First Days in Addis: Dealing with Diplomats

Saturday, January 30, 2010 | Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Debebe shows me the Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Addis Ababa.
Next time we'll make sure not to visit Addis Ababa during an African Union summit.

Our first three days in Ethiopia's capital have been dominated by the presence of several hundred dipomats and heads of state from around the continent. Roads are blocked, hotels are full, and ATMs are tapped. The upside is increased security: a policeman or soldier with an AK-47 is stationed every 50 feet along each side of every street in the city, ushering along the VIP motorcades and civilian traffic.

Despite the unexpected disruptions posed by the conference (which apparently occurs here three times per year), Jacqueline and I got off to a great start in Addis. Our first cab ride was fortuitous; we found a very friendly, English-speaking driver named Debebe, who was happy to be paid to tote us around the city for an afternoon.

At our request, Debebe took us to our first Ethiopian lunch—creamy shiro sauce and roasted lamb dumped over injera, the local sponge bread. Next, our tour included visits to the National Museum (resting place of the famous "Lucy" skeleton uncovered in the eastern deserts), Ethnological Museum, and Holy Trinity Cathedral.

With Debebe's help translating, a priest showed us the interior of the cathedral, which houses the crypt of Emperor Haile Selassie. The visit to his tomb was a considerably more reverent experience than our previous stop; the Ethnological Museum is housed in the former imperial palace, and afforded us a walkthrough of the Emperor's private bathroom (he favored powder blue fixtures, for those who are curious).

Along our tour, Debebe pointed out other sites of interest, and provided us with a running commentary on the the city and its history. (Though it was founded only in the late 19th century, Addis is today the fourth largest city in Africa. Due to its size, it has proved somewhat more overwhelming than we had expected, but after several days of riding and walking around, we are getting our bearings.)

Since our first day's tour, Jacqueline and I have mostly been focusing on escaping Addis, which has proved difficult. Thanks to the AU summit, most buses and planes throughout the country are booked for several days. So in order to stick to our plans of visiting some of the historical and natural wonders in Ethiopia's north, we booked a 4WD vehicle with a reputable local operator. For the next two weeks, a driver will take us between sites, through some exquisitely rugged countryside. Updates will follow, as internet access permits.

Note: I'm posting this without formatting, since the internet in Addis is so maddeningly slow. Will add pictures, links, etc as soon as possible.
Update: Photos now added!

1 comment:

Patrick Elliot said...

Say hi to the King of Kings of Africa for me!

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