Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa and I may have started off on the wrong foot, but let me exercise some control over my thinking, and not be too negative. My experience is tainted through the one and only really negative encounter I’ve had on this journey with a local person. Unfortunately, Addis does not seem to have the charm that comes with age-old historical sites (it’s a rather young creation in this very old country) or such architectural attractions that could have made up for my frustration. Having said that, Addis Ababa’s orthodox churches and their communities of worshippers are something else, and truly stunning, and the spirit of one of the oldest Christian communities on earth makes itself felt. The churches, although rather new, are impressive enough, yet much of the town’s architecture reminded me of rather bleak socialist housing projects. Indeed, I recalled how back in my school days we collected money for socialist Ethiopia, under Mengistu it must have been. Except for some encounters with kids and some drunkards, people didn’t really compensate the absence of charm and joy which I had experienced elsewhere, notably in Dar es-Salaam. It actually started with a rather unfriendly immigration procedure (well, that’s not unheard of elsewhere), and then there was this guy …

 As usual, my encounter of the town started with a taxi ride from the airport, then check-in at ML Hostel. Everything went well, driver and staff were friendly, and the enticing smell of Ethiopian coffee was very promising. Road Runner restaurant is around the corner, and the beef dish I had after my arrival was gorgeous, the beer good and the waitress charming. A good start! As I was making up my mind about where to go in Ethiopia (eventually Omo Valley rather than Lalibela and Aksum), I knew I’d have one day to explore town.

I wanted to be bold and go into town by minibus, which wouldn’t be a problem (and dirt-cheap for a Western traveller), were it not for my lack of Amharic, Ethiopia’s lingua franca. I found people on the side of the road were not particularly helpful, though perhaps I expected too much? Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the friendliness of people elsewhere in Africa, especially amongst Bantu people. At any rate, I gave up and took a taxi into town, my plan being to visit the National Museum (with Lucy as its main attraction), one or the other church, and perhaps the Mercato, allegedly East Africa’s biggest market.

The National Museum, it turned out, had had no electricity for a few days, and being a rather dark complex, the exhibitions would be largely invisible. Thus I decided to stroll around, see some of the other sites. Quite quickly I had a young guy on my side, and as I suspeced right away, much later his “I am going in the same drection”would magically turn out to be a pretext for imposing himself as a guy. Since I had no clue about Addis (and not terribly much energy to dive into the details), I silently accepted, though made it a point that I don’t want to spend much time or money for guides. He got it, or so I thought. S we went to some churches, notably Holy Trinity Cathedral with the tomb of Haile Selassie (rather unremarkable, if you ask me). What ipressed me deeply is how worshippers pursue their business here, and simply ignore any visitors and their cameras.

Some army officers turned me away from the Bete Mariam church (they wanted to keep my bag, camera and all in it, and I responded that considering their distrust of me I could not possibly trust them either). Eventually, this guide took me up a hill far from the centre, and on the way down his emphatic “I don’t care about money, you cannot buy me, thank you is enough” turned into, first, “not enough” and then a rant about me in Amharic to the laughter of almost everyone in the minibus we were in by that time. I called him out, sayiing I’d never experienced the like of it in other African countries, to which he replied that other Africans are stupid. And so on … I was seriously pissed off, and had enough of this town really. At least, I have some nice pics, to which I wanted to add once I would return from Omo Valley. However, since my original flight was cancelled, my second stay in Addis Ababa was reduced to a couple of hours only. That’s alright.

Honey wine in a tej bet.


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