Friday, January 7, 2011

Addis Ababa: My First Africa

Sitting on my newly 'built' bed, in my bedroom in Jerusalem on Prophet Street, it seems like a long way from the silly five days I had in Addis Ababa. Officially though, I'm actually on Ethiopian land right now - I live in the former Ethiopian embassy and pay my monthly rent to the Ethiopian government. My life always operates in a weird cyclical fashion.

A few weeks ago, I had a five day stopover in the capital of Ethiopia, the sprawling, dusty and surprisingly cold city of Addis Ababa. My photos from this mini-trip are sporadic, random and often taken from the window of a taxi (the lovely blue Ladas featured above). This is because walking around taking photos is always weird, but especially so in Addis; a near limbless beggar asking for a few Birr while I stroll past with my $900 camera is a bit much, even for me, with my iron-clad stomach for the awkwardness of my comparative wealth. I know there are ways around this awkwardness, but they tend to require knowing people and staying in a place more than five days.

One day, with a list of heinous bureaucratic chores, Björn, Maryanne and I headed to the Hilton to achieve them and for some colonial times. These two delightful and warm people held my hand while I adjusted to the beat of the city. Björn is a Swiss gentleman who has had such experiences as peace keeping post-conflict in Kosovo and obtaining South African citizenship. Maryanne is living in Montpellier, studying to be a speech therapist and having what sounds like a very fabulous existence. Both were in Ethiopia for a few months to travel, and I was fiercely envious of their travel plans and later, of the photos they posted of their hijinks.

I contacted a young German guy studying sociology in Addis Ababa, and ended up having the most wonderful evening in his apartment (below). Till travelled through the African continent a few years ago, fell headlong in love with Ethiopia and was offered a scholarship to scope out Addis as a possible exchange option for people doing African studies. He is only 23, and makes me wince at how little I've done comparatively. He described his flatmate Kume as being 'like a brother' to him and when I met him I could see why. Kume is a multilingual genius, warm and full of interesting stories, which I got to hear over an evening of Khat chewing, sheesha and Lauryn Hill in their apartment and with their friends.

Most of my time in Addis I simply walked the streets, got lost and talked to people, but I decided that since I was there, it was also important to do a few of the more 'cultural' things. For example, I went to the Museum to see 'Lucy' - unfortunately she was away in the States: "on vacation, 'cos you know all Ethiopians want to go to the U.S.A." my tour guide quipped.

After my tour guide refused payment, on the grounds that I'm a student, and then took me out for coffee, I went for a stroll around the University grounds:

Above: the Law library. Below: a student cafe surrounded by purple flowers.

While I was out having my adventures, Pierre stayed right here; in my room, eating oranges (see pictures below). While I love Pierre very much and would never speak badly of him, he can be a tad conservative, or maybe a little scaredy-cat, so he was not so keen on the idea of 'traipsing around the rues of Africa' ...

... However, every night, when I was trying to sleep, he would keep me awake for hours asking me to tell him again about the fruit stands, the amharic dancing, the Italian architecture, the historic struggle (and success) against colonialism, why Haile Selassie is a messianic figure in the Rastafari faith, what the children said to me today on the street, what the biggest open-air market in Africa is like, the lurching busses, the mountains in the distance, sometimes obscured by the dusty smog, and, mostly, about the most stunning people on Earth.

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