Addis Ababa - the Doldrums

Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I've been stuck in Addis for about five days now. I've developed an intense torpor and vague depression. I've done this country a disservice. Lalibela and Addis Ababa, and that's it. I even turned down an opportunity for a place in an 4x4 for cheap, going to the Omo River Valley. The Omo Valley is home to some of the most colourful, and culturally endangered tribal people in the world. I would have been in photographic heaven. (Author's Note - I will step in and end this now. You don't need to hear boohoo stories, and I'm still travelling, so obviously I'm coping. Travel does occasionally get a bit lonely though, but this is not a plug for sympathy).

One of the best things about the return bus trip from Lalibela was the friends made on the bus. I befriended the beautiful and very nice Tgist, whom I spent an evening with in her family's home in Addis, joined by her two sisters, Helena and China. The evening was very pleasant, although a little uncomfortable at times. Tgist led me to her family's home which was down a lane that I (to my shame) would not have walked down on my own. The house consisted of only a few rooms I could see, and was very simple. Tgist got out the family photo album and showed me photos of her and her family over the years. I was treated with great hospitality including tea and snacks. Helina, the youngest sister at 16 (China was 22, and Tgist was 24), spoke excellent English and seemed extremely intelligent. Most of the evening's conversation was between her and I. When we left after dark, Tgist took my hand while walking up the dark lane to guide me, and continued to hold it even after we were on the main lane. I don't know if it was because of the almost complete segregation of sexes I had experienced in the Middle East, or something else, but I was a bit uncomfortable. I guess it surprised me she would feel comfortable holding the hand of a white man in a thoroughly local and black area. Again, I find my reaction I bit upsetting to myself. I guess I expected local people might get angry at the situation and by extension me, but no one really seemed to care.

Visiting Tgist and her family's home was strange for a few reasons. Though not seeming wanting in any immediate sense, the relative level of poverty compared to a typical Canadian family was very obvious. In Canada, I am not a rich man. I work hard for the money I saved, and as I travel there are no more pay checks to replace what I spend. Yet I am obviously very affluent compared to the average Ethiopian. I hate always being hounded for money on the streets, being taken advantage of, and always being charged "faranji" prices, but at the same time, I do have more money than most of them, and there is little to distinguish me from the really affluent tourist who is here for two weeks with money to burn, and who will return to a well paid job. The begging thing is still a problem for me, but everyone who travels any amount, especially in developing countries, has to come up with their own approach to the issue. I have started giving my coins, worthless by Canadian standards, if only because I see beggars asking regular Ethiopians for alms as well.

There are a few things I really like about Ethiopians. One is the way they greet each other. When friends say hello, they clasp hands and bring their right shoulders together and sort of cradle each others' neck, almost like a nuzzle. This is often repeated on the other side, and can go on for quite a while depending on how good the friends are, or how long it has been since they have last seen each other. It is a very intimate gesture and been lucky enough to make a few Ethiopian friends with whom I have exchanged greetings like this, it is also a very affecting one.

Another common act is that of friends feeding each other. Eating in Ethiopia is almost always a social event. I was told a saying that Ethiopians use - "A man who eats alone is like a monkey farting." I'm not sure exactly what it means, but I like it. This act of double feeding is also related to Ethiopia food, which can take on a few forms, but nearly always is served on, and consumed with, injera, a sort of sour, thin pancake. You tear part of the injera off and kind of wrap and roll your food into it, and then pop it in your mouth. Utensils are never used with traditional Ethiopian food (which I love, as an aside). Rolling up some injera, and then reaching up with your fingers to place it in the mouth of a friend is a sign of great affection. This is common whether the friends are the same sex, or mixed. And frankly, having witnessed my first girl-girl action today, it is also damn sexy.
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