Addis Ababa isn’t like any other city I’ve seen. There’s no public transport into town, just a swarm of taxi drivers who all want to negotiate a 3-hour tour of the city. We found a driver who’ll take us for 40 birr ($5). If only we had a guidebook! We’re at the mercy of what little info we have and any of the cabbie’s suggestions which, of course, keep costing us more money.

But he drove us to Piazza, to a street between 2 hotels. Mike checked them out and negotiated for the price of the cab + the hotel (package deal, I guess.) 4 nights for 260 birr. The room’s shabby but clean-ish. The electrical system is scary as hell but there is an attached bathroom.

This is one poverty-saturated city. The pretty pictures in the little book I found in Athens must have been taken wherever there was a rare spot free of trash and dusty street children. Poor disfigured people squat by the side of the road, some have goods to sell spread out on blankets. Magazines, very old books, peanuts, gum, you name it.

Not everyone is dirt-poor but the poverty is absolutely astounding. People beg on every street. Some are so afflicted with injury that I can’t imagine surviving as they do: a young man with no eyes, just dark sockets, another guy on a crutch, swinging his tiny lower body along. An old lady with no hands, just stumps. And more: a herd of goats on the road. They have big blue identifying paint spots dabbed on them. The public buses are literally packed to the brim, the doors won’t even close.

We’ve adopted a guide around town: Andreas, a Swedish guy in his early 60s who’s also staying at the Baros hotel. What a luxury to have someone to show us where to eat, where to get a coffee or a beer. Good thing because nothing actually has signage. Andreas works for a public aid program set up by the Swedish government. He’s lived here many times before, speaks very good Amharic and has an Ethiopian girlfriend who’s 25 but looks 16. She’s part owner in a little (I mean little) bar a few doors down from the hotel. The guys there brought us food and beer and played American music like Billy Paul and Luther Vandross. This went on until two guys came in with a 1-string instrument. They played and sang while the rest of us pouded and clapped to keep time and took turns dancing. The song, apparently, just goes on until the dancers stop.

A beautiful girl sat in the corner and worked for a while burning frankencense and crushing coffee beans by hand to brew over a few coals she had going. What a treat! In Greece, you either had to eat your coffee with a knife and fork or submit to the more popular Nescafe instant. The food here in Addis is small dishes of grease and meats (wot) served on a big platter covered in a giant piece of unleavened spongy bread (injera). Mike doesn’t care for the bread but likes the meat okay (no surprise there). Andreas was sure to tell us to eat only with our right hands (no utensils). Of course! The left hand is reserved for use in the bathroom.

So on that note, on to breakfast… Hopefully, we’ll find something we consider edible. We are quite a novelty walking around Piazza, the two of us white people. Targets for every beggar within miles. I’d like to see if there are any sights here like the ones in the obviously over-glorifying little book we have.

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