Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ethiopia Notes

I don’t care what you say there is nobody could ever capture the essence of this city on film, in blogs, or in photographs. The guidebook we were given quotes an ancient traveler calling Addis Ababa ‘noisy, dusty, sprawling and shambolic’. A hundred years later, he may still be right today but for the 2.8 million people who call it home it does have a certain appeal that I cannot quite nail down.

Maybe it is the fact that this place is so rich in history that around every corner there is a story to tell. On the other hand, maybe the people are so beautiful and culturally proud. We went to church today, yeah I know church with an 11-month-old but after she fell asleep, all was good. The sermon was okay. All in English served by a pastor from the US. Religion is big in Ethiopia you are pretty much Orthodox Christian or Muslim with no in between. It wasn’t so much the sermon that got me thinking it is the people and there undying faith. To look at the big picture you would almost say God dealt them a bad hand. Think about it: drought, famine, poverty, AIDS, war, this place has it all. Yet through it, all these people are incredibly proud.

This afternoon while Kallie was napping I thought about what I would blog today. The thoughts came in chunks so I thought I would kind of blog babble.

The streets of Addis are a shambles the main streets are well paved but all the side streets are patchwork cobblestones. Navigating the streets is an art form; there are very few street signs. Surviving the streets is a challenge with drivers weaving in and out doing, U turns are commonplace. The smog is incredible! Considering Addis has almost no heavy industry it makes it easy to place the blame on the poorly tuned automobiles described previously. Probably 70% of the vehicles are blue and white taxi vans or cars. Its funny to see these vans zipping up and down Bole Road, some guy half out the window calling out the next destination.

“National Stadium!” he yells. An arm waves and the van pulls over. An old man squeezes into an available bench seat after giving the person in the window a couple of Birr (the local currency). Off they go in a cloud of blue smoke.

A couple of kids, probably about 10 or 12 years old, are kicking a little ball down Bole Road. They are oblivious to the cars zipping by. Pass, kick, pass kick and a miss the ball goes into the street. Undeterred the one kid does a quick check and is in the street after it. The cars aren’t slowing down. Near miss a honk and the game goes on down the street as if nothing happened.

The other day, when we were on the way back from getting Kallie we were on one of the major feeder roads of Addis Ababa. It is quite common to see animals at the side of the road or even on the road. Donkeys are still used to tote around heavier items like bricks to construction sites. We were driving along zipping in and out of traffic when up ahead we saw a bull. Actually there were a couple of them just walking down the street. Abraham, our driver, honks his horn thinking they’ll get out of the way as he quickly approaches. He is still full throttle and the bull is still . . . well . . .still there. Rapid deceleration. HONK! We are a mere few inches from this bull. If the bull was breathing hard he’d probably fog up our windshield. But he wasn’t breathing hard because he wasn’t moving. Abraham calls to the farmer or whomever owns these beasts and moves them out of the way. Where is my seatbelt? Oh wait this van doesn’t have any!

Yesterday, we went up to Entoto the former capital of Ethiopia. Entoto is a mountain that was once heavily populated with eucalyptus trees. Of course eucalyptus is not indigenous to Ethiopia and was brought here by Emperor Menelik around the turn of the last century. Eucalyptus did well in the environment. I say it was ‘once heavily populated’ because it is being deforested by these women, known as the ‘fuel wood women’ who cut down the trees and haul them down the mountain to sell the wood for fuel. I’m not kidding. Going up the mountain we saw dozens of women with bundles of tree stalks carrying them down the mountain on their backs. These bundles were about 8 feet long and two or three feet in diameter. The stalks ranged from 1” to 3” in diameter. The bundles must have weighed about 60 lbs. These women were tiny probably not more than 100 lbs. So how much to you think you get for carrying a cumbersome 60 lb bundle of sticks down a mountain several miles to town? Incredibly the going rate for a bundle of fuel wood is only a few dollars!

We went shopping yesterday as Jenny mentioned. Every time we stopped the van we were mobbed by children trying to sell us something or just begging. But begging wasn’t restricted to children, adults half blind or crippled or both would constantly come up to you. “Please I’m starving” was usually what came out of there mouth. I don’t doubt that they were but we were warned not to offer anything. Any amount of generosity on our part does nothing to solve the problem. It was indescribable the gamut of thoughts and feelings running through your head as you are told to look the other way. The marketplaces were the worst for this but even the street outside of our hotel has it’s fair share of street people.

This trip has been an emotional rollercoaster. In my mind I’ve got tons of questions. In my heart I wish I had the answers.

Just keep moving folks. Just keep moving.

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