West Shewa, Ethiopia
Today was the day. Camp minibus booked (stop it) and the three boys headed into the capital. Course, Chris worked there for 6 weeks, and Rejean used to head in once a week until the hecticness did for him, but for me this was a fairly big deal.
Plan was to have not too much of a plan and for me at least, to just enjoy being immersed in a big city. The bus stopped to pick up a couple of the Yaya girls, a group of 12 or so who are supported by the charitable bit of the camp, and they fed us pineapple until we were dropped off at the National Museum/ This, we assumed, was the big museum of Addis, but in reality it was four fairly small floors. They’ve majored on the big African boast, that it is the source of humanity, and the basement is full of fossils showing the development of humanity. Or some stones placed there by a prankster God, as Bill Hicks would put it to a Creationist. The artwork on the first floor was interesting, and then up top were some artifacts from tribal history. Interesting, but not quite the history of the nation we might have expected.
From there we wandered the streets looking for the Ethnological Museum and found a modern art gallery for a quick break. Flowers and that. Eventually we realised that the museum was inside the university campus, so we pretended to be students and walked in. Our cover lasted about three seconds, as the security guard asked what we were looking for, but “Ethnological museum” was the correct password and we were pointed on. The museum is based, as is a small library, in emperor Haile Selassie’s old palace. Billed by Chris’ guidebook as the greatest display in Africa we were slightly underwhelmed, though there was more of a national history here than at the National Museum. Highlights for me were the emperor and his wife’s bedrooms – lavish perhaps in 1960 but, to their credit not gilded or wildly decorated. On a pull out display were Ethiopian stamps and currency through the ages, including a set of four stamps of Gebreselassie, “World Athletics Superstar”. Quite.
We’d run before we went into town, so were all fairly tired and hungry by now, so hopped in a taxi to head to a restaurant Rejean knew. Most, if not all, taxis are old ladas, and on this one the steering was more a suggestion than an instruction, though we made it okay, via a mix of brand new roads and small dirt tracks. Just one crazy man waving his hands in the middle of the road, and that may be typical, too.
None of us knew what the menu meant, but we ordered and had a huge pile of food, all to be wrapped – by hand – in pieces of injera, or bready pancake, torn off a roll. It’s a very good communcal activity, as although we’d ordered individually, we received one large silver dish, with a base of injera, onto which each dish was divided in front of each of us. Apparently the done thing for proper friends is to feed each other, too, but we decided that we might have bonded but we’re not yet that close. One beer each and on to the next stop, described by Rejean as “a container with a door” that served the best coffee he’d ever had.
We found it, and his description was perfect – just a door in the street, and that door to a container that had been dropped there. Narrow, it had stools up each side, and we took our places. Rejean had also been promised some coffee beans would be waiting for him, but the owner wasn’t there and the friendly local who translated for us didn’t quite understand initially. For me, though, there was the more immediate question – here, in the home of coffee, does a non coffee drinker refuse to partake in the ceremony?
Of course not. I’m sure you can count my coffee experiences on one hand, maybe two if you add accidental coffee creams (that is not a euphemism) and, even more significantly, this may be the first time I’ve had a whole cup. Black coffee, no sugar, let’s do this properly. And I can see how you can learn to appreciate it but there’s no Addisian conversion to report – still no coffee for me, thanks.
Although there are buses, there aren’t that many, and public transport is mostly made up of minibuses that run different routes. We hopped in one to get to Piasa (sp?) for some shopping, and I can see why the minibuses are seen as crowded and hot. Also, cheap – I handed over a 10 birr note (28 birr/gbp) and got 6 and change back for a 20 minute ride. Piasa was a whirl of people, tiny stalls and tiny crammed shops. I was happy just wandering the streets and soaking up the atmosphere, walking off a hefty lunch, while Chris picked up a watch and Rejean an Ethiopian (running) vest. We’d talked about drinking but I can now spot a pro runner by the brain whirr that happens after one drink, along the lines of “hmm, got a session tomorrow” and with hard running at 7.30am in mind, we caught a taxi back in time for dinner and to say goodbye to Julia.
With Rejean and Chris leaving tomorrow it almost feels like my holiday should be ending too, seeing as I’ve eaten with them for most meals over the last couple of weeks, but the Danish group are friendly, and people are always coming and going. There’s an older English couple here, too, who seem friendly with the coaches but I’m sure they’re not runners. It may just be that Abdi (former 1500 world champ, it’s worth always pointing out) is so friendly that he takes everyone under his wing. It feels a much more chatty place than when I first arrived, and I guess that’s partly because there are most people here, but also that those who are here have got to know each other, and mostly team up at mealtimes. If I pick another book as long as Anna Karenina I might be glad of a couple of solo meals to make better progress, but otherwise I’ll pick a table once the native English speakers have gone.
Summary: 1:32:12, 16.22km. Museums 3, Taxis 2, Minibuses 1.