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Published: April 25th 2010
The traffic is a lot worse than this would suggest...
I wrote this just after my arrival in Addis, just so that I could keep a clear idea of my first impressions.
Arriving at around about 1pm Ethiopian time - or was it later? I was to find that nothing runs on time here, even the airlines. I was met at the airport by Reiza - a volunteer from the Phillipines who has been in Ethiopia for about a year I think. She was to be one of the four volunteers who had - again - volunteered to be our ‘guides’ during the In Country Training Course. Galetta and Lyunesh, who work at the VSO Programme Office, were also part of the orientation team.
There was little time to get any sense of Ethiopia. Our exit from the airport was quite painless, if not slow - queuing up for immigration and then waiting for baggage (as you would have to at any airport), but then having to queue up again to put all our baggage through the x-ray machine. I use the word queue quite loosely, it appeared to be more of a charge upon the machine. One man behind me, with a very grim look on his face grabbed my (pretty heavy) luggage and started loading it onto the conveyer belt. Not sure whether this was to hurry me up or out of a genuine desire to help me, but I was grateful.
Karen (another volunteer from Australia) had spotted me at Dubai airport as we were queuing to get on a bus that appeared to take us on a tour of the entire terminal - and perhaps one or two other terminals besides. If you’ve been to Dubai airport, you’ll appreciate the amount of time that this took. Even walking to your gate, you go past signs which tell you approximately how long it will take you to get there. And, whereas I thought I had arrived at the airport with plenty of time to wander around the Duty Free stores, I actually had to put aside 25 minutes to get to my departure gate.
Although Addis Ababa airport is a modern structure of steel and glass, our trip to the Red Cross Centre revealed a different picture of the capital. Rows of two story houses, behind high fences (some topped with barbed wire) gave way to fields, interrupted by large factories and a cemetery. Rubble, litter, people walking. There only appears to be two forms of transport in the capital - motorised and on foot. Although we appeared to be driving on a four lane highway, the lanes were not clearly marked, and the cars swayed back and forth. Trucks thundered along and almost every vehicle spewed forth thick clouds of black smoke from their exhausts. I was told later that the altitude makes the fumes appear darker than they actually are. I’m not entirely convinced. In the days to come, on journeys from the Red Cross Centre to the Programme Office near Haya Hulet, I was to witness a heavy pall of pollution.
First impressions. Immense poverty. Whether this impression was heightened by the ridiculous displays of wealth I had just left behind in Dubai is uncertain, but the feelings of the unfairness of the world were definite.
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