30 December 2009

2. - 30 DEC: Arrival in Addis Ababa

We land on time at the impressive airport of Addis Abeba (the New Flower) and our first worry is to buy a visa. There is a pretty disciplined line at the visa office and we get processed pretty efficiently. Once out of the airport our bus takes us to our hotel. Check-in and off we go to explore the city!

The main throughway of Addis is Churchill Road, no doubt a tribute to the man who insisted on getting the Italians out of Ethiopia at the outset of WW II. Fair enough... though as we will see the Italian occupation was probably not the worst experience these people ever had.

The extent of the Italian imprint is still visible, even if most youngsters now learn English and it is only a few elders who speak Italian. But the covered market is still "il mercato", the main square is still "la piazza", and Italian books from the fascist times are abundant in the flea markets. I manage to buy a couple of issues of an economics journal published in 1937 about how the Fascist regime was going about setting up radio stations, building roads and exploiting the natural resources of the country.

The city itself is chaotic, dirty, yet vibrant and lively. Clearly Ethiopia is moving ahead after centuries of depression, dictatorship, marxism and neglect. Several people I meet make it a point of underscoring how it is the diplomatic capital of Africa, mainly because the African Union is based here.

The national museum, with a replica of Lucy, the oldest remain of a human, is a bit disappointing. St George's basilica is fascinating it its own way, though more for the people we meet there than for the church itself.

Early dinner and we tuck in withouth too much happening to spice up the evening, but tomorrow we start a long drive north.

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