Wednesday, June 06, 2007

frankincense and myrrh

i cannot recall if the first thing that struck me when i walked out of the airport in addis ababa was the gentle smell of frankincense that permeates the air or the peaceful quiet that was such a change from nairobi. or it could have been my immediate fascination with the amharic language or the stunning beauty of the people. whatever it was, i was hooked from the first moment we stepped out to the stillness and calm of the capital city and took a little blue taxi to our hotel.

before leaving the airport i can tell you what went through my mind and it was this, ‘why oh why must bryan adams follow me all over the world?’ it wasn’t long before we heard celine too.

checking in was an experience that kept us laughing. i wasn’t sure if i was misunderstanding the desk clerk when she refused to give my female friend and i a room with one king size bed and insisted we pay more for 2 single beds because that was decidedly not allowed in that hotel. after failing to reassure that we were indeed just friends and were more interested in the lower room rate than snuggling in a large bed, we began to wander the streets of addis and it was not long before i realised that poverty and homelessness is a constant in the city and street begging is sadly, extremely common.

a more positive thought struck me during my first walk through the streets of addis ababa as well – i could cross the street freely without taking my life into my hands each time i stepped off the curb. i was stunned at the reminder of what lanes are on the road. those little white lines painted on the asphalt that are meant to keep cars a safe distance away from one another? entirely non existent in kenya and i had sincerely forgotten what orderly traffic is like. it is heavenly. giving pedestrians the right of way was truly the greatest invention of all time. roundabouts actually work to control the flow of traffic in addis and i had to point out to my travelling companion when i witnessed someone yielding. i pointed in disbelief and nudged her in the direction of a car waiting to enter the roundabout and said, ‘he’s yielding,’ and we both sat and stared for a moment just to make sure it was not just a stalled car and that it was genuinely a road rule in action.

another peculiar thing about ethiopians in addis ababa, they seemed to only want to talk to me and not my friend who is equally as blonde and fair as me but about 6 inches taller. she would ask them a question and they would turn to me to respond. i couldn’t figure out if it was my underwhelming stature or my african butt. one of the funnier street episodes of this nature was a man who tried to rent us a ‘big house’ because he assumed we could afford it and that we must need a place to stay while we were in addis if we just arrived. apparently, they don’t get too many tourists wandering the streets.

other definite highlights of the trip included seeing lucy, the first hominid discovered and proof that relatively, i am pretty tall for our species and our ancestors. the churches are pretty amazing too, i spent a lot of time pondering the history and age of christianity in ethiopia. the women ‘dress their hairs’ when they enter a church and people are always found in the gardens outside of the ethiopian orthodox churches, either sitting on benches or steps or kissing the walls or the ground. we had to take off our shoes to enter the churches and we had our own personal tour and got to see haile selassie’s tomb and his throne on which he sat in church. ethiopia was the first (and perhaps the only, if i am correct) state to declare christianity their state religion and it is amazing to see what a part of their history and government it has had.

i suggest that anyone going to ethiopia develop a love for all things coffee if you have not yet discovered the wonders of the bean. a delicious and frothy cappuccino or macchiato is about 30cents and for that price you can simply not stop at one. or two. the italians left behind some good ideas, including perfect pizza, al dente pasta, good service, and pastries upon cakes upon biscuits. and an incredibly sense of style. we wandered into a shop one night and i wandered out with a new pair of italian shoes, which i needed precisely as much as i needed a hole in the head. but i love them.

and the story that you have all been waiting for (or at least 2 of you)… i stole a bathrobe from the sheraton. i did not actually stay at the sheraton (because the pepto bismol pink room with the king sized bed in the second hotel we scouted out was just too good to pass up, well the pink AND the view of the city) but i did have a most relaxing and enjoyable massage at the spa there and they give you towels, a robe, and slippers to play dress up in the locker rooms which are less locker and more heaven. i have been wanting to find a bathrobe because walking around the house naked is not kosher when you have flatmates and a towel just doesn’t cut it if i am trying to make breakfast, coffee, or my lunch in the mornings due to its way of falling off just as you have the pb on the knife and are spreading it on to the bread. these bathrobes were a delight to behold so i scooped one up and stuffed it into the handbag that i carry everywhere with me and affectionately refer to as ‘the case.’ and now i have a bathrobe. and a spine that is free of knots. and no shame, apparently.

just to make the trip complete, i had my hair cut and coloured and a pedicure (i know, life in africa is tough) while sipping on macchiatos with only one scream of ‘no, no, no,’ when the stylist nearly cut me some chunky side layers (no good if your hair grows wider through the natural drying process) and a few training suggestions to build the capacity of the colourists who had probably never used such light hair dye before. in the end, all is well and my hair is brightened up with a choppy trim.

we also visited with a friend, listened to stories of being put in jail for staging creative protests, drank more coffee, became acquainted with the expat community at a 4 year old’s birthday party, and i found a calgary connection in the suburbs of addis. it never fails, that whole 6 degrees of separation thing.

and i shopped. coffee, scarves, silver, icons, honey, reams of fabric that i have yet to find a use for, prints of paintings (ethiopia has fantastic modern art)… who would have thought that so many fantastic things could be found in ethiopia? i didn’t really expect it and it tamed my little materialist spirit for a few more months before i touch down in what feels like the material centre of the universe.

can you tell i loved it there?


kels said...

lara that sounds awesome, and i think you needed a bit of a break. and can i tell you that it all sounds so wonderful...i am jealous and would love to see pics of the fabric you bought

Kizzie said...

beautiful pictures!
I always wanted to go to Ethiopia!
do u live in nairobi or addis?

lu said...

kels - the fabric is raw cotton and lots of it! i am thinking of having it sew into a duvet cover or even doubled into a blanket. come visit and i will show you and take you to the shop that sells handspun wool!

kizzie - NBO

kristen said...

perhaps the ethiopian tourism board should hire definitely made me want to visit (although I wanted to go i just want to go even more).

it sounded wonderful and i hope you are feeling refreshed and that the bathrobe treats you well.

(and everytime i see or hear addis ababa, it reminds me of a guy on the amazing race that kept calling it addidas ababa

Anonymous said...

I can picture you there! its amazing the way you describe things and seems that you're enjoying your time and having lots of fun. (Nice pics).
I am glad you sound so happy and excited. Finally I got the idea of the "s.. br" (Te robaste una bata de banio!!) hahaha! Disfruta tu viaje a Egipto.. (Bring me a stone from there please!). L. Gaby

Taylor said...

How wonderful! What beautiful pictures and wonderful discriptions! It's so hard for me to imagine an Africa where you go to spas and drink mochacinos and have your hair colored, but there it is.

My worldview is awfully skewed sometimes.

And I am drooling over the thought of the beautiful African fabrics.

Thanks for such a luscious post.

ruypster said...

Hi Lu,

Nice blog!

Greentings from Spain.

ruypster - Blog
Là où je passe, je laisse ma trace.

lu said... gaby, no se que dijiste.

en serio, mi robe es bien rico!

espero que estas bien y feliz en cuidad.

Taye said...

Great discription and nice pics! I am always surprised when I hear positive comments about my country from most foregners.