The 14 hour flight/ 10 km from Sao-Paulo to Addis was easy. We each had a row of seats and slept as the plane crossed the Atlantic and the African continent. Canadian tourists can get visa’s at the Airport for US$60. Most of the people in line were from other African countries. Out of 100 people there were maybe 8 Caucasians in line including Eliot and I. This is what black people must feel like in Vancouver. There were women in long hooded orange robes and men in red and green cotton onesies. I overheard some french and chatted with a missionary from Rwanda who had lived in Edmonton.
The parking lot in front of the airport was full of mini-vans parked at all angles. There was an even greater variety of clothing including some hijab wearing women with henna patterns on their hands. I found the hotel pick up by asking around. The traffic and road conditions outside of the airport varied from well-lit, wide boulevards to dark unpaid potholed streets. We arrived at the Caravan hotel at 9.45 pm. When the clerk saw that we were two men, she started chatting with the manager who looked at us uncomfortably. He told us that Ethiopian law does not permit two people of the same gender to stay in a hotel room with one bed. I indicated to him that booking.com did not indicate that there was a restriction and I raised my voice a bit. The manager apologized and told us that they could put a cot in the room and that there would be no problem. We agreed to wait for the cot and I calmed down. Ethiopians do not like confrontation and you rarely see loud arguments. The manager seemed relieved and I got the sense that he was embarrassed by Ethiopian law rather than repulsed by us. Two muslim women in hijabs who checked in at the same time also had to get a separate bed. So at least they were consistent.
I later found out on-line that same-sex relations are prohibited by law in Ethiopia and punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment. It felt odd to be in a country where my most important relationship is criminalized. Hopefully, with time and development attitudes will change in the same way that they changed in Europe and Canada.
The people at the hotel were so nice to us. They repaired Eliot’s backpack, provided shuttles to and from the airport, stored our luggage and sent our clothing out to laundry. They could not do enough for us they just could not let us stay in a room with one bed.
Ethiopian society is religious and conservative. Most Ethiopians are followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox church an offshoot of the ancient Coptic Christians. Ethiopians will tell you that they were all Jews after the Queen of Sheba married Solomon and that when they later became christians they did not reject the old testament. To this very day they do not eat pork or shellfish (not that this is an option for a land locked country) and get circumcised .
The room was large and comfortable. I turned over the covers on the cot while we slept in the large bed. We awoke to the sound of dogs barking. On March 7, we did a food and city tour of Ethiopia with AddisEats. Our guide took us to various sites and told us the history of the city. The city covers a number of small mountains and valleys. It has rivers, hot springs, a light rail system and a railway to Djibouti.
Addis Ababa means the new flower. It was established in the 19th century by Emperor Menelik ll- a man who unified Ethiopia and resisted the first attempts at Italian colonization. We visited his humble home on a mountain. We then saw the less humble palaces built by Hailie Selassie. Our guide explained that Ethiopia was the only independent black country in the League of Nations and when the Italians were amassing for an invasion Selassie’s appeals for help were ignored “because Ethiopians were black”. I decided not to tell her about the Jews, Czech’s and other people ignored by the League.
On the one day tour we visited:
- The Holy Trinity Church (site of tomb of Emperor Hailie Selassie);
- The National Museum of Ethiopia (home of “Lucy” a potential link between humans and earlier species (see wikipedia post on Lucy); and
- The Red Terror Martyr’s Memorial Museum which commemorates the atrocities committed by the marxist Derg regime overthrew the emperor and ruled Ethiopia from 1974-1991.
We also visited the sprawling Mercato market where we saw the spice, basket and recycling sections. The market was chaotic and it made the Cajamarca market look like a shopping mall by comparison. There were people carrying mattresses and bags of flour and sticks on their heads. Donkeys, taxis and mini-buses jostling for space. Women sitting on the ground with medicinal herbs “this one is for the men” my guide told me and smiled. There were large sacks with spices like black Cardomon as well as coffee. Our guide explained that most of the vendors were Moslem and that they were good merchants. An interesting insight into how Ethiopian culture assigns roles to people by ethnicity and by gender.
We had lunch at a restaurant on the site of a hot spring spa built by the wife of one of the emperors. In the afternoon we did a food tour. Ethiopian food consists of stews and beans and curries eaten injera (large flat sour dough pancake made with Teff or Barley) rather than utensils. The etiquette is to take a piece of injera and use it to scoop up the food on your side of the platter and eating it without letting your fingers touch the inside of your mouth.
On our food tour we were taken to various restaurant around Addis where we tried:
- Injera with meat
- Injera with Shiro (chick pea paste with garlic) with fried tomatoes;
- Beef tibs (like a stir fry);
- Deep Fried tilapia with chilli peppers;
- Traditional Coffee served with incense and barley as part of a ceremony; and
- Avocado and Mango juice.
We could not finish our meal. The guide told us that the restaurants give the left overs to street kids and that we should not feel bad. She also informed us that it was lent and that Christian Ethiopians were fasting for 50 days which means they would only eat a vegan diet.
As we drove around the city we saw churches and modern buildings, corrugated steel huts used as stores, school children in uniform and buildings with bamboo scaffolding. We did not see any fast food chains, shopping malls or large department stores. The super market that we visited was the size of a seven eleven and the shelves were only half full. It rained and the power went out. I also noticed that some restaurants had jerry cans for when the water ran out.
Later in the trip I wandered around Bole by myself (Eliot had a stomach ache). Some people would come up to me and say hello, where are you from? shoeshine? But I never felt threatened despite the fact that to them I was like a walking ATM. I did see a bunch of boys eating food out of a plastic bag and thought that maybe that was the restaurant leftovers our guide told us about.
We finished the tour exhausted and full. The capital showed me the most prosperous side of Ethiopia as well as some of its poor. The next morning we were going to fly north to Gonder and then go into the Simien mountains where we would see people living in remote villages.