First Ethiopian experiences

Hello folks, I’m writing to you from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where I’ve decided to spend the UAE National Day / Eid-al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice of the lamb) holidays with my girlfriend.

Due to a fortunate coincidence of the UAE’s 37th birthday on the 2nd of December and the celebration of the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, I ended up with six public holidays with only one working day in between (tomorrow – Thursday). I’ve taken it off and we have booked last minute tickets to Addis Ababa from Dubai with Ethiopian Airlines (total cost for two round-trip tickets US$958, plus the taxi transport to and from Dubai, which is approximately US$130). Tickets were last-minute because the holiday schedule was only announced by the government earlier this week (Monday), 24 hours ahead of time. This generally happens around holidays which follow the Islamic calendar and so are determined by the lunary cycle (such as Eid-al-Adha).

My first impressions of Ethiopia began in the Dubai Int’l Airport before we even boarded the plane. As we approached the check-in counter, we groaned on noticing a long line of colourfully dressed people with half a dozen suitcases, boxes and bags each. After waiting a couple of minutes I noticed that several counters were staffed by Ethiopian Airlines crew but only one had a long line in front of it. We moved lines and were served in less than 15 minutes. And as soon as we changed lines so did everyone else. Strange…. What an arbitrage opportunity!

I happened to notice in line that many passengers-to-be had huge boxes to check in. I couldn’t figure what all of the luggage might be (gifts to take home to the family?) until a fellow sidled up to us in line and slyly slipped around in front as if to take his turn ahead of us. Cornelia (my girlfriend) promptly informed him that we were ahead of him following which he said he’d just been making sure?? He told us that he’d traveled to Dubai on business and was bringing back boxes of mobile phones for resale in Lagos, Nigeria! Who needs free trade agreements huh? I wonder what the markup on the phones has to be to cover his plane ticket, hotel and food in Dubai and the excess baggage charges!!?!?

On boarding the plane, it was fairly orderly, until a gentleman in a pimpin’ shiny light blue suit and rose-coloured sunglasses began shouting at the cabin crew when they informed him he wouldn’t be able to travel to Ethiopia without a visa in place (I believe he was a Congolese national). He made sure that everyone on the plane knew he had a diplomatic passport, while holding up the take-off and insisting that he didn’t deserve to have to spend the night in the Dubai Airport while waiting for a visa…. they finally “off-loaded” him (air travel industry term) and we set off for Ethiopia only 30 min behind schedule. I was surprised though, in all my travels, I have never seen someone become so irate on a plane.

Another surprise was the rap music playing during boarding and during takeoff and ascent. Snoop Doggy Dogg baby…. hahaha. Cornelia and I felt like getting up and dancing in the aisles. :) Very amusing.

We’re now on the ground in Addis Ababa, staying in an ant-infested but otherwise nice and cozy hotel known as the Edsonatra Lodge and Catering Services. THe internet is bloody slow and there is a bar next door playing very loud music (just before some latin style tunes, I can never seem to get away from the latin influence :)) but otherwise we are very happy. We are paying 350 Birr a night (about US$35). The staff here are extremely friendly and except for the ants (and the fact that there is no bathroom en-suite, we are ok with it).

On our way in from the airport, I remarked that in comparison to Rwanda, it felt more secure, safer, somewhat more sedate, despite being a country with a population 10x larger, and a much larger capital city than Rwanda’s Kigali. My impression in those first 10 or 15 minutes was that Rwanda has such a horrible past that it conjures up images in one’s mind and causes one to assume that the people who have suffered such depravity must also be somehow affected in a similar way (though that isn’t the case at all – Rwanda is a fantastic country and has affected me deeply in a way somewhat like Colombia – it really touched my heart). In comparison it is Ethiopia’s reputation for poverty, starvation and disease that dominates my mindset here, not violent crime or war (though it does sit in a rather precarious geopolitical position with Somalia and break-away province Eritrea as its neighbours and had a 30-year civil war).

Other observations is that there appears to be a large Italian influence here, most immediately visible in the form of Italian restaurants and names all over town. But did you know that Ethiopia is the only African state never to have been colonised? There were periods of Italian influence in the late 1890s and 1930s and attempts by Italy to take sovereign control over the country but were never fully successful (there was a brief occupation by Italy in late 1930’s but that’s it).

OK, thats it for tonight. We’re here until the 9th of December. More updates to come.

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