The Road Home

November 25, 2013 - Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Sighting 'Dire Fashion', 'Chicken Juice Smoothie' and the 'Semen Cafe' it's sadly back to Addis, we reunite with those who have not left the city all week. It would be unreasonable to suggest that they had left the hotel poolside -perfectly understandable. Apart from initial, alien-culture novelty, Addis does nothing for tourists.

The main attraction is likely the national museum, the dry, soviet-style home to Lucy. Lucy is believed to be the earliest discovered 'human' skeleton. It would not be surprising if she was a direct descendant of Polly, tiny at almost 3ft and although shown standing on two limbs, her centre of balance is probably best suited to four.
I met a friend consulting a state owned energy company. A frustrating task, the issue common to many Ethiopian businesses: an oversized, under-skilled labour force. With the head of IT unsure of his own email address it would be an understatement to say that some change is required. As a state run company reducing numbers is not an option and with jobs given to friends and family (presumably a system inherited from the Italians). It looks as if the consultants are in their typical powerless, advisory position.
Sunday brought the 'Great Ethiopian Run' self proclaimed Africa's biggest race with self proclaimed 37,000 participants. Yet without an entry t-shirt (no numbers in the mass race), I suffer slightly from FOMO (fear of missing out -a disease with which I am particularly susceptible). Race entry was 1140 birr for foreigners and 100 for Ethiopians. When I find a failing, enterprising local selling official entries for 500birr, I leave him sweat for a few hours and then buy an entry for 250.
Ahead of the race there were serious security concerns, a couple of Somalians cleverly blew themselves up manufacturing a bomb planned for last week's Nigeria-Ethiopia football match. A repeat attack on the high profile race was feared, the children's race was cancelled, foreign companies advised staff not to participate, some going as far as sending their employees home. The race itself was only given the go ahead late the night before. It turned out to be a classic foreign office over-reaction, with no problems on the day.
Foreigners were invited to a 'pasta party (fundraising and sponsorship opportunity)' at the Hilton hotel (the sickeningly plush base for many an 'aid agency' deliberating the troubles of those metres in distance but lightyears in living standards away, over a coffee costing several family's monthly income. Just £3 a month can keep these theorisers distanced from the problem). Obviously my entry did not include such a perk but the security disappointingly posed little challenge. The Ethiopians weren't missing much: lots of pasta, lots of tedious thank you's and admin chat. Helga a Norwegian MALE, was given an over-generous podium slot. For the world's most developed country he had some of the poorest English experienced this week, following a collated donation summing the equivalent to four months salary for an average Norwegian he was judged a hero. However a fundamental supporter of the race, the legend Haile Gabrselassie made the evening, even buying his own book back when the charity auction failed to inspire.
The race itself was less of a run, more of a party -suiting me perfectly. With the course map displaying music stations (7 of them) in preference to mile markers, not surprisingly it turned out to be 'The Great Ethiopian 9km'. Also without any timing system, this missing kilometre compensated well for the altitude effect on performances. With my behaviour still governed by my lower abdomen, I'd have happily missed many more km's but I was pleased to beat Helga. Certainly not alone in taking pitstops, many locals jumping between bars then back onto the course. Probably less than 50% of finishers ran the full course with many sections open to shortcuts.
My final day in Addis was spent culturally. Joining a trip with Jackie (a previous northern team manager) and her sister we set off for a rock hewn church. The famous churches carved into rock are to be found in northern Ethiopia - an internal flight away, but this experience more than filled me in. A sunken rock church/cave was found in an obscure village, asked to take our shoes off before entering the bizarrely furnished rock cave we assumed it was still in use. Creeping around the perimeter, people were eerily spotted crouching hidden behind tapestries on the wall. As I see a group of three in more fancy dress, a bloke in a mask, one with a kettle and another with a stick, I'm unsure whether this is all part of the show. They disappear to the dark centre of the cave. As we try to peer through partially closed doors it appears we are being shut out. Our local tail steps in as we refuse to take the hint, pulling us away explaining that they are orthodox christians and we are not allowed in.
Our second stop involved a local archeological site, predominantly featuring hippopotamus bones. We were stunned to also discover an array of ancient skulls from homosapien to homoerectus left causally on tables for all to handle (and potentially remove), left in buildings with no doors.. Sharing air space with such items in the UK would be near impossibility.
Attempting to delay our return to Addis we ask out driver to stop for a break. The carefully selected shack housed no coke and no milk, desperate or daring we drink the water from an unknown source. Having spent all day scanning the African horizon for kids with size four feet, Jackie finally finds a target for her old trainers. Showing apt selection criteria (needing to be active, have crap shoes and not mention the word money). The first couple of candidates in this random village turned down the offer much to the entertainment of our coffee drinking neighbours. We assume because they understood her to be trying to sell them. After cautiously watching, one male chancer approaches for the shoes, on receipt he sprints off followed by his less daring friends. At least we know he runs..
The evening was spent trying to absorb our final dose of vitamin D and shoulder jerking before our 2am plunge back to the British winter.
It has been an incredible two weeks, honoured to be invited by Tim and Selam to share their wedding day. As much as I jest, in reality the Ethiopians are an admirable nation, extremely peacefully-natured, family orientated and relaxed yet lively, sociable and happy. Making time spent alongside them great fun, once more I am privileged to have been invited to participate in many aspects of their lives.
Sat watching a crowd of Ethiopians elaborately shake an array of body parts I'm not even sure I'm own, in a themed bar with a stranger array of outfits, it certainly does feel a million miles from home. It's hard to imagine that in twelve hours I will be back resuming life as normal (debatable as to whether I have ever experienced such an existence) but I will be at home, cold and surrounded by familiar faces even if my future is far from predictable..
Until next time :)
Congrats to Selam and Tim and all the others who made this such an enjoyable experience.

1 Comment

Chris Newman:
November 25, 2013
Fascinating reading again Charlotte - good luck in whatever you decide to do next. Maybe travel writing as a sideline ( with a good editor too of course!
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