Ethiopia: Part 1
Hej again from here in Stockholm, Sweden.
This week I will be documenting the first part of my trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, including attending the First Climate Change and Development in Africa Conference held at the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and organized by the Africa Climate Policy Center. Before I begin my journey, however, I thought I would give a bit of an introduction to the country of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia may bring to mind some negative imagery. This was definitely the case when I started telling people where I was going. Hearing some of the reactions, there is still a strong perception of Ethiopia is an impoverished wasteland, an image strongly influenced by the advertisements of aid organizations such as World Vision and massive fundraising events organized by celebrities such as Live Aid. While Ethiopia did suffer through devastating drought in the 1970s and 1980s, the images of starving orphans that comes to mind when one hears the word Ethiopia is no longer the only identifier of the modern day Ethiopia. In fact, rather than being a symbol of African poverty, for years Ethiopia has been a symbol of African independence as Africa’s oldest independent country, having never been colonized throughout its history other than a five year occupation by Mussolini’s Italy.
Ethiopia has an extremely unique history, having been ruled by a monarchy until 1974 when Emperor Haile Selassie was toppled by a self-proclaimed Marxist junta led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. This regime came to an end in 1991, followed by economic and political stabilization in the country. Ethiopia is now considered once of the most stable countries in Africa, despite ongoing military skirmishes with Eritrea and Somalia. While still a very poor country, Ethiopia is no longer considered among the worst in Africa on the Human Development Index, and is among the fastest growing non-oil economies in Africa. Ethiopia’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, and therefore highly dependent on rainfall and the changes to precipitation expected from anthropogenic climate change. Finally, Ethiopia was also one of the founding members of the United Nations and hosts many international organizations in Africa, including UNECA where the First Climate Change and Development in Africa Conference is being held. Hopefully this short background information will give a bit of a broader perspective on Ethiopia as a country. I’m looking forward to visiting Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, and learning more about Ethiopia’s culture and history.
I fly direct from Stockholm to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Air, with a brief pit-stop in Rome. This flight route regularly ships diplomats working in the many international organizations based in Rome and Addis Ababa. As an overall 9 hours of flying, this will be my longest flight since an 11th grade trip to Europe. This is probably a good time to admit that I am not a great flyer. (By that I mean I’m an anxious flyer not that I am untalented at it.) In my (slightly loony) mind, every tremor is about to send this tin can plummeting back to Earth, every passenger a potential secret suicide bomber and every announcement from the captain is about to announce our imminent doom. Landing in Rome is both a relief and a source of entertainment as we get to witness airport employees wearing Armani jeans and crystal studded belts clean the plane. Finally, we’re off again having acquired a plane-full of stylish Italian passengers (but really, six-inch heels on an overnight flight!
As we approach Addis and circle the city waiting for our turn to land, I am able to witness a vast green landscape of rolling hills. After touching down, we exit the airplane (freedom!) and I get my first taste of the warm and dry Ethiopian climate before being shunted back onto an airport shuttle bus with all the passengers I had just escaped from. I get my Ethiopian visa (after shelling over 20 Euros) and am greeted by a shuttle waiting to bring me back to the Adot Tina Hotel. My first impressions of Addis are of blue skies, dust and the organized chaos of taxis, pedestrians and the occasional goat making their way around the city. There does not seem to be any agreed upon speed limit, stop signs, traffic lights, or demarcation of road lanes, but everything seems to move along quite smoothly. Those who prefer a faster pace simply weave around the slower vehicles and pedestrians dart confidently in and out of the traffic. Stray dogs lounge on the side of the streets in the scant patches of shade that can be found.
My hotel is the Adot Tina, a clean, modern building that seems slightly out of place in the alleyway where it is located. This is a common characteristic of Addis Ababa: new modern buildings located next to shacks constructed out of spare sheet metal. The city also seemed to be being constructed all around me, with at least half of the buildings under construction. In fact, the view out of my window is of a half-built structure surrounded by some slightly alarming but effective bamboo scaffolding. After settling in to my room and taking a quick nap, I head out for some sightseeing in the city. First stop is an amazing local coffee shop with the best coffee I’ve ever had. The coffee is served black with sugar and tastes more like an espresso than drip coffee. We also explore the city in one of its famous little blue cabs, passing by imposing Italian Fascist buildings, hammer-and-sickle placards from the former Marxist regime, and wattle-and-daub huts. For dinner we head out to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant where we are served the traditional Ethiopian bread made from tef known as injera, and a lamb stew. The stew is served on a large flat circular piece of injera and eaten by tearing pieces of injera off and using the pieces to pick up the stew. During dinner, we are also entertained by some traditional Ethiopian singing and dancing. After a bumpy cab ride through the city on unlit alleyways and dirt roads, I settle in for my first night. Lying in bed, I absorb the sounds of the city including a whining dog, roosters crowing and a deafening 5 am call to prayer. The next day, Monday, will be the start of the First Climate Change and Development in Africa Conference.
This is the first of a two-part series on my trip to Ethiopia. In the next post I will be documenting the rest of my trip as well as posting some photos.