Rachel - Addis Ababa
30/12/2010 - 03/01/2011
Addis Ababa is one of those of those satisfying-to-say places - like Ougadougou and almost anywhere in australia. It always seems a shame to shorten it to Addis as everyone seems to do.
When we drove from the airport we were struck by how modern the city seemed, with wide asphalt roads with proper traffic lights, international hotels and business parks. Now we know that this stretch of road is a recent addition to the city. The centre itself though is a strange mix of both modern-ish shops and rickety stalls all next to each other, a feature that has apparently stretched back right to the birth of the city when palaces and traditional mud and thatch houses were interspersed.
We arrived at our hotel a little weary but decided to check out the lobby of our hotel which despite having budget rooms is the oldest hotel in Addis Ababa and had a man playing piano in the large foyer as we arrived. So we enjoyed some new beers with a young woman, Annabelle, from Berlin but originally from Ethiopia, who was looking to return to her roots and live in Addis for a while.
The first day in a new country is always the same, try and sort out maps and phones and in this case try and buy some second hand warm clothes in the crowded and pungent mercarto (market) but today we had a total fail because everything was closed or too far away to organize after we were lost in the market for too long, which only sold new things and mostly wholesale. An experience nonetheless and we were adopted by a stall owner who tried to show us all the jumper stalls that might sell single prices and seemed baffled why we weren’t really interested in the available floral or neon articles.
To try and salvage the day we did manage to squeeze in a visit to a church and it’s attached museum. Ethiopians take their church seriously it seems – even the building itself. While we were in the courtyard we noticed many people coming up just to kiss the door or steps without it even being open. The day somewhat rescued we headed off for our first taste of Ethiopian food, on the way we passed a small darkened entrance with assorted men just in view sitting inside which caught Dave’s eye. It turned out to be a tejabet or “house of tej” which is the local honey wine, only really sold in these speciallity houses. We were made to sit down and to everyone’s great interest and encouragement try our first tej which is served in a special bulbous glass with a tall thin spout which looks something like a distillation bottle from chemistry class…we weren’t too impressed (although we have found out since that we hadn’t tried a very good one). But the owner took a shine to us and showed us to the restaurant, and spent the next hour or so with us teaching us some words, describing the food and generally being a nice introduction to the country.
We had been looking forward to the food here having been to Ethiopian restaurants in London. In case you’ve not tried it yourself it’s invariably some kind of spicy stew served on a sourish spongey pancake plate which you eat with your hands by breaking off some of the pancake and scooping up some of the stew before popping it all in your mouth. It takes some practice, and apparently it’s not allowed to lick your fingers.
Oh I forgot to mention – today was New Years eve (for us) and Annabelle had invited us to a party near to our hotel so after a delicious dinner we went back to meet her and some of her friends. The street next to our hotel is full of small bars playing very loud music so we spent the hours leading up to midnight (for us) doing a tour of most of them, ending up in a great little place playing Ethiopian pop music and full of people dancing (I’ll describe the dancing in another entry because it’s pretty unique). At the stroke of midnight we were ushered outside because for the first time they had put on fireworks for “European” new year. Ethiopia has a different calendar, the Julian calendar, because they rejected the Pope and the pope’s Gregorian calendar. (note for the geeks, so *now* we know why we have all those different Calendar classes – it’s for Ethiopia). So the Ethiopian new year is actually in September and Christmas is on January 7th. The time here is even different too – midnight is 6 o’clock because they start counting from zero at 6am, which does actually make a kind of sense – start counting when you wake up. But anyway it seems like they like an excuse to party so just for us they pulled one out the bag. Dave and I tried to get everyone to join in a bouncing circle of Auld Langs Eyne which took two attempts but I think it’ll catch on.
Unfortunately almost exactly this time Dave realized that he’d been pickpocketed in the bar and they’d taken our hotel key which had the name of the hotel and the room number on it so we dashed back to find that they’d already ransacked the room and taken a few electricals that were out in sight. Fortunately they must have been in a rush so they hadn’t found our well hidden passports and cash, or Dave’s not so well hidden camera or iPod luckily, so we decided to deal with it later and headed back to meet everyone. The rest of the night was brilliant fun too – we visited a bar with traditional music and praise singing (will describe that properly later too) and later a cheesy nightclub with more Ethiopian pop. Finally at 5am the four of us staggered home happy.
Next day we reported the theft to the police, purely for the insurance report. But because we hadn’t reported the incident immediately they didn’t want to take our report until a few days later than we’d planned to move on, so the lady in the hotel reception – without telling us – told the policeman that we had a flight to catch so we couldn’t come back later which made for some very uncomfortable moments during the eventual interview when he was asking about our flight details and how come we could come back to Addis to collect the head-office-signed report. I’m not sure the insurance company will even accept the report because it’s written in Amharic script on the back of a piece of already-written-on rough paper which was all he could get his hands on at the time. It looks like I just wrote it myself! And another awkward moment was when we, via our translators who we’d to scrounge in the hotel bar by the way, had to decline to pay him a “small fee” to “start the investigation”. Our translators afterwards even tried to get us to go back to pay the bribe and then asked us for money themselves. A weird evening that was, although not unpleasant. The policeman was polite and concerned about doing a thorough job and he was clearly busy because people would come in and out of his office all the time to ask something.
On our final day we ran about town talking to tour agencies about trips to the Danakil depression (i.e. THE HOT-TEST PLACE ON EEEARTH) and then putting up posters in backpacker frequented places trying to find people to join with us, otherwise it will be a very expensive trip. But after we missed out on the volcano in the Congo we have a second chance because there’s another active lava lake in the Danakil so we *have* to go this time. Have to.
After several days in the city we didn’t really get to see much of Addis Ababa, not on the tourist trail anyway and there are some interesting looking museums here too. But we’ll be back again in a few weeks at least, and it’s the sign of a good city at least that you need to come back. Au reviour Addis Ababa(bababa).