Addis Skyline

Tembea Kenya. Tembea kwa jirani. Tembea Addis.

There are many things you don’t get to learn about a place until you hit the ground running, literally. You don’t realize how big a neighbouring country is or how little you know about it beyond the textbook.

Initially, we were to head to Zambia. But that’s the other thing about learning about a place. You can learn a lot about it by just paying it a little more attention than usual. Turns out the airfare to that place is out of this world. It is like flying to Bahamas or something. And it is just down here. There went my dream of visiting Livingstone and bathing in the showers of the Victoria Falls.

So what did me and boo do, as the responsible adults we are? We went for the next best, nearest, most frugal option. Addis. Super cheap flights by both Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways multiple times a day. We only went with ET because it had more convenient times. They both price them the same way. We can go to Livingstone at any other point in time, when we’re more able and deserving of some serious spoiling ourselves. 

We booked everything via Booking.com and TripAdvisor. They come in handy with these things. 

Tightly-controlled economy


First of all, the one thing you realize (or judge too soon) as soon as you are out the airport doors is that Ethiopia is a “closed” economy. Or it was until very recently. Everything you will see in the street is nowhere near familiar. No Uber. However, Ethiopian ride-hailing apps exist. No global/pan-African bank. No English. 

I am serious.

The Kenyan woman travelling with us to the hotel on the hotel shuttle made sure we knew about that. And then she mentioned this genuine leather market at the stadium where she went for products during her frequent work trips here. And then she went further to mention that the famed electric train is unbearable because it is always packed with people. I guess we were going to see for ourselves.

So we got to Getfam hotel to a warm welcome. It is a very nice hotel sandwiched between many other nondescript buildings along the main superhighway that straddles the famed train. After the usual preliminary to-dos, the smiley concierge took us up to our room. As advertised, it was lovely. And as expected, it was all decked up in honeymoon paraphernalia. You know, the roses-in-heart-formation-on-your-bed deal. Fruit and sweets. Exactly as you imagine it.

For me, this was the most important part of the whole deal. Mr. The bed. The bathtub. The robes. The smart TV. Fullstop. I couldn’t care less about the outside for this particular tour. And true to it, we spent more time in the water and bed than outside. 😂😛 

So, as expected of me, the first thing we asked for was internet connection for the TV. And we lazed all afternoon till dinnertime. So without getting into the main details you don’t need, let me tell you about nine more things I learnt about Ethiopia from the bustling streets of Addis. 

Language

The first thing that hits you is Amharic. And that you already know if you have flown Ethiopian Airlines to anywhere before. Even in some shops, the people manning them have no idea what you’re saying in English. You will resort to gestures and sometimes those won’t work either. You end up admiring them though. Who says you have to learn a foreign language to be happy. Although they learn English in school, they just don’t feel obliged to own it. 

Orthodox

These guys are SUPER religious. Mostly Orthodox. One of the biggest culture shocks for us was seeing people kneeling and praying on the road near them churches. They basically believe that they are descended from the baby of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. And there is a very intriguing tale about how that happened. The short version is that King Solomon tricked the Queen of Sheba into the whole conception manenos by feeding her food with lots of salt and keeping the water she would inevitably need in his bedroom. Dot dot dot. That is the version the guide gave us. Another close version is recorded on Wikipedia.

We also paid a visit to one of the oldest churches; St George’s Cathedral which has a little museum next to it. This houses a lot of the ceremonial jewels and attire that is worn by priests and even brides and grooms. Getting inside the church requires you to take off your shoes at the entrance. The priest welcomes you in. You are hit by this infinite scent of incense once you venture into the dark round carpeted sanctuary. You are in the outer section now where the priest performs a certain dance while beating a big drum. You cannot go into the inner room at the centre. That is special. The sanctuary is adorned with beautiful paintings all around the walls. The paintings reflect Bible and Ethiopian stories. Haile Selassie was crowned here.

Museums

Lots of them. They love their history. And I love history! Therefore, we visited four of them, including the one I just mentioned above. There is this free museum called the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum. It is a sad sad museum. People died. Lots of torture and division. Eritrea was born. Ethiopia is thus landlocked. A guide we talked to at a later date told us it is a controversial history over there and that the real truth has been really jumbled up, mostly by the West. Just from the one interaction with that guy, we could tell why the economy is so closed. Lucy, the earliest man (woman) was found in Ethiopia. And you can find her at the National Museum of Ethiopia.

Time in Ethiopia

Years: It is the year 2012 in Ethiopia right now. I mean, they literally do their own thing. So they were celebrating the new year juzi. I honestly don’t know how they do that. Like they pretend it’s that year but really, they are in 2019 like all the rest of us. I can’t even.

Clocks: They set their clocks the way we read them in our mother tongues. So if it is 8 o’clock, the clock will show 2 o’clock. Because the day starts at 7 o’clock (that is 1 o’clock) when morning breaks and ends when it’s dark again. This makes perfect and complete sense. I mean, who messed us up like this. Up to date, I still have beef with Wallah bin Wallah, but maybe I shouldn’t. And maybe I failed that one question in my KCPE. We really are confused be Westernization. Maybe I should start writing in Kikuyu. Ha! But that’s when you start to really admire Ethiopians for sticking to their guns and being sensible. Who even convinced us that the day ending at midnight makes sense?

This was 4:35PM. Yep.

Festivals

They happened to be celebrating this interesting festival when we were there in which women danced around the streets in their traditional white dresses while men hit the tarmac with whips. In the rain. That was interesting to watch. 

More History

Addis is expansive. I am very sure we did not see half of it. Constructions everywhere. Blue taxis everywhere. Quite old too. They look like Peugeots but they are Ladas, a Russian brand. Like I said, there is no Uber. And like I said, they love history. Hehe. Change is coming though. Here is a recent interesting article by The Guardian about vintage Peugeots in Harar, another city in Ethiopia. We drove through Merkato, the largest market in Africa. It was moved from the original location to this current one as a result of segregation during the Italian occupation. Yes, Ethiopia was not colonized, but also yes, them Italians came back later (after losing that first battle of Adowa) and occupied the land for a few.

Driving through Merkato. Rain. Lada.

The People

The same way we can tell an Ethiopian by just looking at them, they can also tell Kenyans the same way. We had people calling out Swahili greetings to us randomly on the street. Humans are a wonder. Meanwhile here we are thinking they all look alike when they know they don’t. And we know we don’t. They have way more tribes than we do. And they are way more populated.

Cuisine

Ethiopian coffee is the best. Sorry, fellow Kenyans. You get used to it, and there is no going back to obsessing about Kenyan coffee. We went to this popular coffee joint in the city where patrons drink from tiny glasses. They call it Tomoka Coffee which is apparently a place you have to visit to really say you went to Addis. It was a common fixture everywhere on the streets, coffee drinking everywhere in those tiny glasses. Makes a lot of sense, considering coffee originated in Ethiopia, if the legend is anything to go by. Remember the goats that chewed them berries and gained renewed energy? LOL. Their herder was Kaldi. Thus Kaldi’s. Get it? Yes, Kaldi’s Coffee is everywhere, but not as popular as those small coffee shops.

But that’s where it ends for me. That injera thing, and the spices they use on food. Not for me. Thanks. Mr loves it though. Visiting Habesha 2000 was super cool though. They serve you coffee with such funfare that you just want to order more for that whole smoke thing to happen again. I think I saw this happen at Abyssinia in Westlands too. Even then, Injera was just too much for me. I need my carbs solid and unfermented. The China Bar & Restaurant we stumbled upon on one of our many walks across the city served some kind of Chinese food we have never tasted before. Up to now, Mr keeps asking me if there is a way we can go back to just that. We have tried others here but none ever matches up to that sweet and sour chicken on that street near the stadium. 

The Last Emperor

Haile Selassie. Ras Tafari. The emperor. We learnt about him in history. Nothing new. What was very new to me, however, was that he was a short man. His bed in the Ethnological Museum found in the University of Addis Ababa was proof. The guide could not stop talking about his height. This museum was actually his palace before he moved to a newer one. So you basically walk through his bedroom and bathroom. Huge bathroom. These guys were affluent from back in the day. Oh, the fact that he was emperor because he and all his forefathers descended from King Solomon was also new.

By the way on the way back home I was so pissed off. Bole International Airport — a whole international airport that has been all newly expanded and decked up to very much remind you of European airports, is full of businesses that do not accept card payments. *rolls eyes to the back of head* I was so disappointed. But anywho, Ethiopia tutarudi kuona the rest of it. Apparently Lalibela is real cool and is laden with rich history, including rock-hewn churches from ages ago. Also, ati the Ark of the Covenant is in Axum, yet another historic capital. Plus if the green I saw up Entoto Hill is anything to go by, Ethiopia is a beautiful country. And it is not so “closed” up after all. All kinds of new things are happening over there now. The new Primer Minister and his liberal policies. Jack Dorsey. Alibaba. Safaricom and co.

To the next adventure.

Also, in the spirit of adventure, I am embarking on a new career journey. Stumble upon something up my alley? Hit your girl up. Merci.

Written by Shiku Njathi
Loved and loving wife. Blessed daughter. Humbled big sister. Friend. Walker in the light. Recipe peruser. Book sampler. Music selector. Author-in-waiting.

    7 Comments

  1. Hannah Olukoye November 29, 2019 at 7:31 am Reply

    Wow .. I felt like I visited Ethiopia after reading this.
    So much descriptive detail.

    Please don’t go silent on us again. Keep writing…

    • Shiku Njathi December 1, 2019 at 9:58 pm Reply

      It’s another season to stay!

  2. Kate Wangari November 29, 2019 at 2:47 pm Reply

    These are my Favs!!! Haile Ethiopia 🙂

    • Shiku Njathi December 1, 2019 at 9:58 pm Reply

      🙂

  3. JMwas December 6, 2019 at 9:59 pm Reply

    I have to visit Ethiopia. This article is so well crafted. If the Ethiopian girls I see around are anything to go by, I can only imagine the beauty in that country.

    • Shiku Njathi December 7, 2019 at 12:34 pm Reply

      Ha! Trust you to say that.

  4. memoirsofarookieplayer December 11, 2019 at 4:59 pm Reply

    Twa twa! complained the bed, haha!

    Anyway, we await a mini you, lol. Social Media really does document life in its entirety! 🙂

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