Rachel - Addis and Mekele
24/01/2011 - 27/01/2011
One of my favourite things about traveling abroad, beyond the tourist headlines, are the little experiences of the everyday – post offices, banks, supermarkets – those times when you find out how life really works in this country. Not quite so everyday the visa office I suppose but it is an official department and taking an interest in the machine is probably what got me through the days. A dozen different queues, interviews by paranoid superiors after seeing Iran and Syria stamps, computer system failures, the various helpful and some unhelpful human beings all made for some bonding and shared looks of usually amused bafflement amongst the Ethiopians and multi cultural foreigners alike. We had to change our internal flights because of delays but in the end we managed to squeeze in some museum and gallery visits (including a really nice artists community in the hills at the edge of the city) as a result so all in all not too painful. Malawi however who managed to extend our visas in half an hour though so I don’t *really* see what the fuss was all about.
The following day I spent another amusedly puzzled day being sent to 4 different police stations trying to get a report of the hotel room theft from New Year. They lost the original report, sent me to another station across town, found the original report back in the original station so I had to return, retook my statement for some unknown reason, sent me to another station across town who wrote out their own version of the report and sent me to yet another station who wrote out a version on slightly better paper for my own copy. Always in duplicate. Everyone was lovely throughout though so I’m not complaining. In other countries where they also do things like issuing you handwritten ticket recipts for museum entry or bus tickets, in carbon copy duplicate, I’ve assumed that it was a colonial hangover from Britain’s more bureaucratic days and apologized internally for the lasting effects, But Ethiopia has never been colonized. Perhaps practices like this were introduced during the Italian occupation which might explain why it seems even more convoluted here
Because of visa delays it meant we couldn’t fly to Axum as planned (and therefore will have to abandon this historical city on this visit) we decided to fly to a fairly nearby town called Mekele instead. Well timed actually because after we grudgingly rearranged our plans the tour company called to ask if we could bring forward the Danakil trip which leaves from Mekele.
Mekele is instantly pleasant and with an inspiring political history which I’ll explain later. We sat on the roof of our hotel and were fascinated by the main roundabout for over an hour watching families, traders, animals, crazy people, greeting friends and a host of interesting sorts passing back and forth or stopping in the road to talk. Another slice of the everyday I suppose.
Here we met the gang who we’d be joining for our trip to the Danakil Depression and Erta Ale volcano. In hindsight an interim period of everyday normalcy before 4 days of the most mind bending abnormal sights I’ve ever seen.