Addis Ababa the Ethiopian capital is a large expanding city cradled between two mountains. It’s elevated at 2700 Ft. It was quite cold and yesterday we had a torrential downpour for about 2 hrs. With good sized hail. As I only have one set of warm clothes I adorned half my wardrobe to keep warm!
I’m not sure if the air was thinner, the pollution thicker or the 3 half liters of St George the local beer was stronger but I found the climb to the top hotel “the face of Addis” very difficult. The huge cement slabs laid into the face of the mountain left me gasping and nauseous when id reached the top! Our American administrator was quite disgusted that this Aussie refused more beer and instead opted for water and eventually a cigarette!
The city is a mix of the old and the new. The haves and the have not’s. High rise buildings, apartments, businesses, and restaurants are being constructed at a rampant pace; these cater to the affluent business men and their foreign allies, while hundreds of tin shanties street stalls, constructed 2x2mts of corrugated iron and tarps, line the outskirts offering their simple wears for a pittance of the price. The average daily wage in Addis is 30 Birr, that’s about $1.50 Aus. At the “super market” the daily paper was 55 Birr.
The streets are crowded with old cars from the 70s/80s, all blowing huge plumes of black smoke as they make their crowded way around the city. They drive on the right side of the road and have left hand drives which both I and our drivers aren’t quite yet used to as I keep trying to get in to the driver’s side of the car! It really is very polluted with petrol fumes.
As I was left to my own devices earlier in the day I strolled the dirty, rubbish strewn streets and found a hair dresser. In the 3 x 3 meter shop I had my out of control hair platted through a series of pointing and miming as only Arabic was spoken. After 2.5 hrs.’ she charged me 30 birr. I paid 55 and we both were happy!
The whole process was entertaining, from watching the use of household bleach to dye the black hair to a color of burnt orange, the hair straightener (looked like a soldering iron) being heated over a dish of pure alcohol set alight, to the use of pure olive oil sprayed from a can to promote shine and hydrate damaged hair! The customers, brought with them their own shampoo/conditioner and had their hair washed by jug over a bucket. All interesting and part of the adventure! Anyway my hair may look rEdiculous but it’s under control, easy to manage, a hell of a lot cooler and hopefully nit proof!
So we left for the airport at 5:45am processed and ready to board by 6:45am (security’s pretty tight here, you even go through a metal detector and get frisked going into pubs/ bars/ restaurants and the movies) so despite our early arrival and projected 7:15am boarding time we left at 10:30! Mmmm remember what they said about the time here!!! At least we had the right day in 2004!
The flight was pretty good with only one episode of thinking I was gonna loose my cookies. Fortunately some poor bloke across from me was freaking out, which calmed me by trying to calm and reassure him! Like our South African pharmacist next to me said, it’s much better to crash in a small plane because they are easier to control than a big one! Very reassuring, thank you!
Anyway we made it safely landing on a thin strip of red dirt cut out of the bush, which reminded me a lot of an Aussie bush track up north. We got off the plane to a rush of oven like air of 43 degrees. We had to wait out on the tarmac till our luggage was brought over and then unload it ourselves before making our way to the car. (I’ve been lugging over 50kg since Paris as they gave me a case as big as my backpack to take to Mattar)
There were about 20 range rover/land cruisers from the UN and other NGOs but of course MSF had the crappy minivan, with no aircon or suspension!!!!! It was hotter than hell! The 17km to Gambella took about 30 minutes, which isn’t too bad… in Sri Lankan standards!
Along the way we passed locals making charcoal by cutting wood and burying it under mounds of dirt with a fire on top. We passed many bags of charred wood on the road side. A refugee camp was on the outskirts housing thousands of South Sudanese under various shrubs and trees. Kids shouted and waved vigorously, huge smiles gleaming from their pitch black faces, and my excitement for this new adventure sprung to a new level.