Addis Ababa, meaning the New Flower in Amharic, is the capital of Ethiopia. Founded in 1866 by emperor Menelik II hosts more than 4 million people and growing at 3,8% annually! It did not look like this when my taxi drove me from the airport to the Intercontinental at 2am. My first impression was that I arrived in a ghost city. Empty, poorly lit roads, old buildings that seem to be abandoned. I came here for business and my first thought was “where the hell did I come to?”.
I woke up in a different city. Now I could relate, I am yet in an another African capital. Crowds of people, crazy traffic, dust and noise. I was here for a conference on GIS held at the UN conference center. My friend Gaby was waiting for me there, having arrived one day earlier. He was born and raised here until the age of 10 when his family decided to leave and return to Greece after Haile Selassie was overthrown and the new regime became unfriendly to foreigners. We spent the day with business affairs and returned to the hotel for some rest before dinner.
Gaby wanted me to taste Ethiopian cuisine and see some of the culture, so he chose a touristic place that would offer the whole package. He warned me that this would be touristic but it was probably the best chance to get a quick view of the Ethiopian way in one short evening. The place was noisy and reminded me of the touristic tavernas in Greece. We got a table next to the dancing floor where a local group was performing.
One thing that impressed me in Ethiopia was the beauty of the women and our waitress was no exception. Gaby ordered the food and shortly our beautiful hostess came back with water to wash our hands. Have I mentioned that people here eat with their hands? The food is served in a big round tray lined with Injera, a spongy thing that serves as bread and utensil! It is utterly tasteless, or rather it tastes like sponge and you use it to grab the food. The food – a variety of meat and vegetables – is tasty and spicy and would enjoy it much more if I did not have to eat it together with the sponge.
Having completed my business I decided to take a city tour on the next day. I did not have much time as I had to catch an evening flight to Entebbe. My driver picked me up from the hotel and drove me to the National Museum. It is a small and poorly maintained museum but it is definitely worth a visit, mainly for the most famous of its exhibits: the fossil fragments of Lucy, our most distant ancestor. Other exhibits include the throne of Haile Sellasie and on the upper floor a collection of dresses, tools and weaponry of the various tribes of Ethiopia. They could do a lot more to improve this place.
The tour continued with a stop in the old Palace, now part of the University of Addis Ababa, where I had the chance to visit the emperor’s quarter including a western style bathroom, obviously very exotic for local standards at the time.
The we drove to the nearby mountain to get a panoramic view of the city.
Before returning to the hotel, we stopped at the Mercato, a chaotic and noisy market place with a myriad of little shops. I did not feel at all secure walking around with my camera, so after a short walk I quickly got back to the car.
I cannot say that I am impressed, but Addis Ababa is interesting in its own way. Once the synonym of poverty, Ethiopia is leaving quickly its past and it is amazing that today you rarely see people begging in the streets.