Ethiopia – initial thoughts…
the first encounter was at the Dubai Airport – I was mad scrambling because the boarding card issued said check in was at Gate 33, but the actual gate was at the other end of the airport at Gate 6 – I’m sure it was announced but with all the broadcasts in multiple languages, it’s easy to miss. So with ten minutes left until scheduled take off, with all of my carry-on and duty free purchases in tow, I dragged myself into the Gate 6 waiting area. There were about 10 Ethiopians there as well so I plopped down onto a chair to wait for the boarding call. One of the others waiting walked up to me and asked if I was going on the Addis flight … ‘Well, you better board – we’re waiting because we’re on standby – one of us will end up taking your seat!’ – pretty kind of the guy – he even helped me gather up all of my stuff to start my closing sprint.
Next encounter – an Ethiopian sitting in seat A while I was in seat C. Friendly banter back and forth, asked if I had a place to stay, gave me some pointers about avoiding getting scammed, told me what places to visit – and not once did he ask to sell me something or to call him to set up tours – nada. Simply friendly info and jokes.
So far, I’m liking the Ethiopians.
Well now for landing into Addis itself… the city may have great people, but if it works ass backwards, its going to make living here hell…Well, it had been raining a bit so as soon as we disembarked from the plane onto the brand new tarmac, the first thing I noticed was the smell of pine trees and flowers in the crisp cool air. If I didn’t know better I would’ve thought I was in the northern areas of Ontario somewhere! The airport itself wasn’t bad at all either – probably built in the last couple of years, and aside from a minor leak under the skylight, it was prob no worse than some of the airports in Europe. Bonus – the bathroom was completely modern – no hole in the ground, no strange contraptions – just normal urinals, spotlessly clean with no bad odours – a great sign! The only negative, was that we had a crazy long wait for the bags though – took over an hour to get the bags and to go through the exit screening. I didn’t end up getting to my hotel until about midnight.
So far, nearly everyone that I’ve met (the shuttle driver, randoms at the airport, hotel staff) have been incredibly friendly – and better yet, pretty smart – a result of having basic education in the main city at least. Explaining things to them, or trying to understand them, is no problem either. Primarly because they got all the same gestures – a headshake really does mean no here… No frustration in trying to ask simple things or to get directions. But they do have their quirks. While they aren’t aggressive, they do like to wind you up. They get amused seeing a foreigner get angry and rather than help you they’ll see if they can piss you off more. But if you’re friendly they’ll usually go out of their way to help you out. I can deal with that, but many of the europeans find it tough since they’re used to putting up a fuss to get things done. But generally, when they speak with you or ask you about stuff, they are genuine – no hint of them trying to befriend you to scam you or get you to buy something. In fact, most of the time, the porters or drivers have left before you’ve even had a chance to give them a tip! My waiter started speaking with me and telling me his views on Ethiopia and the other countries – his view is that Ethiopians are so friendly and helpful because they don’t have an inferiority complex. Ethiopia was never really colonized (aside for a brief Italian occupation) so they don’t have any hatred towards the whites or browns. Well whatever, the reason they definitely seem more confident and worldly. The Italian invasion probably helped them – they got take the some of the good things like coffee and clothes! sure coffee originated here, but the italians are the ones who brought them macchiatos and cappuccinos – they can beat any cafe back home! And back to style – they dress well, and there are definitely some good looking girls around… The other African countries I’ve been to seem to be stuck in the 80s or maybe 90s when it comes to style – but not here. not as many people walking about with oversized pleated pants, jackets with shoulderpads big enough for a football uniform, acid washed jeans, or outfits in crazy gaudy colours…. Nope, they definitely got style here and even those who are too well off, dress modern.
There is definitely a sizeable middle class here – a lot of them live between North America and here – actually, I’ve already met a few who live between here and Toronto. You’ll usually meet them at the bars and lounges. We went out on Friday and Sturday to Black Rose – a red velvet laden lounge known for their cosmos, and Devine, a hotel club situatedin the glass mezannine – ‘new Addis’ establishments where the hip and trendy hang out. We partied til 5 am in the morning and then the next morning one of the guys I went out with was banging on my door to go play volleyball! I thought he was joking when he dropped me off at 5am! He dragged me off to the Hilton, where every Sunday the ‘brown gang’ gets together to play volleyball. About 15 people show up – all of them Gujurati expats – either from families that have been living in Canada/UK or have actually been living in Ethiopia for a couple of generations. It was too funny. It was like what I imagine my Dad grew up with when he explains living in Kampala and Nairobi in his twenties. They all live fairly well and speak perfect English, but as soon as there is a contested call or an argument – they all bust out the Gujurati – maybe, I’ll finally be able to speak it by the time I leave here!
So far, I don’t feel like I’m a developing world to the extent that I did when I’ve visited other parts of Africa, Afghanistan, or even India. If anything, all those UNICEF commercials give a negative image of this country – something that the locals are aware of and pretty sensitive to. They know what the perception of their country is and want people to konw it is a lot better off than the image. Mind you, I haven’t left Addis Ababa yet… I’ll let you know how my view changes!