My life took an unexpected turn after I discovered a bonding experience with my son a decade ago. Little did I know that this excursion would unravel a world that transcends the boundaries of fun and leisure, evolving into a profound passion.

As an inherently outgoing individual, I have always found solace in embracing new experiences and venturing into uncharted territory. Whether it is trying exotic cuisines or mastering unusual hobbies, the thrill of the unfamiliar has been my compass. It was this very spirit that led me and my son on a fateful day to Laphto Mall, anticipating the usual array of arcade games but stumbling upon a gem that would alter the course of our leisurely pursuits.

The initial impression of the Mall's outdoor amenities—a sprawling swimming pool and inviting pool tables—did not hint at the surprise awaiting us indoors. As we ventured into the entertainment arena, the echoes of rolling balls and the sight of people intensely focused on a long, shiny lane caught our attention. People grabbed the balls with holes and enthusiastically took a few steps forward before stooping down and hurling the ball forward. As the balls sped forward to hit the target pins, people waited with anticipation while others watched from the sidelines.

We unwittingly stumbled upon the bowling area. It is a game that few dared to attempt in Addis Abeba, let alone master it.

The decision to try our hand was met with enthusiastic encouragement. We found ourselves in the corner of the hall, greeted by an affable elderly lady who ushered us into the area. The seemingly simple act of choosing bowling shoes was our first lesson. Unlike ordinary shoes, the meticulous process of finding the right fit played a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the lanes.

The options were tailored to various ages, genders, body sizes and weights. After selecting our shoes, we proudly stepped into the bowling arena. The place was equipped with a computerised scoring system and robotic mechanisms for ball dispensing and pin lowering, adding a touch of modernity to this age-old game.

A crash course in scorekeeping, throwing techniques, and the art of maintaining composure followed. The complexity of the scorecard, with its 20 columns and 10 frames, initially seemed overwhelming, but with the guidance of our attendant, we gradually embraced the intricacies of the game. Every frame presented an opportunity to bring down the 10 bowling pins at the end of the lane. A strike was the coveted feat, while a spare, hitting the remaining pins in the subsequent frame, earned extra points.

Reaching up to 16 pounds, the weighty balls added a physical dimension to our learning curve. The size, weight, and radius of the balls were selected based on our individual preferences and playing styles. As novices, we made frequent trips to the gutters, the area where balls had no chance of hitting the pins. Yet, our skills improved with every throw while the gutters became less frequent companions.

Our trainer proved to be an invaluable guide, offering tips on stance, ball grip, and throw technique. The rhythmic sound of balls hitting the pins became the soundtrack of our newfound passion.

The game became a bonding experience for me and my son. With each visit, our scores began to improve. The differing playing styles, evident from the beginning, evolved as my son grew older and taller, turning our matches into "like-for-like" contests between equals.

Then came the turning point.

We stumbled upon a professional competition hosted by the Ethiopian Bowling Federation. The thrill of witnessing seasoned players in action, the power behind their throws, and the competitive spirit left us mesmerised. Invigorated by this experience, we were invited to join the Ethiopian Bowling Association—an honour that elevated our status from casual players to aspiring ones.

However, the grand plans of participating in the association were put on hold by the unforeseen disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic. We found solace in occasional visits to the bowling arena after the pandemic subsided until relocating to a distant part of town. It posed challenges to our regular visits, but the flame of enthusiasm continued to flicker.

The dearth of bowling arenas in Addis Abeba became glaringly apparent, with Laphto Mall near South Africa St and Guenet Vintage Bowling on Mozambique St. standing as the prominent venues. Another famous arena that dates back several decades was the Embuay Mesk near the Riche neighbourhood which is now defunct and in rubble.

The sport's limited popularity in Ethiopia mirrored the sparse representation in continent-wide competitions, as highlighted by the South Africa-dominated African Bowling Championship in 2023. The competition showcased the sport's infancy, with only South Africa, Ethiopia, and Mauritius in participation. The dearth of representation and facilities underscores the uphill battle in establishing itself as a mainstream sport in the region.

My commitment persists. While plans to reinitiate our membership with the Ethiopian National Bowling Association are underway, I am struck by the historical roots of this timeless sport. From Ancient Egypt to 12th-century Great Britain, bowling has woven itself into the fabric of human leisure. Despite its rich history, bowling has yet to secure a spot in the Olympic Games, residing in the less explored hallways of the world's urban centres.

As I envision a future where the activity thrives in Addis Abeba and beyond, I am reminded of the joy and connection this game has brought to my life. Bowling, often relegated to the sidelines of sports, carries with it the magic of shared experiences and the unexplored potential to unite communities. I stumbled upon the bowling alley a decade ago but memories, victories, defeats, and an enduring love for the game continue to roll on.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 13,2024 [ VOL 24 , NO 1237]

Bereket Balcha works in the aviation industry and is passionate about fiction writing and can be reached at (

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