Welcome to ‘Utopia’ [read: Ethiopia] we heard. Honestly though, we’ve had mixed reactions. We’ve had friendly, curious people waving and smiling at us, many yelling out “You, you, you, you, you!” but others yelling “Fuck you!” and making obscene gestures.
We didn’t get off to a good start in the country with Shaun and Karen’s iPod being stolen right from under our noses in a restaurant in the first town we stopped in, Yabelo. And from there I really have to say it’s still been up and down. We’ve met some great people; we’ve also met some bad people.
Ethiopia really is in a league of its own perhaps as it avoided colonialisation, having been occupied for only 5 years by the Italians, who were kicked out during the Second World War.
Our first few nights in Ethiopia were memorable. The first night we stayed at a bushcamp and had a girls’ truck sleepover. Kristy was up top on the ‘beach’, Emma on the ledge and Jo, Amy and I diagonally on the floorboards.
The second night, we stay in Ziway at what must’ve been a sex hotel. Prostitutes were milling around and each room was equipped with a box of condoms and a full length horizontal mirror lining the side of the bed. Rooms cost the least for boy and girl, more for girl and girl and the most for boy and boy! Hmm…sounds dodgy right?!
Peeing was a memorable too. When you’re on the road for so long, peeing on the side of the road becomes second nature. But we were warned about pee stops in this country as people tend to crowd around you whenever you get off the truck. We had a plan. All girls who need to pee go to the back of the truck then when Nev stops and honks his horn, we get off as quickly as possible. The boys keep a watch for us, then we get back on the truck and then they pee. At one stop, Garrett played the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme song which was hilarious but apt! There was actually no-one around until we got off and started peeing then practically the whole village turned up to watch. One enterprising man even came up to us with a huge bunch of bananas hoping to make a sale! God knows what they thought of us all peeing near their village and then taking off, without even buying a single banana!
Coming into Addis was a change. Big city. Crowds. Chaos. But more about that later.
In the meantime, here are the things that stand out to me so far in Ethiopia:
Injera – a pancake-like food that acts as your plate and you tear bits off by hand to eat with lentils, salads, mince, corn, carrots and beans, groundnut sauce, rice, or any other topping. It’s tasty and cheap too – four of us shared one huge plate for under $2.
Fresh juices – pineapple, mango, and avocado the most common (the avocado is best served with lime) – all for about 60 cents.
Coffee – It’s strong. And it’s good. In fact, it’s so good I have momentarily given up my coffee ban and am now downing a macchiato a day. Or two.
Taxes – All I can say is that they are confusing. Most menus list the prices excluding taxes and then lump on the tax at the end which can be 15% then another 10% service charge. It makes splitting large bills an absolute pain.
Cockroaches – well, I have found many in the bathrooms and in restaurants. I’m kind of used to it now though.
Altitude – Ethiopia’s pretty high above sea level - Addis Ababa is the third highest capital city in the world at 8,300 feet. You really notice it when walking around, and I get out of breath much easier over here.
Rainy season – we’ve hit the rainy season here unfortunately and it rains every afternoon, mostly around 3pm.
Fasting – every Wednesday and Friday are fasting days, except during the 50 day period after Lent. There are about 250 fasting days in a year, of which 180 are obligatory. The longest periods are Lent (56 days) and Advent (40 days). Fasting is meant to imply one meal a day with no meat, fat, eggs or milk.
Religion – Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity dates back to the 4th century AD is the main religion in the country.
Ethiopian calendar – very confusing to say the least. Their calendar is 7 years, 7 months and 7 days behind ours due to alternate calculations in determining the date of the Annunciation of Jesus. So the 12th of July 2012 was actually the 5th November 2004 here. Awesome – bring back the Noughties! A poster we past advertised ‘Ethiopia: 13 months of sunshine’. I was less concerned by the fact they promoted sunshine all year round in spite of their very wet rainy season than by the fact they said they had 13 months! [The Ethiopian calendar has 12 months of 30 days each plus five or six epagomenal days comprising a 13th month.] Times are also confusing. 12pm is 6am and 12am is 6pm (based on sunrise and sunset). If a local tells you a certain time in advance, always check if it’s Western time or Ethiopian time.
Given that we have three weeks in this country, I’m assuming we’ll have some pretty different and unusual experiences. Stay tuned.