Thursday, August 20, 2015


NL Tanzania was a tad too busy for any kind of updates so I will pick up at the end on my flight out from Dar to Addis. I left Dar on a 4:30 flight to Addis, with little to report on the three-hour journey.

I arrived to the Bole Airport in Addis, with a visa already purchased. I had been debating if I would travel up from Tanzania through Kenya to Ethiopia, which would require a visa prior for entry into Ethiopia. In the end, I decided to skip Kenya for now because I was more excited for Ethiopia. The visa prior cost me closer to $150 but if I had just got it on arrival it would have been $50. I wanted to keep my options open—so it goes.

Addis is a relatively new capital of Ethiopia.  The country has a number of capitals that date back much earlier, but Addis Ababa ("New Flower") became the capital in the 1890s because Emperor Menelik's consort Teitu had a house built in the area in 1886--outside of then-current capital Entoto north of Addis.  While Addis lacked the political or strategic value of Entoto, it was pleasant enough and Menelik was powerful enough to move his court to Addis.  He almost moved it out to a new capital he was building because it lacked enough firewood for the burgeoning population, but an adviser suggested planting eucalyptus trees and solved the problem. 

These days, Addis is considered the "diplomatic capital" of Africa since it hosts both the African Union (formerly "Organization of African Unity") and the UN's Africa division.

For starters, it is cold here. Probably in the low 70s or colder (thanks Mom, your Hanukkah gift still keeps your boy warm). Also, apparently I have come in the rainy season so it is quite wet and drizzly. Since I was arriving later in the evening, and didn't want to start fussing with transport and finding a hotel, I used a free night I had with for a nice place called Trinity Hotel not far from the airport, which had free airport transfer. The place was fine, although a little expensive for what it was—not that it mattered since it was free for me.

I checked in, and ventured out around Bole Road to find some dinner. I found a little restaurant and bar that had some delicious tibs (sauteed beef cooked with peppers and onions) on some spongy injera bread that I washed down with a cold St. George Beer—the patron saint of Ethiopia (prob both saint and beer). I ventured back to the hotel for an early night after an exhausting few weeks on the NL program.

I woke up early the next morning and had some breakfast at the hotel. I checked out, and grabbed a cab over to Piazza—the area I planned to stay in. I asked the hotel staff how much they would pay for a cab over there. Not more than 150 birr ($7.50), so I began my bargaining. The taxis are all old Soviet ladas that definitely show their age. The taxi wanted 300 birr, but I wouldn't budge past 150. Finally he agreed and I was on my way north across town. I chatted with the driver a bit, who was an amiable fellow. He was convinced I was Mossad. He told me how he was a soldier in Mengistu's army when he was 17—but not the serious sort of soldier but rather the kind that when fired at, would toss his rifle and run.

We found our way over to the Piazza area, and I spied the Itegue Taitu Hotel. The Taitu Hotel was Addis' first hotel—built in 1907 on the whims of King Menelik's wife Itegue. The guidebook had said it was surprisingly affordable, so I decided to check it out. It wasn't bad at 300 Birr ($15) a night for a room with hot shower, but no breakfast. I splurged the extra 100 birr ($5) for a private shower (such luxuries, I know....) The rooms do look a bit from a century prior, but comfy enough.

I dropped my stuff, and wandered around for lunch. I found an alley way of blood and carcasses, and wandered down until I found a butchery with a restaurant attached to it. It was a lil halal butchery that I wandered into—and stood out just a tad. But I dived in, and took a seat and got some tibs. The place gave me a small bowl of carrot-ginger soup to have while I waited, then brought out a fresh plate of tibs that was delicious.

After lunch, I wandered over to St. George Cathedral, which was built by Emperor Menelik II after his victory in 1896 over Italy at the Battle of Adwa.  However, the place was packed because it was a festival day.

Instead, I headed over to Addis Ababa University, which was formerly the grounds of Emperor Haile Selasie.  As I walked through the gardens, I saw a set of concrete stairs with a small Lion of Judah on top.  Turns out it was built by Fascist Italy to mark the rise of fascism and the takeover of Italy.  Inside the old palace now resides the Ethnological Museum.  The museum discussed its history as palace for Emperor Selassie until its present status.  The exhibits were interesting, chronicling Ethiopian cultural traditions in a different manner--from Birth until Death.  There were children's tales, and birth rites, on through different cultural traditions.  It was an interesting space, where I learned a lot about the "Land of People with Burnt Faces," as the Greeks dubbed the "Aethiops."  Funny how it is often others' definitions that stick--like Japan as the Land of the Rising Sun--to China.  

On the second floor, there were the old furniture of Emperor Selassie and his family, including a mirror that bore a bullet hole from the 1960 coup.  There were also exhibits of Ethiopian crosses and iconography, as well as musical instruments.

As I left the museum, I ducked into the student cafe by double-decker buses brought from London to Addis by Selassie.  I sipped traditional coffee as I perked up onto the next museum.  

I walked down Algeria Street until I reached the Ethiopian National Museum--home of Lucy.  I wandered through the centuries-old artifacts, and past the royal belongings.  I found my way down to an amazing exhibition on evolution.  There were bones of extinct animals like sabre-tooth tigers and savannah pigs. And of course, Lucy.  There were models of Lucy, whose actual bones are kept stored. Lucy happens to be our 3.2 million year old biped cousin, who shattered previous conceptions that only after our brains grew bigger did we walk upright.  Nothing to make you feel insignificant than trying to fathom a distant relation of 3.2 million years.

After the museum, I literally got caught in a downpour.  I ended up taking refuge with some teens under a blue tarp on the side of the road.  I just smiled as the heavy rain pellets beat out a percussive melody to follow the music on one of the teen's phone.  As the rain let up, I caught a cab back to my hotel but was subsequently hailed upon.  HAIL!  In Africa.

I spent the evening relaxing, eating doro watt at the hotel.  I had hoped to catch some jazz at the hotel, but the jazz club closed 6 months prior after a fire.  So I ventured out and found some Ethiopian baklava before retiring for an early night of movies.

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