after a long long flight, we finally landed in ethiopia. holy crap… we’re in africa! i almost couldnt believe it! there have been so many places that i’ve been excited to visit on this trip, but i think that pretty much out of anywhere, africa sounded the most exotic. everyone and their mom have been to europe. people visit asia, south america, and australia all the time… but how many people go and see africa? not many!! getting off the plane, i really had no idea what to expect and what awaited me here, and i love that feeling! the feeling of going into the unknow. ethiopia especially is a mysterious country. for most people abroad, when they think of ethiopia, they think of starving children etc, and few people realize just how much the country has to offer. lots of ancient ruins, fascinating tribes, and diverse wildlife. i’ve heard so many good things about it and it’s often referred to as “the hidden jewel of africa”.
after changing some money (ethiopia is one of the very few countries that has *no* atms!) and getting a visa, we walked through the airport searching for a place to buy a phone card. the airport was full of kids having the time of their life running up and down the escalators. man, it must be nice to be so easily amused! in a shop, i asked the saleswoman why the 10 birr phone cards were being sold for 15 birr. “we are a profit maker!” she replied matter-of-factly. after helping her make some profit, we started calling hotels, but most of them were full. luckily, we finally found one w/ a free room and soon were speeding down the road.
our taxi driver was a maniac. there were hardly any cars on the road, yet he somehow managed to hit almost all of them. he swerved all over the place, shouted obscenities, cut people off, and every time i saw his face in the rear-view mirror, there was a surly expression firmly in plasce. addis abbaba (the capital of ethiopia) was not the nicest looking place from what i could see out of the cab window. blocks and blocks of variously colored corrugated metal structures lined the roads. packs of dogs ran wild in the streets. people were laying slumped over under tarps here and there on the side of the road. other random people loitered around aimlessly in the dark streets…
when we pulled up to our hotel, several people looked out from behind the iron bars guarding the door. oh man.. we must be in a great neighborhood! the people came out, and although unsure at first, finally ushured us into the building. we walked through several doors, finally arriving at our room, that had a large sticker on the door urging people to use condoms. in ethiopia, a lot of the budget hotels are actually brothels as well. prostitution here is totally legit, and not frowned upon, so most people see it as no big deal. walking into the room, i was welcomed by the most heinous smell i could imagine. the room smelled absolutely horrible. i was utterly disgusted, but at this point, there was no turning back, as finiding another place this late at night might be impossible.
we were hungry, but the hotel owners said it was a “bad time” to get food. (are restaurants closed? or is it just unsafe to go outside at night? yikes!). the bed in the room was absolutely filthy, and the sheets, blanket, and everything else looked like they hadnt been washed… ever. with great trepidation, we peeled back the blankets… only to discover the unmistakeable piece of foil that could only be the corner of a condom wrapper. disgusting. we’ve been hauling around spare sheets in our packs since india, and even though it’s been a pain and they take up a ton of room, in times like these, THANK GOD we have our own sheets. eventually we setteled in, being careful to touch almost nothing, and then went to sleep listening to the sounds of our loud leaky toilet and the screams of people having sex in other rooms. welcome to ethiopia!
the next morning we woke up to cats yowling, chickens being slaughtered, and the pounding of very hard rain on the roof. on our flight here, the pilot had said “as you all know, this is the rainy season in ethiopia..”. well, i must have not noticed that part in the guidebook, but yeah it’s the wet season. it’s been dumping buckets on us daily for the last few days. anyways, we decided that we just couldnt deal w/ staying at our wonderful hotel any longer. that same day, we went ot go search for other place, and moved to a much nicer, less smelly, and condom-free room.
we’ve spent about three days now in addis abbaba. it’s actually quite a pleasant city despite our first glimpse of it. it’s definitely a poor city. in fact, ethiopia is quite a poor country… one of the poorest in the world. a large amount of the buildings in addis abbaba are made of corrugated tin, dirty brick, or clay. there are lots of beggars on the streets. but, the mood here is actually really cheerful. first off, everyone here is quite friendly. lots of people smile at you when you walk down the street. you see tons of little children walking around asking if you want your shoes shined.. but they all seem really happy and chatter w/ each other in between shines. if you say “no”, they dont get mad, just smile and walk away. you definitely dont get as much of a sense of desperation here as you do in india for instance. other areas of town, farther away from the center, are much nicer, and although they arent super fancy, there are lots of large apartment buildings, boutique stores, bars, and restaurnts.
it’s funny, kids here get your attention by yelling “you!”. so you’ll be walking down the street, anbd all over the place you keep hearing yells of “you” and you look to see grinning children trying to get your attention. sometimes, they’ll say it repeatedly, so you’ll hear “you! you! you! you! you!! you!!” being yelled. this place definitely reminds me of the middle east in a lot of ways. the vibe is kind of “dignified and friendly”. the men here usually wear western clothes, while the women will often have flowing dresses or at least a headscarf. people greet each other in the same exhuberant and excited way.
we’ve had ethiopian food a couple of times, and it’s pretty good. the guidebook said that most travelers either dont like it, or at least dont like it at first, but then grown to like it. well, luckily, i’ve fallen into neither category. it’s definitely not my favorite food of all time, but i’ve enjoyed it. food here is served unlike anywhere else i’ve been. food is eaten from a communal plate. the plate has a huge crepe-like thing called injera, and then the items you order (usually mushy stew-like things, similar to indian style) are just ladled on top of it. you just rip off hunks of the injera, and then dip it into the stews or grab hunks of meat with it. you dont get any utensils or anyhting.. the only thing you use to handle your food is the injera which is a food/plate/utensil all in one. today we had this one dish that was chopped up pieces of injera in sauce. it was a bit weird eating that wrapped in injera. like if you had a burrito stuffed w/ tortillas! we also tried this stuff called Tej which is honey wine. it comes in a flask and is a bright yellow color… and tastes NASTY!
we havent done too much over the last 3 days since we’ve spent too much time running errands. we had to go to the post office which was a crazy ordeal, with a mob of people all shouting and waving papers around a window. we had to go to the bank a few times. also, finidng internet access has been a fiasco, and i’m worried that outside the capital, there wont be any. security is kind of tight here, and to get inside a lot of malls, museums, hotels, banks, etc you get searched. for some reason, they get all weird about cameras, and usually make me leave my camera with someone at the door. why would you not be allowed to bring a camera into the bank?!
pretty much the only things we’ve done other than just walking around the city and running errands is go to the ethnological museum. the museum was kind of interesting, but nothing overwhelmingly exciting.
the rest of the time we’ve just been walkinmg around and checking out the town. the main street that runs through the center is filled with people selling all sorts of random crap. mostly corn. either people here just love corn, or it’s just easy to make and sell, cause there are literally hundreds of people on the streets w/ hot steaming bags of it. other than corn, people sell the most random crap. a pile of wristwatches.. and a tea strainer. a pile of keychains, pens… and 3 floursecent colored soccer balls. people come up to us and offer to sell us socks. so random. but as i said before, these people are really not hassley, and have no problem w/ you saying no.. which is a welcome change from other places. there are lots of beggar kids that come up to you asking for what sounds like “beer” (ethiopian money is called birr), often saying “no mother! no father!”… which seems doubtful, cause they often turn away all cheerful and laughing when you say no.
walking around has been a bit tough though since the weather here has been pretty crappy. so many people out are carrying umbrellas, running through the downpour, and hopping over huge rivers that form in the street. it’s definitely not a good time of year to be in addis abbaba!