Meating the locals

November 15, 2013 - Addis Abeba, Ethiopia


Let loose in the country of '13months (all months are 30days and they are 7-8 years behind us, depending on the relative position of their new year (Sept 11th!) of sunshine. The 13th month is 5-6days long and has no special function) of sunshine' began in the rain with an exploratory run. It was not successful, with vast numbers of people, traffic, smog and an absence of any uniform surface this was inner city running at its worst. Add in jet lag, altitude and a select dead dog, it was hardly surprising it lasted only 20mins. Ethiopian a country of running heroes, enjoy white runners, the heckles unlike those in China or Liverpool are encouraging.

Without any real plan for the day we wander in Addis, struggling to find any gravitas we again pass the dead dog still relaxing in the rubble. Street signs aren't done, so points of interest were discovered accidentally and infrequently -although apparently there is little to see. Addis resembles a construction site, without any kind of organisation. Partially dug up roads are available for use by anyone/thing that can squeeze past the diggers. Tough luck if your house or business is now suspended at the top of a 20ft  unpropped trench. The only consolation is perhaps the rise in value of your property if it survives and you don't bankrupt before it's complete. The Chinese are working hard to economise in the chaos, building a light railway through the centre of the city. The buildings are reminiscent of their recently brutal communist past, even hosting supermarkets that nobody uses. Unlike a communist regime enterprising indivduals exist, the rise of the shoe-shiners begins solo, progressing to a herd of bibbed shoe-shiners and ultimately achieving a professional shoe-shining centre to your name. And they will shine anything shoes, sandles, trainers or flipflops -shiny they will be but don't expect a colour match.

The Ethiopians are a proud nation, one of the few African countries to have never been colonised, however they have suffered many a regime change. The red terror museum did little for my ignorance, until a tortured survivor of the revolution explained the violent struggles against the communist regime ending in 1991. Many were tortured, jailed or killed, accused of thinking revolutionary thoughts, proof was unnecessary. Mothers crying over their dead were fined and collecting your dead for burial was permitted on payment to the party. The war criminals have in general been arrested, one senior member recently having been picked up in Colorado seen by one of his victims working as a hotel waiter. US police are gathering evidence to extradite for trial. Two others fled to the Italian embassy, they were granted sanctuary there and are still in that building in Addis to this day, unable to leave for fear of trial... Italy has a strange relationship with this country! Nowadays the borders are unsafe but generally Ethiopians are not violent. Petty crime is common, Matt looking like a vulnerable target was circled by a group of kids. Pushing them away without losing any belongings, to a telling off from the surrounding adults. Generally passersby enjoy a chase, as we observe up to 12 people chasing a thief across a dug out road. I'm secretly hoping to see another, the chancer was definitely a catchable target. An over-emphasise on security exists everywhere, metal detectors sit outside many shops, hotels and clubs. We are always directed through, setting off the alarm and we pass the guards without interest.

The Ethiopian birr is the local currency, 30 birr to £1. With the largest note at 100birr we wander around with wallets like mafia agents. As expected life is cheap (in the monetary and biological sense) but this doesn't squash my instinct to aggressively negotiate. With beer at around 50p/pint Tim's stag do had the potential to get messy. Unfortunately for us, he was kept in check by regular called from the bride. We were rapidly sobered taking packed, furry-dashboard vans from venue to venue, not necessarily on the correct side of the dual carriageway. The flirt bar was in the Vegas district of Addis. A group photo on an illuminated roundabout was broken up by a man chasing us with a stick, presumably unhappy. The night ended earlier than hoped for some as he realised his challenging Ethiopian target turned out to require some extra motivation to complete his evening. Vegas had also powered down, we headed home in pitch black.

1 Comment

tim johnston:
November 17, 2013
Charlotte, contact my runner, Fantu. She'll show you plenty of traffic-free places to run. Ditto my mate Noel, former Swiss running mag editor. He can also fix you up with a tailored country tour, plus driver and guide. Tel. nos.: Fantu 0913670970; Noel 0913400899, email
Good luck in the GER. I'll buy you a drink if you break 40 mins!


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