Friday, March 23, 2007

Addis Ohh La La

I love watching various programs on TV where people talk about traveling and where they’ve been. “I’ve been to Paris, Russia, India, Peru, and Africa.” When did we get downgraded from a continent to a country? People seem to think that if they’ve been to one African country they’ve been to them all. And who can blame them? Paris, London, Moscow, Milan; they’re all exactly the same… Aren’t they?

Yeah, not so much.

Visiting Addis has brought this home more than ever. Ethiopia is only two hours away from Kenya by air – not that far by modern standards, really. But after a few days in Addis it is more obvious than ever that no matter how close geographically two countries may be they always have their own stamp to put on this great African continent.

First off, I have to point out that the first things most people – OK most men – notice about Ethiopia are the people – specifically the women. According to every single one of Hubby’s colleagues (all of whom brought up the topic independently and without prompting) Ethiopia is home to the most beautiful women on the planet. I won’t venture an opinion one-way or the other on that front but I will point out that the men who shared their thoughts on this subject came from a variety of different background and ages. Which only goes to prove that all men are 16-year-old perverts at heart. God bless ‘em!

The Organization’s Addis campus is beautiful. Unlike its hilly sister in Nairobi, these sprawling grounds were not home to a small farm (although we did see what one colleague called a Lesbian Dikdik) and was reached only after driving through a small construction site. (Although, if you take the back way to the Organization’s home campus maybe it isn’t so different!) Our temporary Addis home seemed to resonate a welcoming vibe wherever we went. The local bar was a common meeting place for people on their way to a friendly squash match or simply after work drinks. International staff and local workers blended seamlessly everywhere I looked.

The more I explored Addis the more I noted its differences from Nairobi. If I had to liken Addis Ababa to one place I have visited it would be Delhi. Both cities are sprawling metropolises that don’t seem to end or even taper off in any way that would tell a visitor to its environs that they had left the city limits. The winding maze of roads immediately screamed the need for a driver to navigate them. The left hand drive roads, it should be noted, were, for the most part, newly constructed and in very good condition – at least to someone coming from the land that perfected the pothole.

There was a lot of construction going on when we were there. Buildings were being erected faster, we were told, than they would find tenants to fill them. Interesting architecture was evident in everything from private homes to public buildings. Small shops along the side of the road no bigger than 7-11’s reiterated the Delhi-esque feeling. New shops were part of the construction boom giving the illusion of prosperity in the capital.

Or, perhaps, I should say, gave the illusion of prosperity beyond the borders of that capital city. If reports that I read upon my return to Nairobi are to be believed, the poverty that we all heard so much about back in 1984 has certainly been curbed but is still a very real thing for most Ethiopians. As someone who lived in Delhi I didn’t find the beggars in Addis to be terribly prevalent but there were certainly more than we have here in Nairobi.

Yet I don’t want you to think that I didn’t like Addis Ababa because I did. With a thriving art scene, and multicultural urban landscape it is definitely somewhere I would have Hubby consider for our next posting. The friendly people we met are, of course, no small part of that wonderfully positive first impression.

So is going to Addis enough to make me think that I’ve seen all of Ethiopia? Goodness no! I look forward to exploring the country beyond the beautiful mountains that frame the capital’s borders. And more than that, I look forward to returning to renew the friendships we made and perhaps, if I’m lucky, make some new ones.

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