bit of sand in the bottom to keep it steady, and its top screwed on. And on top of that, another bottle's blue plastic top is placed, upside down.

A lithe boy is running the show, and he darts in from 5m away, a hand over one eye and, loading the middle finger of his right hand to his thumb, flicks the blue top off.

Everyone looks a bit bemused. What's the big deal?

The boy uses his clearly smart salesmanship to egg a young chap on. Give it a go. And the chap hands over a small coin, walks back to where the boy started from, covers one eye, takes his run-up . . . and completely misses the blue bottle top.

He's confounded. His girlfriend laughs. He's so hilariously and good-humouredly put out that I can't help laughing too.

He hands the boy another coin, walks back to the same spot and really concentrates. But after a slower trot in, he missed it again. Now everyone laughs as he stumbles around in embarrassment and mock pain.

One of his friends clearly thinks it's a good chance to show him up but he misses too.

Now everyone is laughing and the crowd grows quickly. The boy has a show stopper on his hands. He's taking coins and there's a queue waiting for a go.

(I guess that if anyone wins they will get more than their original stake.)

And then a wise guy takes his

turn and flicks the bottle instead but the crowd howls disapproval and clearly his plan has backfired. He dodges through the bodies and vanishes.

As I leave, too, a man asks if he can borrow the pen I've been taking notes with for this story and when I hand it to him, he hunkers down in the dust and, on a sheet of pink paper, draws lots of circles, using a big coin.

The game then is to throw small coins from a short distance, trying to get one to land in a circle, not touching the sides (it's all-but impossible, trust me).

A piece of paper not far away has simply been divided into squares, using a ruler and pencil.

Two other boys have a cardboard shoebox with a fist-sized square cut out of the front, for coins to be tossed through.

All across this side of the sports field, there are these games going on, mostly it seems for just an Ethiopian 10¢ coin, worth about half an Australian cent.

There's a homemade spinning top with four numbers and a pointer, and a game with numbers written in bottle tops but they look more like gambling (I see 10 birr, worth less than 60 of our cents, change hands).

Further over there are soccer games. Kick the ball to knock down a plastic drink bottle - or between two sticks.

And that's as elaborate as these amusements get.

My eye is drawn to a man down on his haunches, with three others around him. He's taken off his canvas belt and folded it serpentine, and then brought the ends around the wiggling mass to confuse things. The game is to push a matchstick into what you think is the loop in the middle of the belt.

Nearby you can try throwing a coin into a plastic tray, from behind a line in the dirt; next to that, into a tin cup and next to that into a cut-off bottle.

The little boy next to that has dug a palm-sized hole in the ground with a stick and drawn a line for throwers to chance their arm with tosses into that. He's a great little showman, geeing up an animated crowd.

Let the games begin, and not a PlayStation or Xbox in sight.

The crowd grows quickly. The boy has a show stopper on his hands. He's taking coins and there's a queue waiting . . .

Stephen Scourfield was a guest of Travel Directors ( and Qatar Airways (

The West Australian

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