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14 February 2015
Our first Ethiopian coffee and a gorgeous sunrise- Lion King style- on our flight to Addis Ababa. I love this continent. Ethiopian Airlines was a real gem. Though only a two hour flight from Nairobi we still got a piping hot breakfast of seasoned, spicy potatoes and a fluffy egg loaf. After my first I went to the back to get another strong, thick, black cup of joe. The flight attendant tried the carafe but it was empty so she pulled out jar of Nescafe instant coffee and made me a cup. All my hopes and dreams of Ethiopian coffee were instantly dashed. I went back to my seat, dejected, and shared the news with Adessa. But after a swig we both decided it wasn’t the same coffee as before so my hopes and dreams returned unscathed. We shared the plane with the Kenyan women’s national field hockey team on their way to Uruguay to play. Isn’t that fun?
We arrived in Addis to blue skies and the sun on our faces. Upon entering the country we were screened for Ebola via opto-therm scanners (twice) and a survey from the Ministry of Health asking if we’d been bleeding from our rectums as of late. We passed! And for all those of you worried about us, Ethiopia is proudly Ebola-free. Getting an Ethiopian visa was quite easy. Our fun started when we tried to get our bags through customs. Good ol’ Maci- all our bags were present and accounted for, and Sandy’s was still taped up and zip-tied. Cattaneo and Wells had warned us it might be a hassle getting through customs but we had our smiling, understanding faces on and were ready to do battle. They only ever opened two of our six bags and several people came to half-heartedly rummage through them, all asking the same question “Medicine?” Yes, medicine. While we were waiting our escort, Zelalem, showed up holding a sign reading “Jamie Narcken”. Awesome! We’re the Narckens! We witnessed plenty of others going through customs with bags of shoes, clothes, bolts of cloth, and formal & wedding dresses, but they all got to leave. After an hour of standing there a man came out and told Zelalem we would need to leave the bags until Monday when the Minister of Health could inspect them himself. Uh, no. I could only imagine Cattaneo’s reaction if we told him they kept our bags, though it would probably be very entertaining. I don’t call him the Argentine Tornado for nothing. I asked to speak to someone who spoke English so we could sort this out and the customs dude pointed out a random man going through paperwork across the customs way. Zelalem went to speak to him for us and after a few minutes the man came over and briefly looked through the two open suitcases, asked if all our bags had the same contents, then sent us on our way. Success!
We’ll have a driver- Solomon- while we’re here to get back and forth from hostel to hospital for those of us who are worried about us getting around. Addis does have street names but locals give them all nicknames so no one knows where anything is except by the landmarks (and hence the nicknames) around it. Our hostel was across from the Washington Hotel, near the Atlas Hotel. Solomon and Zelalem had to call the hostel for directions and still had to ask like three people on the street for help. Mr. Martin’s (or MM) Cozy Place is on a quiet little side street and has a lovely garden, a roof top terrace, free breakfast, free wifi, and free drinking water for only $33/night for the three of us. It says it all right there in the name.
After 38 hrs of travel we were tired and dirty, but ready for adventure. We set out walking to see where we might end up. Addis has an estimated population of four million (but probably closer to seven or eight million) and is growing, growing, growing. There is building, road, and rail construction everywhere you look, and plenty of traffic and pedestrians to contend with.
After lunch we caught a taxi to Merkato, Africa’s largest outdoor market. I was expecting a central marketplace with different stalls, but Merkato is street after street after alley after street, stall after stall after stall. It’s massive. And crowded. And we stuck out like sore thumbs. We picked up an escort almost right away who wanted to show us different shops on our way to his shop, of course. People stared, some said hello, some welcomed us to their country, and a few wished us a happy Valentine’s Day. One lady told us she didn’t like Valentine’s Day “It’s not my culture”. It’s nobody’s culture, lady, it’s made up. None of us gals care for Valentine’s Day either.
We eventually made it to our escort’s place- a scarf and dress shop- and while everything was lovely, everything was also overpriced. I wasn’t in the market for anything so I sat and watched while the girls haggled. A woman in the shop was eating injera and some kind of spiced meat and offered me a bite. She tried to hand-feed me but I took it out of her hand and took a bite, then offered the rest to the girls. It was hot as hell. She just laughed and offered some plain injera to kill the bite, which didn’t help. Injera is like a very porous sourdough pancake which Ethiopians use to scoop up other food. My mouth was still on fire so she offered me a plain piece of bread which I did let her place gently on my tongue. That’s the Ethiopian way, to feed by hand, and it’s apparently quite disrespectful to refuse. There’s a word for it but for the life of me I can’t find what it is. A little help from Ethiopian friends? The gals didn’t end up buying anything from the shop so we lost our escort. Sandy asked us if we thought the market was dirty. Meh, not bad. She asked us if we thought the merchants were pushy. No way, those guys were mild. After a “No, thank you” most of them thanked us. One woman did reach into Adessa’s bag but I saw her and Adessa felt her and the pocket she reached into just had some crackers and cheese in it so we weren’t too concerned. That same lady grabbed my butt as I walked by. What a rascal!
We didn’t have any trouble until we tried to get a taxi back to the hostel. A taxi driver agreed on a price, then after we got into the car increased it by 50 birr. We told him we were paying the original price but he insisted so we started to get out of the car and he agreed to the original price again. Meanwhile two or three of his cronies surrounded the taxi and told us we were going to pay the driver more than what we had bargained for. No we weren’t. They told us we were going to give him a tip. No we weren’t. One of them asked where we were from and when we told him “America” he told us in an angry voice that Ethiopians hate Americans and we shouldn’t tell anyone we were from there, but that we were from Russia instead. I used to deny the States when I traveled. I used to tell people I was from Canada. But then I went to Dachau, a concentration camp outside of Munich that was liberated by the Americans, and after seeing photos of the troops rolling in and the prisoners celebrating their arrival I stopped denying the States. I’m proud to be an American, I love our country. And we paid the driver what we originally agreed on.
After a lovely shower went to bed by 6:00p with my second favorite bed partner, Nyquil.
Enjoy some Ethiopian tunes!