Phew! I feel like I’ve been on the move for the greater part of the last few weeks and perfected the art of packing. Since I’ve last written, I traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the conference that I had written about earlier. It was my first inter-African flight and only the second country that I’ve been to on the continent. Even though I only stayed for 5 days/4 nights, I tried to make the most of my time there.
After the usual 8 hour bus ride to Kampala, a few hours in the airport, and a red eye flight first stopping over in Kigali, Rwanda, I arrived in Addis around 6am. As I was waiting for my hotel shuttle bus, I was quite amused by the below gentleman who seemed lost looking for Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Ha! After a quick trip to the hotel, I was reunited with my lovely coworkers from FHI 360. It was so nice to see familiar faces of close friends. Not to mention their thoughtful gifts of dental floss (nowhere to be found in Kasese), marshmallows, pizza Combo’s, a card game, and hysterically photo-shopped magazines! (Thanks again, guys :-))
Most of my week was spent inside the African Union Headquarters Building attending various sessions and receptions (see previous blog post). The building itself was built as a gift by the Chinese government and just barely inaugurated in January 2012 as the new headquarters complex. But apart from attending the conference, I did set aside some time to explore. The city was founded in 1886 at the site of hot springs by Empress Taitu; in Amharic, Addis Ababa means “New Flower.” The highlights for me included:
- An afternoon spent bargaining at the market for gifts. The scarves in Ethiopia were beautiful! They also had some gorgeous silver Ethiopian & Lalibela-style crosses and jewelry.
- A guided tour of Addis including stops at Mount Entoto for a view of the city; the National Museum of Ethiopia who’s main attraction is Lucy’s skeleton; and the oldest church in the city named Holy Trinity Cathedral (Ethiopian Orthodox).
- A brief stop in a local coffee shop to enjoy a cup of (strong) coffee.
Despite being such a brief trip, I had a good glimpse of the city. In various ways, it felt very different than Uganda. A couple thoughts/observations…
- Because of the elevation at ~7,500 ft above sea level (as opposed to 3,900 in Kampala and 3,000 in Kasese), the temperature was much colder than what I’m used to.
- As the only African country to have never been successfully colonized, there is such a rich history and culture. Yet there are still remnants of the Italy’s occupation such as a European-style district known as Piazza and a number of good Italian restaurants (of which I tried one!).
- Often speculated as the “birthplace of humanity” or “cradle of mankind,” it was interesting to learn about the abundance of archaeological artifacts discovered throughout the country, and especially along the Rift Valley.
- Coffee, coffee, coffee! Though I wasn’t able to participate in one, they have coffee ceremonies at their homes daily which typically include serving at least three cups of coffee per person. They use the same grinds throughout so it gets weaker with each cup. The coffee I had was so strong that I’m embarrassed to say how many scoops of sugar I had to use…
- Compared to Uganda which uses barely any spices other than salt and beef/chicken bouillon powder, the food was on fire!
- There was so much work being done on infrastructure, mainly by Chinese. They’re in the process of building an above-ground metro train so many of the roads were torn up. But otherwise, it felt perhaps slightly more developed than Kampala.
- Officially, Ethiopia considers itself seven years behind the rest of the world and their calendar year is currently 2006. This is because they determined the Annunciation date of Jesus differently. To further confuse, they consider dusk (6:00am) as the start of the day rather than midnight. For example, they consider our 8:00am to be “2:00am” because it is 2 hours past 6:00am. What?!
But certainly one common thread between Uganda and Ethiopia is that the people are very warm and welcoming. I had a great time during the week learning, exploring, and catching up with friends. It was hard to say goodbye to them, but I felt lucky to have been able to see them and happy to be heading back home. I then spent five days in Kampala before heading back to Kasese. And though I was unsuccessful in receiving my work permit (yet! fingers crossed.), I did get to hang out with a lot of the Kampala-based GHC fellows that I don’t often see. We splurged on some fancy Chinese food at a restaurant called Fang Fang, I participated in a GHC recruiting event at a 5k walk for girls, and finally went shopping at Uganda’s version of Target, Game. It was the first time I truly enjoyed myself in the crazy, hectic Kampala life.
Then back off to Kasese I went…