Published: March 21st 2012March 21st 2012
The new dash 8 q400 enters the addis valley. This is a small aircraft to spend three and a half sleeping hours on, but I feel good. I have two seats to myself, and i-mike, the American doctor is down the cabin. The turboprop’s is inbound from Zanzibar. The names Zanzibar and Addis Ababa trip easily off the tongue; but to those of us who live here, the reality is not quite so romantic. We fly between ridges with brown patchwork fields below us. They give way to insdustrial warehouses, new concrete housing, a single forestry block and the addis bus depot. The orange and yellow buses make a stark sight. Everything is so dry, a dual carriageway that bisect two large old cemetaries flies by; we are lower now, and seem faster over the earth. We surmount a rise and cross the runway threshold. The pilot keeps the power on and we make a perfect, extremely smooth landing. We have arrived in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
We are swiftly processed in the new Terminal two. Our bags are sent to Terminal one. The Ethiopian ground crew find them and hand them over to us. We
are x-rayed by customs as we leave. I look to my right and a statuesque Ethiopian Airlines stewardess is having her bag rifled by a young lady in jeans and a sweatshirt. Goods, shirts and other items are taken from her standard airline issue suitcase. She stands resignedly and proudly in her green trouser suit and heels, one leg slightly cocked up on a bar, sending text messages to someone. This girl is not for giving in.
Addis is dirty, dusty and has some new buildings. But the dirt seems all pervasive. Sophisticated beautiful well dressed women walk beside men in blue blanket like robes. Addis is poor. Gangs of young men sit by the road doing nothing. A nation that has the newest Boeing 777’s and has ordered dreamliners also has barefoot shepherds with no sheep on the main streets of its capital.
The Taitu hotel is the first hotel in Etiopia. It was built by the Empress Taitu for her guests. The high ceilings, gorgeous rooms, and lack of bathrooms give away its heritage. I do wonder if anyone has renovated this place since Haile Selassie was here. I am given the choice between a basement
room with a dingy bathroom, or a glorious room with no bathroom. I choose the room without facilities, and fall asleep.
There is a Dragoman truck here. Driven by a young chap called Matt.
“Do you know Izzie R?” I ask.
“Yes” he replies. We have a mutual friend.
“I did the truck through Africa thing last year”
“Yeah?” Matt is going north, and the conversation descends into talk of the desert stretch in Sudan.
“Turn left at station number five, and keep the railway line about 5kms to your right or east” I say wisely; remembering our digging incident in the Sahara. I draw him a mini map. When you get to Wadi Halfa, Mazar is your man. He is the person who helps everyone.
From time to time a passenger approaches Matt and has his documents checked. “Insurance, visas, yup- and kitty” he says crossing things out on his mental list. His pax have joined in Addis and all seem nice. A young german girl argues about the kitty.
“yes well I only eat once a day and so can I pay less?”
Matt’s smile never leaves his face,
and his tone of banter never changes. But he informs her politely but firmly that everyone pays the kitty regardless of what they eat. I am glad that my season is over. Matt does three month to two week trips. My season lasts 10 months, and it shows.
Mike and I wander down Churchill avenue. Touts follow us, asking us how we are, and where we are from in a few languages. I-Mike engages them. I say no thank you politely. When they decline to accept my invitation to go away, I am more direct. Like the beach boys in Zanzibar they take offence, but I am not bothered. As long as they go, and they do. We arrive at my destination, the gare D’addis abeba. The old railway station, built by the French company that was, at one time, the only easy link to the world. If you can call two days on a train, two nights in hotels and a few weeks on a steamer easy. The alternative, in the early 20th
century was 6 weeks on a mule to the coast.
Now the trains don’t run. Of course, why should they? Bole international airport links
the Ethiopian travelling classes to the world, and there are no steamers. There is talk of regeneration of the line for freight purposes, but again, that needs to be seen. We retire early, and I do not lie awake long. At 0500 I wake up for another long walk along the century old building to go and pee. I cannot sleep for another two hours, and so dress and wander around the hotel. Just above us is the piazza and its cafe’s, but I find myself wandering around a cobbled slum area. Large, wooden run down but majestic, houses rise above me. I wander down the large footlong cobbles. Below me is a sea of corrugated iron and wood. There is a pervasive smell of urine in the air, and some undescribed liquid runs down the steep cobbles and down the hill. In the background, I can just see the Addis Ababa Sheraton. A hotel where the cheapest room is $375.00 a night. There are two kinds of person in this part of Addis. The workers of Addis streaming past me, going up hill to their jobs, and the youth coming out of early morning bars, or looking mildly intoxicated
sitting by the cobbles. I pass a pile of chat, the narcotic grass that people chew. I snap a few shots of the piles and the slum . A waft of the smell of coffee mixes with the urine and takes away the edge on the morning. Someone walks past with a few baguettes.
“be careful here” says a man.
“Why”. It all seems so much safer than Nairobi.
“You have a camera”. I stare at it; My D700 has an unobtrusive short lens. I look like a tourist, but not a foolish one.
“Yes I do”
“where are you from”
“Turkey” I reply wearily, wondering what the reply will be.
“Oh- you are a Muslim?”
“So am I, this is my house”
“Well I’ll be off then, and I wander deeper into the urine stench.
We are to leave Addis today, to go to Awash and the Awash National park. I meet Matt coming back into the Taitu with a bag of toilet paper. “yeah- what is the best way out of Addis?” he asks.
“Well I just head north to be honest and very soon,
there is only one road that winds up into the Entoto hills”
“yeah thought so.”
I sip my tea, download my images and write these notes. I post on facebook: "you know you have been in Africa too long when a Dragoman driver asks you the best way out of Addis Abbaba for his 17 tonner. And you know that you could probably do with more time here, when your answer is "Well I just head north on Churchill and keep going north"
Before I can his send, Matt comes running in with a printed google map. “Mate- what do you think I should do. At this stage the casual answer is out. He is trying to get his Mercedes 1617 out of the narrow streets and off into Africa. We open google maps on my netbook and trace a clear route on his paper map. He only has two annoyingly small streets before he is on Tunisia Road, and that, rather confusingly, goes all the way to Cairo. He thanks me, we shake hands and he hurries off to his passengers and the burbling diesel engine.
As I finish
my notes for the day, the german comes back and addresses a waitress. She starts moaning or complaining about a banana or a lack of a banana. I struggle not to giggle.
There are more photos below