Archive for July, 2008

Bringing Tears to an Old Man’s Eyes is Humbling

July 24, 2008

I sometimes wonder whether I pick the right people to surround myself with, whether I help to create the right atmosphere, or whether I’m just lucky.

My driver, Yonas, is probably the ony Ethiopian I’ve met who’s taller than me.  He’s one of those rangey, sonorous and very capable looking people.  The first time he broke into song took me quite by surprise, but I’ve since come to learn that he’s prone to frequent singing, dancing, whooping and clapping.  Our bonding was complete on a bar crawl in Arba Minch, where we both agreed that one bar was too loud, that all the girls were prostitutes (and probably some of the boys too, although I think that would shock Yonas) and that we should leave and take Amha with us.

It seems like much longer ago that I was in Addis than it really is, and even longer ago that I was in the UK.  When I left here last week, we headed straight into the Gurage region and to villages away from the main roads and which looked most traditional.

It was Monday when we made it to Arba Minch, where I witnessed a rather different form of pastoralism, in a visit to a crocodile farm.  Apparently, after skinning them at five years old, they feed the meat to the local wild crocodile population.  The following night we made it to Sheshemene, coincidentally on the day of Haile Selassie’s birthday.  Just outside of Sheshemene is that land that Haile Selassie gave to the Rastafarians and it has become their Jerusalem.  The town was full of Rastas from all over the world that day.

Yesterday, we got back to Addis much quicker than Yonas expected, despite stopping at two places on the way – the World Heritage site of Tiya and a rock-hewn church.

I think I’ve ruined Amha.  He’s now addicted to Tobasco sauce, Ali Farka Toure and the Loney Planet guide to Ethiopia.  Since we arrived back early yesterday, he insisted on taking me to all his usual hangouts and introducing me to all his friends.  I think he was most desperate for me to meet his fiancee, but his friends held us up and at midnight I said I was going back to the hotel and would meet her tonight.

The hotel…  It’s never a good sign when a hotel provides a bed, a table and a packet of condoms is it?

I’ll be in Addis again tonight, and then I’m heading out to the Sidama region for nine days.

Stepping Back in Time

July 17, 2008

“Noisy, dusty, sprawling and shambolic.”  So said one traveller to Ethiopia’s capital over a century ago, on the surface of it, not a lot has changed in the year 2000 (yes, it’s the year 2000 in Ethiopia); Lonely Planet says “Addis Ababa is massive and incoherent”.

I arrived at Bole International Airport on Tuesday morning with no money and no visa – since it’s a closed currency, I was unable to obtain any Birr at Heathrow, as had been my original plan.  What I really hadn’t reckoned with, however, was there being ‘phone line problems at the bank at Bole airport.  Still having no visa, and being unable to pay for it, I spoke to the girl on immigration who agreed to let me in to the country if I left her my passport and returned with the money for a visa within 24 hours.  I returned within one, and eventually managed to check in to my hotel around lunch time.

Wanting coffee by that point, I decided to wander the streets and try to familiarise myself with the city.  I bumped into a guy called Daniel, who in turn introduced me to his friend Tom.  Tom kindly offered to sell me a SIM card for my ‘phone for 600 Birr.  I didn’t like either of them and after while managed to get shod of them.  I proceeded to wander the streets, racking up 14 miles, and discovered that the British Embassy in Addis is useless.  As is the restaurant in the hotel I’m staying in.

The ‘phone issue had become genuine though.  Orange doesn’t appear to have a roaming agreement with Ethiopia’s national telecoms company who have, for reasons of their own, decided to stop selling SIM cards.  I was quickly beginning to realise that I wasn’t going to be able to get much done out here without a ‘phone number, however.

So it was that the next day I continued my wanderings, this time in the general direction of Bole Road rather than the Piazza, racking up another 14 miles.  About three o’clock I decided I needed food, remembering that I’d had no breakfast and no lunch the day before.  In Rico’s bar I met Ben and Amha.  Them, I trust.  I’ve agreed to hire Amha as my guide and I have no doubt that Ben’s taking a cut as well.  That night they took me to a traditional Ethiopian restarant where I drank Taj and watched a variety of different dances, including one particularly cool one which followed an entire agricultural production sequence from ploughing, all the way through to winnowing and then taking the seed to market.

They also managed to fix me up with a SIM card and a ‘phone (it was cheaper than getting mine unlocked) at a slightly more reasonable price than Tom.

Up early in the morning, I met Ben and Amhar for coffee and then continued touring the tour operators that we had begun to the night before.  Eventually a deal was found which seemed to be OK.  I returned to the hotel and washed some clothes ahead of my trip to the Gurage people.  Seven days, then back in Addis for one before heading out to the Sidama people.

Returning to the Piazza to use an internet cafe, both Tom and Daniel have found me and asked for money.  It was almost as hard work to get rid of them this time as it was last.  Internet cafe’s in Addis are interesting.  They may be a cafe, or have internet or, if you’re really lucky, both!  The guy at the computer next to me has also just asked if I can used my credit card to pay for something for him on line.  Do people really ever say yes to a request like that?

On Tuesday I wasn’t too keen on Addis, the Piazza is not a nice area, nor is the north of the city, where I’m based, or the city centre.  Addis is essentially Africa’s Geneva, but get away from all the Governement, NGO, bank, UN and university buildings, into the outskirts of the city and it’s much nicer.  Also much less hassle from the usual array of hawkers, beggers and con-artists that operate the main drags.  Wednesday it seemed like a much nicer city.  Still a city though, and I look forward to laving it.