A few times in my hometown of Vancouver, Washington, the grid has lost power, and the streetlights have stopped working. During those times, when cars go one at a time from each direction, taking turns, I have thought “this is what it must be like to live without streetlights.” WRONG. I have now been to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where there are plenty of busy intersections without streetlights, and let me assure you, it is not the orderly, one car at a time from each direction flow. Instead, it is this mayhem, where cars from every direction are continuously easing (or flying) into the intersection, weaving between each other.
Overall, I really enjoyed the week I spent in Addis. I was working remotely, so I spent my days at the nearest place with wi-fi—the Addis Ababa Golf Club. It was an amusing mix of me, the unnecessarily large staff (honestly, you don’t need six waiters when there are only three tables being used at any given time), golfers finishing their rounds, and several European women that I saw every single day I was there.
In the evenings, my friends in Addis (major shoutout to them, Mark, Nastasia, Ida and Kelsey are all awesome!) and I went out into the city. Not unlike how I now find the malls in Nairobi to be extraordinary, I loved the fact that I was in a cosmopolitan locale, meaning I could eat all kinds of different foods that aren’t available to me in Nanyuki. One night, we went to a beer garden, a place that served more than two brands of beers (crazy, right?), and did our best to order beer sizes that would make Merry and Pippin proud, while horrifying my mother and Princeton in Africa. Another night, it was Italian food. Another night, Ethiopian. By the way, as much as I love you Kenya (and love your chapatis), Ethiopian food kicks your butt. I just enjoy it so much more.
Another difference was in the extent to which people in the street engage with you. In Kenya, it’s definitely in your face, all the time. “Jambo!” being said to you, taxi drivers trying to convince you to take a ride, people asking if your Kenyan co-worker is your wife, people asking if your Kenyan co-worker is your girlfriend when you say she’s not your wife, people asking if you’re sure when you say she’s not your girlfriend, and so on. I find it more amusing than anything else, but it’s definitely an adjustment to make. In Ethiopia, all of this was absent (well not all, some Ethiopian kids still felt compelled to say hi to me every day). It was strange, walking around without the same level of in your face, continuous interaction.
Another thing that I found really interesting was Meles Zenawi’s (recently deceased Prime Minister) presence everywhere. I was reminded of a scene in the movie Zoolander where Zoolander exasperatedly says of his rival male model “Hansel Hansel Hansel. Everywhere I look Hansel Hansel Hansel.” It was the same with Meles and I. Everywhere I looked, Meles Meles Meles. In his death, Ethiopia felt compelled to put his face everywhere. In a major Square (Meskill) I counted no less than ten enormous signs all bearing his face. His poor wife. For some reason, she is less than happy about seeing the face of her dead husband a million times a day.
All in all, I really enjoyed Addis. Between the high elevation, architecture, laid back population, and the presence of green, red and yellow (the Ethiopian, and Bolivian) everywhere, I was unexpectedly reminded strongly of La Paz, Bolivia. I hope to get the chance to head back some time, and experience it in its fullest.