Ethiopian Exploits

November 14, 2013 - Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Almost one week since I became technically unemployed, five days of which have been spent on Sardinian beaches making it yet indistinguishable from a short break. Although sardinian beaches are not short of the unemployed (confirmed by locals kindly rescuing me after run to a place devoid of infrastructure), this is a dangerous illusion as my motivation for leaving is to use fear to kick start my niggling ambition to build a business. A delay that is likely to extend for another couple of weeks as I explore Ethiopia, reclassified 'thinking time' and hopefully meanwhile accumulating an exponential fear response.

An overrun run lead to a late train, which then got delayed. My run was extended to the terminal arriving with minutes to spare. Procuring a vending machine breakfast, patience was short and I was unsympathetic to a woman who was struggling to operate the machine. Naturally the next 4hrs were spent aside her. Actually a Thai lady surprised to discover that I had been to her non descript town (udon thani) south east of Bangkok. Curious about my attendance I explained I cycled from Bangkok, enroute to Singapore (the easiest to pronounce  comprehensible end point). This was a decidedly impressive feat. When asked about my job, again not an explanation for the back of a matchbox.

'I work in a shop.'

'Ah good job'.

Indeed.

Reiterating my joy of travelling alone in turkey, a country I fled whilst cycling home, a two hour stop over in Istanbul was enough for two independent harassers to try it on. Luckily i noted the more persistent of the two was to be seated at the other end of the plane. Unluckily I had a row of seats to myself and he found me quickly. Admirably persevering despite his absolute lack of English, it made it easy for me to deny him any acknowledgement and he presumably went to try his luck elsewhere.

Curious as to the make up of November's Ethiopian travellers, i discover a melting pot on the flight (which was small and not full). Few were of african and fewer of Ethiopian nationality. A family planning conference accounted for many of the Europeans. At 1am the clock behind the inefficient visa on arrival desk was all the more striking as it was working and misinforming arrivals that it was 7.25. Four officials(?) found themselves behind the desk, one sleeping and three people indiscriminately assigning two visas. The criteria for entry was that you paid, an absence of available passport pages was also no barrier as I witness a visa sticker inserted over some recent stamps. Notably two Italians illogically pay in dollars despite euros being accepted. presumably they had done their homework and also had two passport photos which were equally redundant, much like the four digit fingerprinting machines expectantly illuminated at each terminal. I was asked to take a number of photos, an act would initiate immediate arrest in many countries, additionally baffling as the aesthetics nor the process was worth capturing. Customs officials were preoccupied indecisively sending tourists back and forth between lines. It would be unfair to pretend this process was without entertainment. we were kindly invited to view a power-point presentation on 'Native large endemic animals, followed by several slides of large animals.'

On passing customs wonderinf whether my luggage I wander past the mountains of unclaimed baggage, wondering how i make it to my hostel at this time. I note that unfortunately Ethiopian has a crazy alphabet, thus far has been accompanied by a Latin alphabet or English translation but I imagine this will cause headaches outside of the capital.

At more like 2am I was surprised and grateful to see that Tim (a close Cambridge training partner and fellow cheshire resident) has dragged his father in law out to pick me up. The mission was to find petrol, not because it was in short supply but because the guards didn't fancy getting up to provide any. I was introduced to the 'Ethiopian massage', an unavoidable side effect of travelling on the 'roads'. The addis roads were silent but for packs of dogs and hyenas roaming the streets. This is a drastic contrast to daylight gridlock, the decision to close main roads spontaneously with any entry to certain embassies (israeli, US..) is unlikely to ease this. Security I'm informed is taken seriously. Water is also taken seriously, available but rationed weekly (roughly) delivery, Tims father in law has had a subtle conversation with the village leader extending their right to water during the wedding! As their house is still under construction electricity is not supplied via the mains. A lady running a small bar is diverting some power their way, sadly not enough to supply both the lights and two speakers they have retrieved from hire for the wedding.

I'm woken in the morning with food by I assumed the maid, later to be understood as Salam's grandmother. I am informed that they wanted a young one, as they are more mailable, the first maid would bring random people to the house, arguably a security risk. The second maid was never to be found, on her departure it was discovered that she had used a corner of the room to relieve herself. Their guard is also problematic, somewhat over confident he spends his days and nights asleep. His reasoning is that as he drinks at the same bar as the thieves he is safe from harm- this man is smart.

I am fed at regular intervals, meat (assuming goat) with bread, egg with bread.

Tim's family arrive, we have a coffee ceremony and food with some local relatives. I am introduced to the all purpose pancake. This meeting descends into traditional dancing. This peacock type affair consists primarily of subtle shoulder shrugging and head jerking movements. With little leg action apart from the occasional stamp.

Called up for dance after dance I don't notice the gradual reduction in numbers, as people flake of for bed and the bathroom. Tims dad barry is the first real victim. After being fed again its decided that we try to find our various forms of accommodation. 12 of us packed into the can van is like something from a sitcom, a lost in translation argument erupts, interrupted by chris's brother needing to be sick out of the window helped along with an Ethiopian massage. There is a near collision with a legally drunk driver followed by Barry revisits the pain box. The victims are being put down to a homemade white alcohol, it's potance was evident at arms length. Out of politeness I took a sip before losing it discovering it tasted of earth and burn. We await the next victim to fall.


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