Monday, February 6, 2012

Addis Ababa

So there we are, finally, in Addis Ababa. A huge city, not particularly pretty. There is not really an old core, the town has been established only a little over 100 years ago, in 1887, and has been added to afterwards, by the Italians who invaded Ethiopia in the run-up to the Second World War, and quite likely also by the Derg, the communists who overthrew emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, and their allies: lots of buildings have this Soviet-era look: functional architecture, euphemism for square box devoid of any fantasy. Not pretty. There is the city center, with all the businesses and state offices, and two areas where most of the hotels and restaurants are, the Piazza - as the name suggests established by the Italians -, and a newer area around Bole road. Neither is particularly attractive. Large avenues connecting the various neighbourhoods are somewhat busy, lots of taxis – every model Lada ever made, I guess - and mini-buses, but few heavy trucks. Traffic is a lot less chaotic than one would expect, and a lot less aggressive, too. Many of the larger streets have sidewalks, but these are sometimes interrupted, for no apparent reason – the tiles used just run out, sidewalk continues into a gravel patch, and with luck tiles appear again a little further. More dangerously, sometimes there are huge holes in the sidewalk, I mean, you could disappear in one of those. All of this creates a bit of a shabby look, but at the same time most of the town is reasonably clean, at least visibly (although in many places the smells suggest this town is also being used as public toilet).
So why are we here in the first place?
Well, one needs to enter Ethiopia through an international airport, and we also had to arrange some visas. At 2400 m altitude, the climate is very pleasant, solid sunshine throughout the day, not too hot – say, a nice 25o or so. And on top of that, according to our guide books there are a few things worthwhile visiting.
Everybody will have their own favourites, of course, but for us it is the Mercato market, a huge expanse of narrow streets, where you can, according to the Lonely Planet, buy everything you want, from camels to Kalasnikovs. We found neither - fair enough, weren’t looking for them -, but we thoroughly enjoyed the place. There is a certain quality in meandering through the market, trying to avoid the donkeys, the handcarts, the pickpockets, and the people carrying heavy sacks of I-don’t-know-what on their heads, or stacks of boxes, or a mountain of enormous empty plastic containers. The most picturesque are the streets lined with farm produce and their sellers, often women with large straw hats against the sun. Or perhaps picturesque is not the right word, and in any case many object to having their picture taken, but it is colourful. A somewhat organized mess. In which we can get ourselves lost for hours, easily.
Most people are very friendly, in for a good laugh. Even if they initially react angrily over the taking of photos, they ease up quickly in response to a smile, a joke, or an apology. And it is not only us looking at all these different Ethiopians, we are equally being looked at, the only foreigners in the entire neighbourhood.

1. market women in Mercato (not unlike Haiti, no?)

 2. bottle transport, Mercato
  3. selling greens, Mercato
4. a hole in the wall - one of the few real shops in Mercato!
 5. every size, every colour, just try to find a matching pair (Mercato)
 6. I told you, some people carry mountains of plastic on their heads! (Mercato)

7, 8. and just to come back to an earlier post, this is the Addis Ababa railway station, unused for quite some time now; this is also the end of the line, obviously...

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