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Monday, December 5, 2016

11/9: A Sensory View of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

As I mentioned in the last post, the hotel we had booked here in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, turned out to be a complete bust and we had reserved another hotel last night for the next three nights. From now on I will refer to the capital as simply Addis as that is how locals said it and it's shorter to type each time!
Our rather sad taxi to the second hotel, Ag Hotel; all taxis we saw in Addis were small by American standards, painted blue and white just like this one and were of varying vintages. This one must have been pretty ancient as it had no shocks and little in the way of get up and go. At least it was a fairly short drive so we didn't mind too much. Another taxi we took was about 30 years old, the driver said, and we could believe him based on its sorry state!
Our drive to the newer hotel included passing by many cattle and goats even though we were not in the boonies!

One of the sights I will always remember about visiting Addis were the omnipresent shoe shiners. We often saw up to ten men and boys lined up side by side on street corners, always hoping for business from the passersby. Even athletic shoes were shined, we noticed.
We had read hotel reviews from previous guests saying the curb appeal outside the Ag Hotel was lacking. Indeed as you can see, it didn’t look much better than at our initial hotel but, once inside, there was a world of difference. The manager kindly said we could have a complementary breakfast which was a nice touch. We were happy it was included every day as there sure wasn’t much in the way of other restaurants anywhere close. That was really the only negative thing about the hotel and a pretty minor one at that. (I didn't take a photo of the Ag Hotel right away but did another day so will include that when I find it!)
We took the brand new light rail downtown as the station was only 200m from the hotel, another great perk. The walk to the station wasn't the greatest but it was all part of the experience of visiting a developing country, right, Zachary!

Addis is located crossroads-like in the very center of Ethiopia. It’s a large city and many of its main roads and other landmarks have long gone by two or even three names, with the name shown on most maps differing from the one in common use. Luckily for us, central Addis is quite a compact entity so we could explore it quite easily on foot. However, I had read that pickpockets were commonplace so I decided to play it on the safe side and not wear either my gold bangle or necklace. I felt pretty lost without them as I haven’t been without either in as long as I can remember.

The light rail took us directly to Meskel Square (formerly Abiot or Revolution Square) where the Red Terror Martyrs' Memorial Museum was located. It was dedicated to the victims of the red terror campaign perpetrated by former President Mengistu and his Communist military junta Derg regime.
Outside the museum was this very moving monument erected for citizens martyred for their beliefs in the struggle for the Ethiopian people's human and democratic rights. It was unveiled in 2010 by a woman whose four children were murdered in one day. The woman wrote, 'As if I bore them all in one night, they slew them in a single night.'
The museum was set up by survivors of the red terror campaign where it was estimated that somewhere between 500,000 and over 2,000,000 Ethiopians were killed. We spoke to one of the guides who had been imprisoned by the regime for eight years.
 Mengistu declared the opposition party, the 'enemy of the state.' We read he thought it comical to throw a bottle of blood-type liquid into a huge crowd, which foreshadowed the wanton slaughter of innocents soon to come.
This 'wanted list' was comprised of names and pictures of 755 people:

We were horrified to learn that some of the Derg's torture and killing practices included mass killings at random, whipping, pushing the victims from hilltops, throwing into big rivers, strangling by nylon rope and piano wire, injecting victims with poison and killing victims with anesthesia. Extreme psychological measures were also employed to break down the prisoners.
According to Amnest International's report, the Derg regime was responsible for killing more than half a million children, elders, Christians and Muslims  all were indiscriminately massacred. Whatever the true number of people who were killed, it was too many.
It was incomprehensible to understand the horror of all these people being killed from the same family.

There were also some chilling relics – skulls and clothes removed from some of the 725 mass graves – and torture instruments of a genocidal era in modern Ethiopian history.

The moving tag said, 'Rest in peace – the remains of the heroic and irreplaceable sons and daughters of the Ethiopian people.'
Even religious leaders were not spared from the horrors of the Derg regime.
Personal effects dug up from some of the mass graves:
As neither Steven nor I had been familiar with the Red Terror campaign, we found the museum disappointing because there was no history or background provided to give context to what we had seen even considering this was the # one sight in Addis according to Trip Advisor. In hindsight, we should have read up on recent Ethiopian history so we would have had a better understanding prior to visiting the museum.
Just up a flight of stairs from the museum was the Addis Ababa Museum housed in a former royal residence. The museum had no electricity so a guide showed us around, taking us from room to room as he pointed out with his flashlight various items in its collection.
Crosses of Ethiopia: Ethiopian crosses are unique to specific areas of the country and and can be worked in gold, silver, bronze, nickel, alabaster or wood. Hand crosses are carried by priests to bless the people in the streets or churches. The richer the coimmunity, the more ornate and more valuable are the church crosses. 
Itinerant priests will normally only be found carrying simple wooden crosses. Processional crosses fit over the end of prayer sticks and are carried for major religious festivals. It was fascinating to learn that many of the museum's crosses were confiscated at the airport from people failing to produce proper export licenses.
Ethiopia is well known for its religious manuscripts. They were made from goatskin and bamboo pens with ink made from various herbs and flowers. The subject matter of the manuscripts was normally the Psalms.
Horn traveling cup and leather container: 
A shield made of hippo hide:
The guide showed us the collection of ceremonial and official clothes. 

We were then very quickly shown a room full of paintings but we had no time to linger and look as we would have done with at least some of them.

Haile Selassie, the former Emperor of Ethiopia who reigned from 1930 until a coup in 1974, was obviously a very short man as he was shown standing on a raised platform.
As with the Red Terror Museum, we found the Addis Ababa Museum very underwhelming because of the lack of context for those unaware of Ethiopian history. The lack of power and few displays also didn't contribute to its luster!
We expected a heavy police presence throughout Addis as we had received alerts beginning about a month ago from the US State Department advising American citizens in the strongest possible terms to not visit Ethiopia because of the hundreds of people recently killed in protests against the government. In addition, the Ethiopian government had imposed a state of emergency for six months across the entire nation. I won’t sugarcoat it as it was scary wondering how safe it was to proceed with our plans made six plus months ago to spend ten days visiting three cities, including Addis, in Ethiopia. We had seriously considered altering our itinerary altogether and going to Sri Lanka instead and even checked out flights, places to see, etc. 
But thanks to constant vigilance by Steven reading comments from people on the Trip Advisor website, and after consulting with a friend of Alexander’s, we decided to go ahead and stick with our original plans and visit Ethiopia. I am getting ahead of myself here but, after a safe and generally very positive time in Ethiopia, we were both so relieved we hadn’t cancelled our trip. We talked to so many tour guides, taxi drivers and others whose livelihoods have been severely impacted by the state of emergency that has resulted in mass cancellations in tourist bookings. It is those people that we felt sorry for. To a one, they all spoke of the danger being most acute in the southern part of the country and that they felt the US response was over the top and unwarranted.

We naturally talked with them about the political situation in their country; the prevailing sentiment was a very deep-seated frustration with the government who had been in power for 25 years and who was perceived to be out of touch with the people. They, of course, asked us about the US election results and what that might portend, not only for America, but also for the entire world. 
Meskel Square: an important landmark and notable among other things for one of the scariest pedestrian crossings!

Overlooking the square on Menelik Ave. was the Church of Kidus Istafanos, built during the Selassie era. We had walked by this entrance earlier without realizing it was the church we had been looking for. Only later did we come to realize that the arched entryway was common to almost all Ethiopian churches.
Having just arrived from Oman last night where everything we saw appeared to be so luxurious and there was plenty of money to spend on the country's infrastructure, it was quite a culture shock for both of us to be faced with the overwhelming poverty in Addis. It wasn't 'easy' to walk in many of the city's streets and even along the entrance to the church as we did here.
It was humbling seeing women practice their faith by lying prostrate on the ground in front of religious icons just before the church.

The church was notable for the mosaic above the main entrance depicting the martyrdom of its namesake, St. Stephen. 

Prior to entering the church, we had to remove our shoes, a practice we more recently associated with entering a mosque. We noticed women bowing down repeatedly by the altar.
On a festival day or a Sunday, there would be even more white-robed worshippers congregating in the large grounds. 
Drums are an integral part of a religious service in any Ethiopian church.

Prayer sticks used in religious processions:

We left the church by the impressive main entrance which had a large number of statues on either side of the steps.
This was just one of them.
Further uphill from the church and passing army officers every few feet, was the imposing Africa Hall that we could only view from behind the tall fence. I wondered if it was always closed or only now because of the state of emergency. When it was inaugurated in early 1961, the immense conference center was, according to the emperor Haile Selassie, intended to demonstrate "it is possible to construct grand buildings here making maximum possible use of home-produced materials, in order to stimulate our wealthy middle class... to invest its assets in building this 'great village' a city and a true great capital." Africa Hall served as the headquarters of the Organization of the African Union from 1963 onward. It is now the permanent headquarters for the UN's Economic Commission for Africa.
As we continued up the street, we saw a pair of steel gates guarding the grounds of the National Palace that was built to honor Selassie's 25-year Jubilee. Since the fall of the Derg, the palace has served as the president's official residence and the ceremonial office for official functions.

More shoeshiners:
Remember this young man for later.
This billboard outside the Defense Ministry promoting the very friendly Ethiopian army official reminded us of a very similar one we had seen in Cairo several weeks back.

The Tiglachin Monument was a memorial to Ethiopian and Cuban soldiers involved in the Ogaden War that took place in Somalia between 1977 and 1978.
The central statue depicted two armed men and a woman and the hammer and sickle flag of Marxism.
The main pillar in the back was decorated with a depiction of the Heroes' Medal, the highest honor of Communist Ethiopia. It weighed 1,550 pounds and had a diameter of close to nine feet.
While we were looking at the monument, the young man whom I had taken a photo of while he was having his shoes cleaned walked up and began chatting with us. Steven told me later that he had obviously followed us although I was unaware of that then - was I ever clueless as I thought he just 'happened' to run into us again twenty minutes later a good distance away! Addis offered to be our tour guide for the next couple of hours for free with the understanding we would hire him to be our guide for the full day tomorrow. His English was very good, he was very engaging and he appeared to know local history well - we were all happy with the arrangement. 
This man was buck naked.
I had noticed people chewing on what looked like pieces of grass as we had walked around. I asked Addis about it and he said they were chickpeas. 
He asked if I wanted to buy some but I wasn't quite that adventurous!
Steven and I were in the mood for walking so we headed north along Churchill Avenue toward the Piazza, an area immediately north of the city center, that reflected the country's prior Italian occupation. 
Prior to the 1938 Italian construction of the huge Merkato (Market) and the simultaneous expansion of the city center, the Piazza was the economic hub of Addis and site of the most important bank, market, hotel and shops. Our guide, Addis, (whom I wil refer to from now on as AA so I don't mix you up with both the city and the guide of the same name), mentioned that the Castelli Restaurant is one of the best places to dine in town and was where Presidents Bush (43, I think) and Clinton ate when they visited the city. 

The area looked very run down and pretty shabby, in other words much like the rest of Addis!
I spotted a bakery and AA kindly treated us to a number of rolls to munch on as, per usual, we hadn't stopped for lunch.
AA said that there were no elevators in this office building built by the Italians and joked that was why Ethiopians are so successful at running marathons!
The circular, stone Bank of Abyssinia - Ethiopia's former name - dated to 1905 and was located in the very center of the Piazza. We noticed the term 'Abysinnia' being used throughout the country and some Ethiopians we spoke to often referred to themselves as Abyssinians.
Portraits of the former Emperor Menelik and his wife:
Very near the bank was the Itegue Taitu Hotel that was built in 1907 and whose appearrance hadn't changed since then until a fire last year sadly destroyed the upper story.

Nina hon: Sure thought of you when we saw this shop in the Piazza area!
We walked to St. George's Cathedral next which was north of the Piazza. Though it was commissioned by Emperor Menelik II in 1896 to commemorate his victory over Italy in a battle at Adwa, the cathedral was designed by an Italian and built by Italian prisoners of war. These men were gathered outside the entrance.

After the cathedral was partially destroyed by the Italians who set fire to it in 1937, it was restored after the end of WW II when fresh paintings and murals were added.
Upon entering the church grounds, I immediately saw a huge acacia tree. I had seen my first one back in Egypt a few weeks ago but I soon realized that acacia trees were ubiquitous in Africa.
A sample of Amharic writing, i.e. the official language in Ethiopia. Since we were going to be in the country for ten days, we asked AA to please teach us a few words. The most important phrase was thank you; I hope to always remember how to say it in Amharic because AA joked it sounded so much like the song 'I'm a Single Lady!'
Unfortunately, the Cathedral was closed to visitors then because it was 'fasting time' - a practice followed by the faithful each Wednesday and Friday for nine hours until 3 pm.
Church security guards ensured tourists paid the required entrance fees among other responsibilities.
These candles would be lit and used to say prayers for the departed.
Religious items for sale:

Even in the capital city, horses and donkeys had free roam of the city streets!

Recycling Addis style!
Chat, a local herbal stimulant, was readily available for sale on the city's streets.

One of the places Steven and I really wanted us to see was the Merkato so we asked AA to take us there next via the bus. AA had wanted us to get a taxi but we assured him local transportation was preferable to us, not only because it was cheaper but also we were there to see and experience how locals got around. 

A common misconception we soon discovered was Ethiopians thought all Americans and Westerners had unlimited amounts of money to spend and that therefore they could charge us whatever they liked  and we would gladly pay that amount. Ethiopia turned out to be far more expensive for us than we envisioned because of the constant requests for money: every church we entered had a fee plus an additional cost to take photos; taxi rides were exorbitant unless we had AA negotiate a price ahead of time; the initial asking price for souvenirs was outrageous and we had to learn how to bargain to an extent we had not needed to in any other country; and gratuities were expected on top of every purchase. Obviously, we had lots of money as compared to those people we interacted with but it got crazy pretty quickly because we were viewed as a walking bank. When we said we weren't comfortable paying X amount for something, we were looked at as if why would we ever feel the need to question whatever price they had come up with. These feelings stayed with us throughout our entire time in Ethiopia and dampened an otherwise incredible time.

Church drums for sale:
Church sticks like we had seen earlier:
The Addis Merkato, which is routinely listed as the largest market in Africa, came into being in the late 1930s when the Italian administration relocated the 'merkato indigeno' 2km further southeast from the Piazza area. The Merkato now extends more than 1km sq and comprises more than 7,000 small businesses. As the true commercial hub of the capital, the vast grid of roads was lined with stalls, kiosks and small shops where we could have bought about everything we wanted OR didn't want!
 About a dozen men were lined up offering their services as tailors  and mending clothes.
More than in any city we've ever visited, I encountered a number of people who didn't want their pictures to be taken. I didn't realize that until after the fact in this instance. With the state of emergency occurring in Ethiopia, it's quite possible there were deep worries about possible repercussions about having photos taken and concerns about who was taking their pictures and why.
AA said this was indeed 'gold' jewelry but we had our doubts as there was no security around that we saw.

As you may have gathered from looking at a number of these posts, you can tell from many photos I am always intriged with images of men and women carrying heavy loads on their heads.

The incense spice market or area of the Merkato:
Charcoal was being sold in these bags, according to AA.

Paper being recycled: These bundles weighed a kilo each, AA told us.

Unroasted coffeee beans:
Live chickens for sale:

Banana leaves available for purchase:

Twine anyone?

Something neither of us had seen previously was banana paste:

We were tremendously fortunate that AA was there to show us a part of the Merkato where very few tourists would contemplate venturing by themselves. In fact, AA cautioned us to make sure we kept a very close eye on our belongings as we were going through a very rough and tumble section.
Everything was being recycled, not to be environmentally sound as we might do it in Canada or the US, but because everything had a monetary value. The following photos were of the scrap metal market where we had to be especially careful of scalding blowtorches, massive hammers being wielded and of steel rods, pipes and pots in the path.

Not only had we seen metal items broken down into their component pieces, we also were luck enough to view finished products that had been fashioned.
Newly built and painted drawers for sale:
Hot plates for sale:
AA suggested we take a taxi back to the Piazza area. There he took us to a shop selling Ethiopian handicrafts, something I particularly was interested in looking at.
There was lots of jewelry to look at but Steven and I both really liked two religious paintings whose style was unique to Ethiopia so we ended up buying them. Luckily, once rolled up inside one another, they just fit in Steven's backpack so he's been lugging them every step of the way since as we didn't trust them to not get damaged or possibly lost in the suitcase.
Steven and AA had some Ethiopian coffee at a small shop nearby. I am sure if you're a coffee afficianado, Ethiopia is the place to be but neither Steven nor I qualify as coffee bean lovers.

We stopped off next at the Lion of Judah Monument. Long the symbol of Ethiopia’s monarchy, it was its storied history that made this statue significant. After being erected on the eve of Haile Selassie’s coronation in 1930, it was looted by Italians in 1935 and placed in Rome next to the massive Vittorio Emanuelle Monument. In 1938, during anniversary celebrations of the proclamation of the Italian Empire, a young Eritrean, spotted the statue and defiantly interrupted proceedings to kneel and pray before it. 
After police verbally and physically attempted to stop his prayers, he rose and attacked the armed Italians with his sword while screaming ‘the Lion of Judah is avenged!’ He seriously injured several officers (some reports say he killed five) before he was shot. Although he died seven years later in an Italian prison, his legend lives on in Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Lion of Judah Monument was eventually returned to Addis Ababa in the 1960s.
These wooden items were commonly sold and used as toothbrushes.
After making arrangements to have AA meet us at out hotel at 8:30 in the morning, we got a taxi to the nearest light rail station so we could get a train back to the hotel. The driver was nice enough but the taxi left a lot to be desired! It was common not to be able to open or close a window and often even a door once inside.
We had had such an easy time getting the light rail into town this morning that we thought nothing of going back the same way. But the transportation gods had other plans for us. We didn't pay attention and stupidly, took the train going the wrong direction as we didn't realize there were two lines at the same elevated station. When the train came, we had to push and shove and were pushed and shoved in turn in order to get on it. We had never been so packed in such close quarters before in our lives; I had often heard the term 'packed like sardines' but never had the phrase been more appropriate! All I can say thank God no one on that train had a medical emergency or a panic attack as no one could have been helped. We had bought tickets but don't know why as no ticket taker could possibly have checked anyone's tickets.

After getting off that train at the proper station, we waited for more than 30 minutes for the train back to the station nearest our hotel but only one car came. It was already stuffed to the gills so we gave up and took a taxi back to the hotel after agreeing to pay a reasonable fair. What a first day it had been visiting Addis, first by ourselves, and then with AA: I can't say it was relaxing and at all pretty but enthralling and disturbing? Yes certainly.

Posted from Cape Town, Africa on December 6th, 2016.

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