Ethiopia 1/3: Addis Ababa
My visit to Ethiopia started in Addis Ababa, which means New Flower in Amharic. With more than 3 million people, it’s the capital and largest city of the only African country that wasn’t colonized during the end of the 19th century and beginning of 20th century, when greedy European countries (F, GB, P, I, D, B, E) invaded most of Africa for their own benefit. The Italians tried to colonize the country by attacking in 1896 but were defeated by the Ethiopian army! This fact is a source of pride to many Ethiopians. In 1935 the (Sh-)Italians, under command of dictator Mussolini, attacked Ethiopia again by illegally using chemical weapons and took control of the country for about 5 years.
Ethiopia uses a different calendar than we do. They just celebrated New Year 2008 (Enkutatash) last 12 September and their clock runs 6 hours behind. The day starts at 6am, so then it’s 00:00 in Ethiopia. The country has many languages but the official language is Amharic and they use their own writing.
Located at an altitude of 2640m, Addis Ababa is one of the world’s highest capital cities.
One of the first things that caught my attention after I arrived was the tidiness of the city. It’s pretty clean and even when I went for a stroll that remained the same, expect for the market areas of course. Ethiopia is predominantly a Christian country and that goes almost 2000 years back. About 66% of the population is Christian today. There is poverty and it is clearly visible when seeing the shanty towns, a lot of people begging, people sleeping on the street etc.
I landed at Bole International Airport with half an hour delay and the hotel sent someone to pick me up. Once at the hotel, I had to wait two hours before the room was ready. Well, the place is more a “pension” because it’s a bit old and run down but at least it was clean! Once I got my room I slept for about an hour or two. Then I went to the reception for information and grabbed a city map. I had something to eat at the restaurant of the hotel and decided to go for a walk towards the east. One thing I immediately disliked was the amount of guys approaching you with “hey my brother, where are you from” bla bla bla, and they come with a story which always ends with asking you for some money. The hotel is located in an area called “Piazza” and many of them hang around there. You’ll also encounter many of those who act like tour-guides and want to show you around; no thank you! Something I’ve only seen in Ethiopia so far, are the weighing scales on the sidewalk. Many people stand with their scales, often including a device making a beeping sound to attract attention. You just pay them a small fee to weigh yourself.
I walked towards the St. George’s Cathedral, built by Italian prisoners of war captured in 1896 (yes!). I continued towards the east, passing along the beautiful Benin Mosque and ended up in the Mercato-area (Italian for market). Mercato is one big and busy area with a lot of commercial activity: shops, cafes, stalls, vendors etc. There is a lot of traffic, a lot of people walking around. Many others were carrying stuff around; guys with piles of mattresses on their heads and even one with a fridge on his head!
The next day I slept in and went to buy a simcard. Just after midday I met Yonas, a guy from couchsurfing who took me around for a bit. He took me to a restaurant for lunch since I was hungry while we already ate before meeting me. I had “injera” with lamb (called Tibs; it can be with other kind of meat too). Injera is like an Ethiopian pancake that everyone eats and you eat it with your (right) hand. You break the injera in pieces with your hands and grab whatever is on the plate with it. We spoke a lot about Ethiopia and of course he was interested in Curaçao too.
We walked from Arat Kilo towards Amist Kilo, then towards the Meskel Square. We walked past monuments located on two round-abouts; one of them commemorates the victory over the Italians in 1896 and the other in memory of the victims during the Italian occupation. We passed along the University of Addis Ababa and along the Grand Palace (where the Prime Minister lives), the National Palace (where the president lives) and the ECA (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa). The Meskel Square is a big square in the city, where people gather, buses to other cities depart etc. Here I saw the light rail trains for the first time, which is a pretty new mass transportation system in Addis Ababa. There is one line already working and another should commence soon. The next day I went out by myself, walked towards Meskel Square and visited the Red Terror Museum. It’s a small museum but definitely worth a visit, dedicated to the brutal Derg regime who ruled the country for 17 years after Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed in 1974. In the museum there were many pictures (including those of many victims). You could also see belongings of many victims; even skulls and bones found in the many mass graves were displayed. I continued by mini-bus towards Holy Trinity Church (Haile Selassie Church). Beautifully built by Emperor Haile Selassie and completed in 1944, that’s the place where his body rests now. Just outside the church there is a tiny museum displaying many of Haile Selassie’s and other Emperors objects, including crowns and clothes. I continued by foot to the Ethiopian National Museum, an excellent place to see and learn about the country’s rich history and culture. The oldest human remains ever were found in Ethiopia, including “Lucy” at the museum, whose skeleton is partially assembled.
Back at the hotel I changed, had something to eat and went out. A Facebook-friend from Curaçao, who was in Ethiopia a few months ago, recommended to go to a place with traditional music. I asked at the reception where to take a mini-bus to Kazanchis (name of the area, not too far) and went. I couldn’t find the exact spot where these buses depart from. I just asked a guy who was standing next to me; I told him where I was going. He had to go to that area too. We waited, then walked to another corner and caught a bus. This guy decided to join me for the evening. First I thought that it’d be another of those guys who just want to take advantage and have some free beers etc. but I was wrong! This guy, named Tamirat, was just really interested in hearing about where I’m from, why I’m in Ethiopia etc. and he wanted to pay for all the drinks that evening. In the end I had to force him not to, because I wanted to pay for some drinks too. We went to a place called “Fendika Azmari Bet”, where they play traditional music “bati” and they dance by shaking their shoulders, called “Eskesta”. They main instrument used is the “masinko” which looks like a tiny guitar. Here I tried the “Tej”, Ethiopian honey wine. It’s really good but you have to drink it slowly! After this we went to a small club in Piazza until about 1:30am. I didn’t get a chance to meet him again but I surely will do after I go back to Addis Ababa.
The next day I slept in, woke up and took the bus towards Entoto Hill. Located at an altitude of 3200m, it’s the highest point of Addis Ababa and you can enjoy nice views of the city. Unfortunately the weather was a bit hazy when I went. On the hill you’ll find the St. Mary church with its circular form and the house of Emperor Menelik and her wife, Queen Taitu.
The next day I boarded an early bus towards the north. More in the next blog-entry!