Addis Ababa

It was as short walk from the Taitu Hotel to the church. The area around the church was swamped with beggars and they looked, conform their profession, deplorable. It much resembled a nineteenth century leper colony. Some of them bundles of rags and filth, hardly recognisable as humans, apart from their oblong shape. So far I had been distributing one birr coins liberally among the beggars, but now I found myself in a situation where I found it difficult, because it felt unfair to pick a single destitute being and in the end I simply kept my money in my pocket.


Amharic in its colourful script

The cathedral was built in 1896 and dedicated to St George, whose relic was carried to the Battle of Adwa, which was fought against invading Italians. The Ethiopians unexpectedly won the battle.

The church was closed and I had to come back another time.


St. George killing the dragon

Ethiopian coffee is a legacy of the Italians. In 1941 when  they fled the country they left an old battered espresso machine and the Ethiopians found it in their headquarters. They took it apart to see how it worked and once they had figured it out, they started to make good coffee themselves. Mille grazie Italia! And you haven’t been in Ethiopia if you haven’t eaten an injera and so I had some spicy ‘tibes firfir’ for lunch with some cold beer.


Ethiopian priest (pencil and watercolour)

After Egypt, the traffic is perfectly congenial and a taxi even stopped to let me cross the road, something which was unheard of in Egypt.

Another positive note is that the weather so far is very nice. When I booked my ticket I checked the weather forecast and it looked bad enough with ‘thunderstorms’ basically every day, but for the time being it’s been wonderful. Not too hot, not too cold. This time I had flown with Ethiopian Airlines and 24 hours before departure they had confirmed the necessary information and it had also included a weather forecast. It hovered around 39 degrees for the next couple of days and I do not know why. The average mean temperature I estimated to be some 15 degrees cooler than that… Or could it be that in temperature scales Ethiopia deviated from the standard as they seem fond of….(clocks, for example, all seem to be broken until you realise that their clock is six hours out of phase, that means it’s always 6 hours off from our time notation; that is, after  correction for the time zone. The Ethiopian clock is simply repaired by adding 6 hours; for  example 8 o’clock is 14 or 2 o’clock, alternatively, you can also subtract 6).

My first days in Ethiopia I rested a lot. The overnight flight had been unusual exhausting and I was possibly battling a cold.
I met Jim who invited me for coffee.
Addis Ababa is more expensive than the rest of Ethiopia, he said. It’s possible to get a room here for 10 dollars, he said, but you wouldn’t want to have it for your donkey, I mean, the rooms are awful.
Um, I said as a resident of the donkey class.

I had many coffees at the terrace of the Taitu Hotel. The prices weren’t cheap, but the location was really nice and it is almost a historical site in itself. It was the first stone structure in the city and built by princess Taitu. It was also the location where foreign journalists were housed during Haile Selassie’s coronation in 1930. One of these journalists was Evelyn Waugh and Taitu is the location for his novel Scoop.

Ethiopians at the time were not familiar yet with the concept of a hotel and had to be told that they had to pay for their consumptions.

Unfortunately, I had to buy internet in megabytes, not expensive, but it made me wary of lengthy YouTube videos about quantum mechanics that I don’t understand anyway. But reading the internet was cheap enough..

In the evening after having dinner, I walked back to the hotel. A woman with a child sat on a piece of cardboard and I crossed over to give her some change. But when I got near I wasn’t so sure; her clothes weren’t quite the rags I’d seen with other beggars…
Um, excuse me, I said, you, um, want some money?
Possibly the dumbest question the woman had ever heard.  She stretched her hand out and I gave her a few coins.
It’s not always easy to be the experienced world traveller.

Africans are Dionysian in nature I believe. They are life affirming creatures. Sometimes a bit too much as last night when a drunk prostitute with a blond wig blundered on her high heels through the corridor yelling where the toilet could be. Ear plugs come recommended when travelling in Africa.

Even within the capital I’ve seen two interesting birds. I am not a birder, but I sympathise with the guild.
The wattled ibis makes an awful noise and is, according to an old Lonely Planet guide I found, semi-endemic. What is semi-endemic? Are there some birds escaped to New York’s Central Park and thriving there, and is the species therefore no longer fully endemic??
Not endemic in the least was the red-billed firefinch, a pretty bird fluttering around in most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Inside the church of St George were carpets laid on the ground like in a mosque. This possibly comes with the no-shoe policy. The floor plan of the church was octagonal. At the outset, churches were circular as were Jewish synagogues. Prayers seem to be performed in a similar fashion as muslims are wont to. On the walls I noticed a mixed iconography, in the museum were some Russian icons, in the church a rather black St George, but for the rest  predominantly white depictions of Jesus and Mary. One wall had pictures of Haile Selassie and among them one in which the emperor stands with some other dignitaries devote at an enormous machinegun.  In the church men (segregated from women) in white shrouds are chanting in a repetitive and rhythmic, – polyphonic – manner . It had an African sound. Devotees seem to circumambulate in a clockwise fashion and kiss and touch the black stained wall underneath the pictures.

Close by was a small museum with liturgical material, some dresses and two small thrones which were used at the coronation of Haile Selassie. I have had better furniture in budget hotels.


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