Fixing the Laptop
May 14, 2005
I talked about great coffee and fantastic food in Addis, but I did not mean to imply that Ethiopia is a first world country. Ethiopia definitely one of the most backwards places that I've ever been.
Addis Ababa is modern enough to have a few parking meters, but they don't work. Instead, human parking monitors hang around on every block. Twice an hour, they put slips of paper under the all of the cars' windshield wipers. As the cars depart, the parking monitor has to run after them to try to make sure the driver pays.
But my favorite, functioning bit of dysfunction, is DHL. The entire country has no street addresses. Many streets don't even have a name. How do you send an express package to a city without any street addresses? Well, if you send a package to Ethiopia, you give DHL a phone number rather than an address. When the package arrives in Addis, DHL calls up the recipient and asks, "Where the hell are you?"
Back to the topic of the laptop. When I was in Nairobi, Apple UK told that I'd have to wait 8 weeks, and pay $250 in shipping, for the warranty repair on my laptop. Needless to say, that wasn't acceptable. The customer service guy, Mick Hull (I'm giving his full name in case his boss happens to ever read this), gave just about the worst service that I have ever had. He was inflexible, condescending, and he flatly refused to give me his supervisor's email address when I wanted to complain. I guess that in the UK, the customer is definitely not always right. When I left Nairobi, I was still arguing with Mick.
I carried my dead laptop from Nairobi to Addis Ababa. Meanwhile, friends at Apple Headquarters managed to work out an acceptable compromise on my behalf. I can't say anything good about Apple UK, but Apple USA has always been fantastic. I would pay half the shipping and Apple would rush the fix.
While it was frustrating being without my laptop, it was very good for me in some ways. My camera became my constant companion. In the months without my laptop, I read a lot more books, and took a lot more photos. .
But, when I arrived in Addis, I'd been unable to do any writing for 6 weeks. Getting the laptop fixed was my first priority. I knew there was an Apple shop in Addis. All I had to do was find it.
Google has become the source for all information, about everything, but searches for Apple shops in Addis Ababa turned up nothing, so I had to go in search for a phone book. For a while, I wasn't sure that phonebooks even existed in Ethiopia
If the shop you're looking for cannot be found on google, you're in a city of several million people, and there are no phonebooks, then how can you possibly find it? This was not a theoretical question - I was terrified that I would never be able to find the Apple shop. Finally, I found an old phone book. The shop was not listed, but I now had hope.
I was about to storm off to one of the major hotels in search of a new phonebook, when I ran into a French girl, and told her my story. She had a friend who worked at the UN, who happened to use an iBook. One phone call later, I had directions to the Apple Shop.
The owner was an Italian Ethiopian by the name of Gabriele. He was very willing to help me out, but things, moved forward at an African speed (as they do in Africa). It took more than a week before the laptop was finally sent off to Europe.
The first problem with the shipping was a catch-22 with insurance. No one would insure shipping a laptop; and no one would ship a laptop without insurance. I do not know how that was eventually solved. Then there were problems because I had no documentation showing that I brought the laptop into the country, but of course, the little mud hut immigration office in the Omo Valley where I entered the country had no such documents.
I expect things to move slowly in Africa, but not in the UK. I thought that Mick had agreed to make a rapid repair on my laptop, but perhaps not. It took 3 horribly long weeks for Apple UK to replace my motherboard. That was three more weeks of being trapped in Addis, unable to do any writing.
And then the final insult; after my laptop had been fixed, in an act of obvious passive aggression, Mick Hull (again his full name in case his boss is reading) held on to my laptop for another week. While I was stuck in Addis Ababa unable to work, the laptop just sat on his desk. I was furious.
Five weeks after my laptop had been shipped off to the UK, it arrived back in Addis. But then, I got trapped in a nightmare of African bureaucracy. It makes me cringe to even think about it. Four days of bureaucracy really isn't so bad by African standards, but after months of dealing with Mick, it was more than I could handle. The problems just got surreal.
A new law was passed, during the week that my laptop sat on Mick's desk. This new law stated tax documents (in Gabriele's name) now had to be in the business's name. Customs refused to process any paperwork until the tax forms were corrected. It looked as if my laptop might sit in an airport warehouse for the next month, while the Apple store re-registered with the tax office. Fortunately, after two days of begging, one of the guys from the Apple shop convinced customs to make an exception and release this one package.
The next day, there was a new problem. Customs demanded the cost of the repair so that they could tax it. They would not accept that it cost nothing. Rather than trying to argue with them, or get an actual invoice, I quickly forged one. This time I went with Amanuel to the airport to push things along and ensure that I got my laptop. What should have taken 20 minutes, took 4 hours, but eventually all of the paperwork was complete and signed -- exactly 15 minutes too late. The only step left was to pick up the laptop, but the warehouse was closed. It was a horrible disappointment.
Amanuel promised to pick up the laptop on his way to work the next day. When the shop opened, I was there, and then I waited, and waited, and waited. Three very tense hours later, Amanuel showed up. He explained what happened. Customs had somehow given him the wrong package. On his way to work, he realized the package was much too light, so he opened it and found a bunch of cell phones. He had to go back and swap boxes.
And so, several months, and 3 hours late, I finally got my laptop back. Thank God, it booted up.
I could find nothing on google about Apple computer shops, or Apple computer repair in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This page should quickly be indexed by google. If you found this page looking for the Apple shop in Addis, it's on Bole Road just past the Japanese Embassy. The rest of the contact info is here:
Gabriele Valeri (owner)
Leave a comment! I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading.
Thanks for the update. I just went through and "caught up" on reading your site. It is incredible how you describe Africa...I watched "Hotel Rwanda" the other evening, so it's all very timely...sort of, I guess:)
Keep your stories and photos coming. It is a great getaway while sitting here in HOT, HUMID Florida waiting out the next 60 days until I leave for my trip...
Mary-Jane O'Connor - Aug 09, 2005
Your stories are fabulous. Keep having fun.
Shame on you Mick Hull!
-MJ & Marley
Matt - Aug 24, 2005
Just more proof: Apple sucks. Period.
(Sorry, I am bitter - I used an iMac once - because I was forced to since it was the system used in the school where I taught - and everything went fine, until they tried to upgrade the OS from 9 to X in the middle of the schoolyear. I was greeted by a meaningless ("user friendly?") icon of a blinking question mark and smiling computer monitor. I wanted to bitch-slap that smile right off of it. But I figured I'd check with the school tech support "Mac Expert" first - BWAHAHAHAHA. Yeah. Right. Like public school tech people know squat.
Then I called Apple tech support. I described the problem to them and they acted like I was from another planet. Apparently I am the only person this has ever happened to in the history of the company. The support guy seemed totally perplexed, had no clue what that icon meant or why it was there (I WILL TAKE A BSOD ANY DAY OVER THAT CRAP. At least PCs TELL you they are fucked when they are fucked. Even if it something cryptic like a hexadecimal address and a "ar5211.sys failed to write to memory" statement or reference to some myserious key. At least the key has a name. At least things are represented with words and numbers, NOT A FUCKING SMILEY FACE) and basically told me there was nothing they could do.
I could not undo the OS upgrade, I could not revert to a previous version, I could not eject a CD from the drive, I could not enter grades, do seating charts, or do JACK SHIT for the rest of the year.
I'm afraid to say, due to that experience (the worst experience I have ever had with computers since my first days of programming in BASIC on a 286/MS-DOS machine) with over-hyped, fashion-conscious, marketing wizard Apple (they know how to advertise/brainwash, I'll give them that much!)... I'm pretty sure Apple has lost all of the business that I had ever considered giving them in my lifetime (such as the possibility of purchasing an iBook or iPod, both of which I considered)
apple reseller - Oct 04, 2005
mick hull - enough said
Joey in Madrid - Nov 13, 2005
Apple works in strange ways.
I have a Powerbook 12 with Applecare. I called them because my battery would last about 10 minutes and then die.
First, they agreed to replace the battery. "They" is Applecare in Ireland or Belgium. Then, they called to say they would not replace the battery because Applecare does not cover batteries after the normal warranty of a year has passed. I found this strange. But after explaining that they would charge me for a new battery they then said that since they had already told me the day before that they were not charging me, then they would send it free of charge AS AN EXCEPTION. I said OK.
But even before the battery arrived, Apple charged me for it (I had to give them my credit card number because if I did not return the old battery they would charge me for the new one).
I called to complain and they said it had been a mistake, that they would return my money.
When the delivery finally came, it turns out Apple sent me TWO batteries.
I accepted one, rejected the other (without even opening the box), and returned my old battery.
About a month later Apple returned the money it had charged me.
And some weeks after that, on the same day, Apple charged me for a new battery and then returned the money it charged.
With a difference of 10 euros to their advantage. It's called a "restocking fee".
Figure it out, I can't.
What are you doing in Denmark? I keep checking if you have any current journal entries. have you given it up?
Cheers from Madrid.
Brian - Jan 17, 2006
Thanks for posting the info about Apple Solutions. However, Gabriele has closed the business and is about to leave the country.
Sorry to hear that. Oh well...
Business in Ethiopia is difficult. I hope that he has better luck wherever
mark kate - May 31, 2006
i want to order for laptops. for my agent in africa and europe.the method of payment is bidpay.
Anugyan - Jan 06, 2007
Im just off to Ethiopia and was curious about mac and intrnet facilities. I laughed, I have spent 20 yrs traveling india and the world, but mostly India. Its similar, but not as bad I dont think. Thanx for ur article.
Steve Frost - Mar 15, 2007
I'm leaving for Addis in two days and was hoping to find a shop where I can buy an iMac for an orphanage I'll be working at. This journal is the only relevant Google hit I got. So, I'll throw this out to the ether:
Does anyone know if Gabriele's store is the only Apple store in Addis? Any chance a new one has opened since 06?
Megan - Jun 09, 2007
Hi there, couldn't find an email so I hope you're keeping up with comments. My iBook got sat on on my trip from Ethiopia overland to Kenya and the screen has finally dies. After some home-repair atttempts I've decided to fnid a professional. Do you have any Apple repair contacts in Nairobi?
Carl R - Jul 27, 2007
Thank you for posting this. I've been discussing sending an Apple laptop down to Addis, and this is a great heads-up for some of the problems to expect.
Your comments on UK customer service also ring true. I expect Ethiopia to become a first world country before the UK gets decent "customer service" :-)
Hammad Khan - Dec 25, 2007
Thanks Adam! I found myself in the same situation and your contact helped me out.