Thursday 29th July
This is the rainy season, so you have to make the most of good weather. This morning then, I did exactly that. Due to yesterday’s change to afternoon lessons, I had a bit of free time after breakfast and so with the sun shining, I walked up to the top of the hill where the Goha Hotel is found – the most expensive place you can stay at here. The reason I went was for the view. Looking out across the sprawling city, I felt at home and at once in awe of the scenery, the patchworks of corrugated iron roves and the bustling streets. It’s amazing how a place can appear so beautiful from a distant viewpoint and yet contain such stark harshness in reality.
Having descended the hill, I went to the Kindu Trust with the intention of saying goodbye. An hour and a half later, and several computer problems solved, I finally exchanged goodbyes with Fente, Kassahun and Marta – three of the kindest people I’ve ever met, working for one of the finest charities around.
After lunch with Sam and Getu, the teacher at the language school I help at on Mondays, I had my two afternoon classes. Amy and Emily had taught at the same school as me when they were here two years ago, and so knew some of my students. I decided to invite them to my lessons today, which was a great success. I got the class to come up with interview questions for them, and the resulting interrogation was both productive and hilarious. I have a feeling that they were glad to be back, as well.
My penultimate night here in Gondar saw the five of us head back to the brewery for some food and a chance to relax in the beautiful gardens they have there. There may have been some beer involved too. It really does seem scary how soon I’ll be leaving here – although I miss friends and family back in the UK, I will equally miss the friends I’ve made in my time out here.
Friday 30th July
Today is a day for ‘lasts’. My last day in Gondar; my last session at Mother Theresa’s; my last lessons and my last night with the other volunteers. The end has come around so quickly, and even though I’ll be in Addis until Monday, this feels like goodbye.
This morning me and Megan headed down to Mother Theresa’s, armed with stickers and bubbles. The latter were an instant hit with the kids, and they never seemed to tire of chasing after them, as if it were some sort of act of magic. The usual games of ‘duck, duck, fish’ and pretending to be animals, combined with some more relaxed crayon drawing, made for a rewarding, if exhausting, morning. The highlight though was a blind boy who only wanted one thing – to feel our hands tapping on the side of his face. He seemed to like the warmth on his cheek, and so alternated between holding my hand to his face and jumping up and down gleefully. When we tried to leave, he wouldn’t let go of my hand, and it was only when we found a suitable substitute that we managed to break free.
With a lift back into town from a kind guy outside Mother Theresa’s, and then the remaining minibus journey paid for by him, we found ourselves on the receiving end of a real act of kindness, and not for the first time on this trip. He asked for nothing in return, and we never managed to find out his name.
After lunch, I had my final two classes, and like the last lesson before Christmas, I decided that we should do something fun. Chinese whispers and charades went down reasonably well, but it was the second half of each lesson that I’ll never forget. Firstly, I got them to show off some traditional Ethiopian dancing, and attempted some myself (with little success, still). Accompanied by traditional music, one guy even sang for us, and everyone seemed to love it. In exchange for their Ethiopian performances, it was my turn to do something. Having borrowed Sam’s guitar, I played them some songs, and taught them the opening lines of Wonderwall. Having a whole class of Ethiopian students singing Oasis back to me is an experience I’ll always remember.
Once the lesson was wrapped up, a few students told me to wait, until they emerged with presents for me: a poster of a coffee ceremony; an Arsenal poster (we shared allegiances); an Ethiopian flag and scarf; and a CD of traditional music. It was overwhelming that these guys had gone so out of their way to show their appreciation. I gave them some football magazines in return, but that seems to pale in comparison. Anyway, I feel I’ve made some friends I’ll be in touch with for a long time to come.
Having had my last cold shower (I hope!), we went out for our last night as a group, accompanied by Amy, Emily and Mulugeta. After dinner we thought we would go back to a traditional bar, to see if we’d made any progress with the shoulder dancing. Evidently, we had not. It was the perfect way to spend my last evening though, and we rounded it off with a drink at a more contemporary bar. Sipping on St George beer made me think of home, and the weekend that separates me from it. I’m perhaps a little sceptical about whether I’ll enjoy Addis Ababa, but on other things I’m more certain: I am sad to be leaving Gondar.
Saturday 31st July
Over the last month I’ve grown accustomed to the Ethiopian culture, people and way of life – or at least I thought I had. Addis Ababa is not the Ethiopia I know. Not that that’s a bad thing though, in fact, it’s much like any big city I’m familiar with. Traffic jams, fast food, cinemas and building work. A lot of building work. It has the feel of a construction site, hardly surprising when you consider that it’s one of Africa’s fastest growing cities. All in all, it’s ugly, but full of fun.
Tonight I met up with Tesfa (Belayneh’s son) who happens to be staying here for a couple of weeks. He took me to the cinema, where we watched ‘Salt’ – some dodgy Angelina Jolie movie. Although the film was average, it was a great evening, and fantastic to have someone to show me around – I’d been nervous when I got here, and needed all my courage to go for a walk alone this afternoon. Tesfa, a biologist by training, even revealed to me that he wants to be a film directore, and has five movies planned out already. All in all, he’s an incredibly genuine guy, and we’ve already arranged to meet up tomorrow.
This morning I met up with the other volunteers for breakfast before I left for my flight, and said goodbye to Megan and Courtney. While I may see Megan again at university in October, it was still weird parting with two people I’ve spent so much time with over the last month. I’ll see Sam and Sheree when they come to Addis tomorrow, but I’m sure it will be the same case for them.
After a bumpy flight down, I successfully haggled for a taxi to get me to my hotel. On arrival, I discovered that it wasn’t only Addis that lacks in the looks department – the hotel corridors have a prison-like feel to them. What it lacks in character though, it makes up for in utility. Comfortable beds, real towels (my travel towel has gone through a lot this month) and a steaming hot shower round off a room that feels pretty luxurious, by Ethiopian standards. As I write though, I have just seen a cockroach out of the corner of my eye, but that’s to be expected, isn’t it?
On the whole then, it’s a different world here in the capital: kids wear fashionable clothes, swish cars drive down the (muddy) streets, and wealth – or at least, relative wealth – seems to be all around, to contrast with the same desperate poverty that is all too familiar. Even the ‘farenji frenzy’ we get in Gondar, where complete strangers call out to you across the street countless times a day, doesn’t exist here – nobody bats an eyelid at where you’re from or the colour of your skin. It’s a multicultural city, and one I’m looking forward to exploring in more depth tomorrow.
Sunday 1st August
This morning was an early start, and I’m glad I made the effort to wake up, because it was well worth it. After a hearty breakfast, me and Tesfa headed to St George’s Cathedral, as the sun shone on Addis. The Cathedral is perhaps the Ethiopian equivalent of Westminster Abbey – the place where Emperors used to be crowned. We arrived just as a marriage ceremony was beginning to swing into action, with dancing and singing adding to the warm morning sunshine. We started in the museum, which was all very interesting, but it was the Cathedral itself that was the star of the show. Although it was closed to the public today, a small tip to our guide earned us a private tour of the majestic, and empty, building. Inside, we saw stunning paintings covering the walls, and colourful mosaics by Ethiopia’s most famous artists (famous is a relative term). Some of the paintings celebrated Ethiopia’s freedom from Italian rule, with some thought-provoking reminders of the failures of Allied governments in the 1930s.
We then returned to the hotel to meet Sam and Sheree, who flew from Gondar this morning. While the two of them went for some last-minute souvenir shopping, I went to Tesfa’s cousin’s place for lunch. There I met a 17-year-old who counted Led Zeppelin and The Beatles as two of his favourite bands, and a whole host of other bands that has restored my confidence in the Ethiopians’ music taste after several weeks of Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. After one of the best (and longest) traditional meals I’ve had, we re-joined Sam and Sheree for coffee, before saying goodbye to Sheree as she left to start her journey back to Sydney.
Sam and I went for a walk around town, taking advantage of my first day in Ethiopia where it hasn’t rained (maybe the rainy season stops as soon as we hit August?). We headed to some parks that had been built in 2006, only to find them closed, for no apparent reason. They looked nice from the outside. We then walked up past the Prime Minister’s compound, a huge estate that resembled a North American forest – whereas in the roads alongside were to be found run-down streets and beggars, just one of the many contrasts in this city. We continued to a grand mausoleum in a tucked-away green area that holds the bodies of past Emperors. Despite it being a beautiful building, we were far more interested in the giant tortoises wallowing in the gardens.
We found a restaurant called ‘The Cottage’ which was supposedly English-themed, and had one of the best meals of the trip there – if there’s one thing Addis has in abundance it is places to eat good food. It was also Sam’s last meal, and once the bill was paid he jumped into a taxi for the airport. As I write, he is on his way back to Manchester. In some ways it’s odd to think that in twenty-four hours I’ll be leaving too, maybe because being here already feels like being in a different country to the one I was in when I was in Gondar.
Monday 2nd August
And so this is it; my last day in Ethiopia. I’m currently sitting in the departure lounge of Addis Ababa airport, reflecting on the day and the trip. I’ll wait until I’ve fully reflected on the month before I write about it, so for now, I’ll run through the day.
When I left Gondar, I was sceptical about Addis, and half of me wanted to miss it out altogether and carry straight on to London. When I arrived even, I was reluctant to leave my hotel initially. But I was wrong to be sceptical. After a really good Saturday and Sunday here, Monday was just as interesting. Tesfa was busy this morning, so I headed out alone to walk up to the part of town where the museums are. On the way I passed the Sheraton Hotel, where a suite could set you back $12,000 a night. In front of the grand building, I saw a patch of grass where a barefoot shepherd was looking after his goats. The contrast was surreal, especially bearing in mind that on the other side of the road was the luxurious compound belonging to the Prime Minister.
I also passed a large group of people huddled around a noticeboard, or rifling through newspapers. I caught sight of the word ‘vacancies’ on the pages – highlighting another problem: everyone in Ethiopia wants to be in Addis, but there just aren’t enough jobs here for all of them.
I started at the National Museum, which was full of a lot of old stuff. Aside from some nice paintings, there was only really one exhibit worth the 50 pence entrance fee. Fossilised human bones from human species, dating from a couple of hundred thousand years ago to nearly ten million years ago (just the teeth, in that one though). There was also ‘Lucy’, the oldest skeleton ever found, from over three million years ago, and like all the other bones, discovered in Ethiopia. After lunch I went to the Addis Ababa University for the Ethnological Museum; all about the history of the Ethiopian peoples. It guided me through countless customs and traditions, with some fascinating exhibits on the way. Half way through was a collection of photographs of items, rather than the actual items themselves. Intrigued, I read the inscriptions below, and each one said: “Looted by the British Army and now housed in the V&A Museum/British Museum in London.” I felt so proud. I also found an exhibition of traditional musical instruments there, before I wandered into a bedroom. Apparently the University was previously Emperor Haileselassie’s Palace, and his quarters have been preserved perfectly, even down to the bullet hole in his mirror as a result of a failed Coup d’État.
I then braved the Addis minibus system alone, and perhaps through a bit of luck, I got back to my hotel. After some last minute souvenir shopping, I met up with Tesfa for coffee. On the way, we were confronted by a street child asking for us to buy him some food. Tesfa spotted a bottle of solvents in the child’s hand, however, and it was clear he had been sniffing it habitually. We agreed to get him something, but only if he threw the solvents over a fence, which he did. Hopefully he won’t need the solvents again, but I guess you can never know.My ‘last supper; wasn’t quite how I had imagined it would be. I went with Tesfa to meet some of his old friends from university, and we went to a burger bar that put me firmly back in the Western world. It was delicious though, and his friends were great fun, so I didn’t mind at all. And so after a celebratory coffee back at Tesfa’s mother’s house, I got in a taxi and now here I am at the airport. And after all that I’ve just written, I still haven’t been served in this café. 'This is Africa.'