Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Day 1 I’m in Ethiopia for about 5 days – with one other colleague – for a public health conference. It’s quite an unusual place to be sent for work, but I’m thrilled to be here. After Ethiopia, I will head off on my own towards Nairobi for the start of a 10-day safari with a whole bunch of strangers.
In Addis: I’m staying at a tired Hilton – clearly unchanged since the 70s – with smoking permitted and a dusty little Western Union office buzzing away. The window overlooks a sprawling shantytown, though incongruously most of the homes boast satellite dishes. In the distance are taller buildings, almost all of which seem to be mid-construction: encircled by a rickety skeleton of eucalyptus branch scaffolding.
My first morning here, I got up and went to stretch in the strong sun by the pool. In the afternoon, I caught a taxi to get to the conference. Traffic is perpetually locked at standstill since there are no traffic lights or signs, so it’s every driver for their self. There are throngs of people walking amongst cars, looming in the windows trying to sell you items or just to stare in. Honestly, it feels sinister when you aren’t used to it because it’s hard to read intensions and expressions. The general infrastructure is also in shambles: sidewalks look blown up; there are trenches between roads; and very few buildings look like they’d hold up to a windstorm.
Later in the evening, we made our way to Yod Abyssinia, a traditional Ethiopian family restaurant. Before going, I made sure to prepare myself so I could avoid ordering the wrong things (like k’itfo: raw, minced beef marinated in chili powder and clarified butter; or tere sega: another raw meat dish). The evening was an absolute treat. The food was incredible, the hall was huge and full of locals, families, clapping and singing, and the meal centers around dance performances.
The style was absolutely killing me: it’s either this subtle grampy waggle or the most jerky, expressive, nuanced interpretive dance. We got to experience some other typical rites of eating – for example when they bring a hand-washing station to you before and after the meal. They bring you a large silver watering can almost full of warm water and they have this catchment and a soap dispenser, so you catch some soap and suds up while they pour water over your hands and catch the falling water just about this spill-off contraption.