I’m sitting in my hotel room on the first night in Ethiopia, trying to integrate all that I’ve seen already. What a beautiful and comfortable country to be in. Addis is not probably the best indicator of the entire nation, but I am surprised at how safe and easy it is to be here.
After a zillion hours in transit, broken up by a 9 hour layover in London and 5 hours of sleep in the Heathrow Yotel, I tumbled off my funky Ethiopian Airlines flight in the Addis Airport in pretty good shape. As I had done in Heathrow, I spent the first 45 minutes just figuring out where I should go, where I shouldn’t go and where the bathroom is. I had planned to meet my friends at their arrival gate since I beat them to Addis by an hour, but soon learned that no one in the Addis airport could tell me which gate a plane was going to ‘arrive’ at; only where they departed from. Undeterred from my plan to meet my friends, I planted myself firmly in between the two possible exit doors and kept my eyes pealed in hopes of spotting them before they went down into customs. Sure enough, it worked and I was united with my comrades and ready to find our way to the Jupiter Hotel.
After a smooth and simple check-in, we arranged for a city tour. We had just one day in Addis and wanted to make the most of it…24+ hours of no sleep be damned! It was such a great choice. All of us experienced peaks of painful exhaustion during the day, but we got to see some incredible things. We saw Haile Selasse’s tomb and the church dedicated to the overthrow of the Italians. The same church is also the seat of Orthodox Ethiopian Church – a precursor to Rome and contemporary of Greek Orthodox.
We were regaled with stories of the first Eunice from Ethiopia being baptized in 36 AD by a direct disciple of Jesus, of the Arc of the Covenant returning with Melinik I (son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon) and of the cross of Jesus fiercely guarded on a hilltop station nearby…all of this highly disputed by historians, but totally ascribed to by the Ethiopians. Did you know Ethiopia had a huge contingent of Jews from the time of Solomon? I sure didn’t! Or that they defeated every single empire trying to topple their government from the dawn of civilization (at least until fascist Italy occupied them for 5 years during WWII)?
We drank delicious espresso from the most hipster, local coffee house you can imagine – like something you’d find in the Mission in SF that would be the ‘hottest’ place in town…but it was in Addis, it was 60+ years old and the processing of the coffee went from ‘soup to nuts’ like no Berkeley roaster can boast! Next it was the national museum to see Lucy, the 3.5 million year old remains of a pre-historic human from the great Rift Valley.
Then to Mount Entoto to check out sweeping views of Addis and see how the emperors escaped the heat of the city to the hillside palace and church. And lastly to the shopping district to see the local goods and get a taste of the chaos of the local markets.
I’m struck by several things here in Addis…First of all there is a surprising lack of livestock on the streets. I kept thinking of the cows, oxen, donkeys and general chaos of animals on the streets in India. Even Cusco had more dogs than this city. I saw a few donkeys heading up Mt. Entoto with water jugs, a few skinny cats, two well-fed dogs and a few roadside goats again on Mt. Entoto but that was it. No dodging dung as you move between street stalls like in India. The food we’ve had so far has been fabulous too. Incredible coffee, yummy spicy pizza, stuffed Turkish eggplant and pakora…I can’t wait for some real Ethiopian food, but for some reason today was not the day for it.
We are definitely in Africa. I recognize the clothing and tin or mud houses from a million photos. Even the well-to-do children look underfed. Women carry incredible burdens of Eucalyptus branches on their backs three times their own size. A friend who lived here recently said to me that it’s better to be a donkey in Ethiopia than a woman – you are given lighter burdens and more time to rest. But the people are beautiful, proud and full of life.