Fifteen hours is a long time to spend on a plane. But it makes sense when the journey you’re going on is to such a different place from Ohio as Ethiopia.
We had a smooth flight. There were many adorable yet crying babies on the plane, so sleep was limited. The arrival process was fairly smooth and quick too. Asres, our kind guide from the University of Addis Ababa, met us at the airport and drove us to the hotel.
The hotel helped us hire a driver who took us to the Piazza area, a busy center with many stores, cafes and restaurants. We had our first cup of strong Ethiopian coffee at the popular Tomoca cafe, and then walked around to find places to meet our basic needs: an ATM, pastry shop (!), and phone card for additional cell phone minutes.
Some things we noticed our first day in Addis:
Traffic: is basically organized chaos. There are few street signs and street lights, many roundabouts, tons of cars, buses and pedestrians. Yet everything flows together somewhat smoothly. Cars drive very close to each other and people, yet somehow nobody got hurt (at least not yesterday. Carla mentioned that Addis has one of the highest car accident rates in the world). Also, horn honking was surprisingly low and considerate.
Poverty: Yes, there is poverty here. We saw some small areas that looked like shanty-towns where the houses were basically concrete slabs with simple corrugated metal roofs and tarp walls, and many people begging or sleeping in the street. A few little kids came up to Danny and Niraj, grabbing onto their pants and begging them for money with their sweet little smiles and open hands. For the most part we ignored beggars, but brought little trinkets (pencils, marbles) that we will give out to kids during our trip.
Busy, bustling street life: Even amidst some poverty, many cafes were full of people drinking coffee and tea, eating snacks, relaxing and talking with friends on a Friday afternoon. People waited in long lines for buses that choked the streets. There were people working; with many active construction projects in progress and tall buildings scaffolded with long wooden poles.
Friendly and polite: We met several locals who were willing to help our clueless tourist selves navigate language barriers with bilingual assistance. One very kind shop owner helped us add minutes to our Ethiopian cell phone, and several times people helped me (Danielle) while I was waiting in line to buy something, (apparently) looking confused. Thank you, kind people!
Prices: We knew the cost of living here would be much lower than US standards, but we still experienced reverse-sticker-shock when buying things. One doughnut and three cups of tea cost about $1(total!) in a cafe, and our delicious meals at the hotel restaurant were about $3-5 each.
Style: The women in our group had been concerned about wearing appropriate clothes here, wanting to blend in and dress modestly. But I was surprised by how fashion-forward many of the women in Addis are. Skinny jeans, colorful makeup (especially bright lipstick), trendy hairstyles (braids, twists and side-sweeps), and leopard-print scarves are popular here. Many women wear stylish hair coverings made from sheer, jewel-edged fabric or with varying patterns. Cute flats and some high heels were spotted too, though I’m glad we were advised to wear comfortable shoes for walking.
Rain!: There was a very strong thunderstorm yesterday afternoon. Some of the streets were muddy.
Most strongly we have notice scenic beauty with mountains in the background, colorful flowers everywhere, lots of trees and birds… mixed with exhaust from so many cars and buses. We keep seeing hints of other places we’ve visited or lived in here. The traffic reminds Niraj of India (but minus the cattle), the beggars are less aggressive than those Alejandra has encountered in Peru, and the narrow elevators remind Carla of Tel Aviv. The beautiful landscape and flowers look like Hawaii, and the hustle and bustle, busy activity and organized chaos remind me of New York City.
Overall, we’re so happy to be here and can’t wait to explore more!