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First day in Ethiopia

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I will be posting diary-style blog posts for the first time ever… the following are my notes taken down at the end of each day while in Ethiopia. Unedited and disjointed, they are what they are, more a reminder for me than a treatise.

With a stop-over at Alexandria airport arrived in Addis Ababa after 2am. Hilton welcoming if drab. Local time 2 hours ahead of UK, getting up for breakfast not easy. The food unexceptional, western dishes mingling with local ones… baked beans and scrambled eggs on toast next to zil zil tibs and scrambled
injera. Surreal.

Already underwhelmed by the hotel – mediocre, stuck in a time warp. Reception nice enough but rooms with neon lights, horrid 70s pseudo-ethnic pattern on bedspread, curtains and carpet… run down, if clean, bathroom don’t do much to endear the place to a western traveller. Strange it has 4* rating. Expectations of higher quality justified by western pricing. In the days to follow my attitude adjusts, after time outside… turns into an oasis of luxury, indulgence and disturbing comfort… the power of relative comparisons.

Meeting my brother around noon, then hitting the town. It is Sunday – everything’s quieter. Walked past
large government building – foreign ministry and defence ministry. The rule never take picture of an armed guy in a uniform applies here… camera stays in my pocket. Prime Minister’s residence impressive
even by non-Ethiopian standards. 

Curious about the downtown… warned that Addis Ababa spread around with no real centre. Saw a large
square built
in the shape of an Ethiopian cross. A huge space on one side, with the road in front of it…told that at 6am every Sunday morning crowds of people jog and exercise there. Shudder at the ungodly hour…what makes this insane is the pollution in town… Addis Ababa easily the most polluted place have ever been to. Beats Istanbul by a wide margin… despite the memory of metallic taste in mouth after
walking around. Forget a carbon emission footprint, think more black-smoke-belching monster of a town choking its inhabitants slowly (or fast) to death. Never mind saving the planet for their
children… people living here now surely have life expectancy reduced by decades.

Went for fresh juice, coffee and cakes – delicious and cheap… tried to check emails in internet café
– frustratingly slow and mostly unsuccessful… seen the oldest hotel in Addis Ababa, Taitu – atmospheric and unhygienic… walked all the way down two main roads to book a popular restaurant – confusing and exhausting… went to a local kitfo place for dinner – non-touristy and interesting. Seen many sights, experienced many annoyances… some staggering, all driving home the point – this is Africa! The obvious daily crosses – pollution, erratic transport, lack of sanitation, corrugated iron housing, poverty, begging children and war cripples everywhere… a bigger theme runs through – what keeps people here going? The place is a shithole…. as Africa goes a much better one than most, Ethiopia has proper middle-class, uncommon in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa…people very friendly and helpful, the vibe is good. And yet, no denying it is a horrid existence.

We in the West aware of this, so no African epiphany for me… in any case, can’t afford one as not a celebrity. Physical remoteness controls the extent we learn and concern ourselves with the reality… being here it’s full blast, first hand, breathing the same air, eating the same food, walking the same muddy roads… one difference
I am sure of is how we perceive the same reality. No amount of documentaries or reading can prepare you for this…makes me realise how fragile progress is… improvement is not a given and things can get really bad without necessarily getting better as a result… the more
humankind discovers and develops, the more it has to deprive itself of… it seems as having barely crawled out of one horror, we stampede towards another progress-choking episode (see 20th century and now the climate change toxic do-gooders). Despite that am an optimist about innovation. Just not easy to accept its glacial pace.

Pictures of first day on Flickr.


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2 Responses to “First day in Ethiopia”

  1. Aster
    on Jun 15th, 2007
    @ 1:11 am

    Hi there,

    Interesting posting.

    Check out my favoured Ethiopian website:

  2. Aklilu
    on Oct 27th, 2007
    @ 6:14 am

    I didn’t think Addis Abeba is that bad , los angels is by far the dirties smog city in the world; Have You been their yet, what about India, china? Addis Abeba can’t beat all this.

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