Addis Ababa Ethiopia
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Addis Ababa Ethiopia: This kid initially seemed to be curious about my camera but, quickly became just one more example of the hoards of child beggars that hang around the upscale hotels in the city. The face in this photo haunts me as I recall the endless parade of truly needy people seen throughout Ethiopia.

Addis Ababa National Museum: This is a full life reconstruction of "Lucy" in the museum where her actual bones are maintained on display.

Addis Ababa National Museum: Side view of the full life reconstruction of "Lucy" in the National Museum.

Addis Ababa National Museum: Poster showing a reconstruction of "Lucy" hanging in the museum where her bones are maintained on display.

Addis Ababa National Museum: Poster explaining what is known about Australopithecus Afarensis hanging on a wall in the museum.

Addis Ababa National Museum: Reconstructions of other skulls on display in the museum.

Addis Ababa National Museum: Reconstruction of a Australopithecus Afarensis skull on display in the museum.

Addis Ababa National Museum: Artist interpretation of Australopithecus Afarensis hanging on a wall in the museum.

Addis Ababa National Museum: Reconstruction of a Australopithecus Afarensis skull on display in the museum.

Addis Ababa National Museum: Main entrance to the national museum where the bones of "Lucy" are maintained on display.

Addis Ababa National Museum: This is a full life reconstruction of what "Lucy" might have looked like when she was alive three and a half million years ago. The sculpture is on display in the museum where her actual bones are maintained.

Addis Ababa National Museum: These bones are all that remain of "Lucy" and are maintained in the museum for viewing by the public.

Addis Ababa National Museum: Poster showing a reconstruction of "Lucy" hanging in the museum where her bones are maintained on display.

Addis Ababa National Museum: Poster showing a reconstruction of "Lucy" hanging in the museum where her bones are maintained on display.

Addis Ababa National Museum: Explanation of what is known about "Lucy" in the museum where her bones are maintained on display. Dim light and small placard made a fuzzy image the best I could do.

Addis Ababa National Museum: Chart showing the decent of human beings with Lucy's place in the sequence.


SmallBook9 January 2012


Hello from Addis Ababa Ethiopia

Two things will always remind me of Ethiopia: flies and coffee. The flies here attack incessantly and seem to focus on the eyes, corners of the mouth and nostrils. As soon as I brush them away from one spot they are back buzzing around a different place. Escaping inside a building or even its shade usually provides relief; bright sunlight exacerbates the problem. I now understand better all the scenes we see on TV with tiny emaciated children pretty much ignoring the little pests. Eventually people must reach a point where they understand visits by flies are inevitable and just let the little beasties feed. Like a horse's tail, my hands are constantly brushing over my face to discourage landings on my sensitive parts. Black Ethiopians rarely are seen making such wild gesticulations designed to deny flies the pleasure of a calm landing pad. Perhaps Ethiopian flies prefer white meat or the exotic aroma of freshly washed foreign body odors. In addition to the pesky flies there is a lot of dust here and when the wind blows it is difficult to keep it out of your eyes. I am reminded of the same problem faced in Cairo during my visit there in 2000.

Before this trip the first thing that came to mind when thinking of Ethiopia was the aroma of coffee. I have always associated coffee with Ethiopia, that being the place it first came to the attention of human beings. As a herd of goats eating the berries and getting frisky made the goatherds aware of the stimulating properties, I must assume goats and possibly other animals knew about "coffee" long before their human companions. So far all I have been able to discover are the told and retold legends of its discovery. Interestingly, the coffee served in my hotels has been of uneven quality with coffee dregs usually remaining in the bottom of the emptied cups from the primitive ways Ethiopians brew it; they do not decant their coffee. There are no Starbucks coffee houses here... in fact, there are very few Western franchise operations of any kind here... unless you count the Missouri Starbucks copycat, Kaldi's Coffee which does have several outlets in Addis. Oh, what I'd give for a juicy Big-Mac and frothy cappuccino occasionally.

After learning of the traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, I couldn’t help but notice that it has a lot in common with the Tea Ceremony performed in Japan. In the days leading up to the holidays ladies line the streets in certain parts of the town selling bundles of green grass about two feet long. Mystified for a while, I learned the grass is used in the Coffee Ceremony rituals; it is scattered around on the floor of the room being prepared for the solemn coffee festivities. As floors in many rural Ethiopian homes are often only packed dirt, it would add a touch of elegance, no doubt. One of my Ethiopian informants told me the green grass is a symbol of renewal and hope and is scattered around whenever people want to direct attention to the promise of better times, like religious holidays. I have seen such grass scatterings near the entrances to several churches during these Christmas holy days.

Addis Ababa sits at an altitude of 8000 feet, somewhat higher than Big Bear Lake where I lived for so many years. The first couple days I caught myself breathing deeply involuntarily, sometimes awakening with a gasp as my body urgently screamed for more oxygen. Now weeks later the lungs have accommodated to the lower life sustaining oxygen levels and I breathe normally without effort. While searching the Web I found this useful Welcome to Addis Guide, complete with good maps and this tourist information site. After returning home I found this marvelous travelogue tracing the history from the time of the Queen of Sheba to the present.

But once again, I get ahead of myself. In the last postcard from Cameroon I mentioned being discouraged by transportation difficulties and with the tourist barriers erected by inhospitable West African nations. After considering all the possibilities for onward travel from Douala Cameroon it finally looked like leaving west Central Africa and its corruption and poor infrastructure made the most sense. The hassles were no longer worth the promise of exploring the over touted attractions of Gabon or the excitement of challenging the Congo wilds.

Continuing on eastward around the world has always been an appealing idea and would provide another opportunity to stop in at the Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok for my irregular “annual” physical checkup. Ethiopia has been on my short list for decades and this option meant a stop there would fit right into such an itinerary. So, on 23 December I hopped on an Ethiopian Airlines plane and headed east for Addis Ababa .

The first night on landing I walked fifteen kilometers through the dark streets to the city center area as is my foolhardy habit. Starting about 20:30 in the dark I hadn't found lodging that felt right after three hours despite being approached by several dozen "helpful" souls all of whom spoke English.  Totally exhausted and shivering from the chill even in my down vest, I vowed the next hotel I found, no matter how crummy, would be the place I stayed for the remainder of that first night... and serendipity struck again.

Poorly marked until I stood directly in front of the place located in a dusty high-rise construction area without sidewalks, the five star Addis Ababa Intercontinental Hotel would clearly meet my minimum standards for cleanliness and amenities... but at what price. Still, a vow is a vow. Lucky for me they were featuring special discounted holiday rates... only $170 per night, more than twice my budget. I bit my tongue, sucked in the opulence and took a room.

On first arriving in any new city I often stop at five star hotels knowing they will usually offer information about their city, sometimes providing excellent maps and will always cheerfully direct me to more "affordable" lodges nearby... to quickly get me and my scruffy backpack out of their fancy digs I imagine. But, this first night I'd allow myself to get the full treatment and be pampered. After all the skimpy meals in Cameroon, the lavish buffet breakfast alone would make the splurging worthwhile. The next morning after gorging myself I received information about an obscure guest house located in the building directly adjacent to the Intercontinental which I had walked past the night before without any awareness of its existence.

The “room” in the Nigist Towers Guest House is actually a quite nice studio apartment with a little kitchenette and the rate is only $60 per night (without breakfast). BUT, the darned Internet didn't work, so after only two nights I moved to my present abode, the fabulous, four star $100 Jupiter International Hotel where they offered me a special long term holiday rate of $70 including a big buffet breakfast.

Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7th, so Western visitors see two Christmas days in the country, especially in the international hotels. New Year's Eve came and went without any noticeable fanfare other than people enjoying an extra day off from work. I've learned Christianity in Ethiopia is unique in the world, the church retaining elements of its old Jewish origins (like avoiding pork) and following a different calendar... which accounts for the different days for observing holy days like Christmas. Customs differ too: few presents are exchanged with the exceptions being a few token gifts for the children. People get up in the wee hours to attend a 4AM mass and dress in all white clothes for church I am told... I wouldn't know for sure as at that hour I still snuggled under the duvet, though later in the day I did see a majority of people wrapped in white.

One of my long walks took me up behind the British Embassy where the Washa Mikael church ruins are supposed to be located. Unable to locate the rock hewn ruins after climbing more than an hour in the indicated direction up the mountain and with dusk approaching, I gave up and headed back down toward the hotel. My return route took me through the huge outdoor animal market on the day before the traditional Ethiopian Christmas celebration. Near exhaustion from that seven hour walk I paused in the huge goat/sheep/cattle market and watched as people haggled over prices for Christmas dinner on the hoof. Some buyers and sellers pursued their negotiations while holding hands until the bargain was struck. On 6 January the huge goat population here is cut in half as every Ethiopian with the financial means aspires to feast on goat or lamb Christmas Day. Working my way through the animal market I watched as thousands of goats selected their dinner partners and then the following day watched as they donated their no longer needed hides to huge piles of pelts later collected by tannery trucks near my hotel.

Ethiopians are unbelievably friendly. I pass hardly anyone on the street who doesn't greet me with a few words in English. In certain places the greeting is immediately followed by an outstretched hand and a torrent of pleadings in Amharic, the national Ethiopian language which most native people speak. A majority of the kids I meet on the streets clearly have learned verbatim a few useful English phrases like: "HARlow." or "Welcome." and then inevitably "Want MONee." or "Give MUNee." Most are not obnoxious or persistent, but the incessant encounters still are humbling. This morning a well dressed, well groomed, well fed boy about fifteen years old on the way to church with his family surprised me with a stream of the standard phrases in English ending with the begging. I have to wonder if he actually understood what he had done! It seemed so out of character given the upscale appearance of the family.

Last Friday, the Muslim holy day I wandered the Grand Market area or Merkato where beggars constituted a majority of people on the street. I couldn't walk more than a few feet without being accosted by a beggar! It turns out Muslims are especially generous on Fridays around the Mosques and the beggars take advantage of that predictable fact, dominating the area with their presence.

It is not only in the Merkato that I am accosted by hoards of beggars. They are everywhere and of all ages and of both sexes. Local people seem to be particularly generous with them and I have seen three people walk up to beggars like they knew them with an outstretched arm for a handshake and surreptitiously leave some money with the handshake. Discussing the avalanche of beggars with one Muslim Merkato store owner he noted most of these people can’t find work and have no other alternative but to beg.

When he learned I am from America, he volunteered that he “hates Bush.” I reminded him we now have a new president, Obama and wondered what he thought of him. “He doesn’t have any power so he can’t do anything.” was his reply. As I passed one of the several mosques in the Merkato grand market I listened as the imam chanted the liturgy to an uncharacteristic melody and in a language which must have been Amharic; it certainly wasn’t Arabic.

One of the country’s problems is the unavailability of foreign exchange; one sees very little foreign merchandise in the stores. There are no western fast food franchise restaurants like Mac Donald’s or Burger King. There also are no mosquitoes!

There are signs posted prominently in establishments throughout Addis Ababa warning patrons to not pay unless they are given a receipt for the amount. At one point I just wanted a bottle of mineral water and tossed the marked purchase price down on the counter and started to walk out with the water. Pandemonium erupted as several people in the shop started jabbering in different languages making it clear I must not leave until the formalities had been completed. Finally, one of the guys who spoke a bit of English explained that the store owner could be arrested if he failed to give me a receipt when accepting my money! Boy! Ethiopia takes extreme measures to deter corruption… even for a fifty cent bottle of water.

I continue my studies of traditional medicine on the African continent as I explore Ethiopia, starting in Addis Ababa. Research with the Internet yielded great numbers of articles about the subject. For example: A historical overview of traditional medicine practices and policy in Ethiopia. While staying in the excellent four star Jupiter Hotel the Deputy Manager, Mr. Antro Korajlan indicated he might be able to help me in my quest for contact with healers in Addis. One morning he and a childhood friend with knowledge of a very famous healer, "Doctor" Mamo, drove me across town to the healer's compound. As we approached the neighborhood inquiries of residents all produced immediate recognition of the doctor's name and enthusiastic directions toward his compound.

The doctor was out, but we were allowed to wander the grounds and examine "medicine" storage shelves, the doctor's office through a large window, and the dirt floor waiting room. Dr. Mamo's office clearly suggests a man with a long and illustrious professional background. His large cluttered desk ran the length of the office like a conference table covered with numerous piles of papers and projects in progress. On the wall behind the desk hung dozens of framed plaques containing testimonials and achievement certificates of various kinds plus framed photographs of Dr. Mamo with various celebrities including Emperor Haile Selassie! Scattered around the dirt surface of the courtyard on a large drop-cloth were a dozen disk shaped "loaves" of the traditional flat bread known as injera. On another cloth a pile of some herb lay drying in the sun. The doctor's assistants volunteered information about the healer and indicated the great man would surely want to meet the foreigner, but would not be in the office until the following morning.

Checking the Internet I discovered many citations which mentioned the healer, Mamo. Several related biographical details of his involvement in the Italian wars and his association with the emperor Haile Selassie. One must wonder if the healer's fame is the result of successful patient cures or his reputation as a great patriotic hero and confidant of the emperor.

One day I walked up to the National Museum where the remains of “Lucy” are kept on display for the public. Seeing the actual collection of bones and reconstruction of the full creature I am amazed how small our earliest ancestor was. The Lucy room contains various other archeological finds and explanations of what we know about our forbears from the bones. To experience the real Ethiopia I had lunch at Tamirat Abshere, a small restaurant across the street from the Jupiter Hotel. The traditional food is unusual, delicious and cheap.

The story of Africa is the story of poverty and the story of poverty cannot be told without focusing on the high birth rates on this continent. The significance of overpopulation is graphically demonstrated in this entertaining TED talk I just discovered: Hans Rosling on global population growth. Part of the problem is short life expectancy. Here in Ethiopia it is around 54 years for males compared to over 76 years in the United States.

In a couple days I'm headed up to Lalibela, the region famous for rock hewn churches and then on to Axum in my personal quest for the Holy Grail and after that to Gondar and its castles. More when I reach a new destination.


Fred Bellomy


Addis Ababa Ethiopia: This is what I had for lunch one day in restaurant called Tamirat Abshere across the street from the Jupiter Hotel where I stayed most of my time in the city. Called firfir, the outer wrap called injera is a spongy crape made from Teff flour and filled with more pieces of the crape in a sauce and spicy vegetables. Teff is a tiny grain similar to millet in appearance and until recently, unique to the African Horn.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Entrance to the 4 star $100 Jupiter Hotel with $70 holiday rates 'til 14 January. As the Internet failed to work in the guest house I'd chosen for Christmas and the day before, I continued my hotel shopping and found this excellent value for the majority of my stay in Addis Ababa. The new Radisson Blu opened this month on the property adjacent to the Jupiter.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Beautiful presentation of my delicious (90 Birr - $6) chicken breast lunch one day at the Jupiter Hotel.




Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Map of Africa showing the location of Ethiopia with Eritrea to the north and Somalia to the east.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: This kid seemed to be curious about my camera and I showed it to him... and snapped his picture... after which his behavior changed dramatically as seen in the following photo snapped as the kid became just one more example of the hoards of child beggars that hang around the upscale hotels in the city. Most are urged on by a parent sitting off to the side inconspicuously somewhere.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: This is the tiny digital pocket camera which attracts so much attention, the Philips KEY019

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Flags flying over the entrance to the four star Hotel De Leopol International. The PRC Chinese flag is among a second group of flags. There are a lot of Chinese visitors to African countries right now. Here you can see the American flag and that for the European Union, also common for upscale hotels here.

Addis Ababa National Museum: This is another view of a full life reconstruction of what "Lucy" might have looked like when she was alive three and a half million years ago. The sculpture is on display in the museum where her actual bones are maintained.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Interesting sculpture in front of a nearby four star hotel where I found the array of international flags representing the nationalities of the current guests in the hotel.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Flags flying over the entrance to one of the four star hotels in the city. Notice the PRC Chinese flag flying to the far left. There are a lot of Chinese visitors in African countries right now.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Fast food joint, Ethiopian style. I ate a lot of bananas purchased from guys like this one peddling his produce from a wheel barrow. Hardly a block went by without at least one of the guys opening his "store" for business.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia Animal Market: Boy bringing home his family's Christmas dinner. The sheep doesn't look happy. Actually, the boy looks pretty tired, too. He might be carrying that animal which could weigh more than he does quite some distance.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Passengers buying tickets from the conductor through an open window in the bus before entering the front door of the bus.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Mortar Monument erected in the middle of a traffic circle in downtown Addis.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: On a street corner in the middle of the unbelievably busy shopping streets in the middle of the Merkato I spotted these cute kids "protecting" the sleeping body of their mother... I presume.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia Animal Market: It is Ethiopian Christmas day and this guy is finally butchering his dinner goat.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia Animal Market: It is Ethiopian Christmas day and pelts from all the thousands of goats slaughtered for the annual feast are already being collected for sale to the tanneries. The size of the pelt piles grow by the hour until the collection truck arrives to take them away.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Iconic Lion of Judah sculpture erected on a site in the very heart of the city. The lion is the symbol of heroism and resistance to Ethiopians.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Ethiopia-Cuba Friendship Memorial Park Monument in downtown Addis.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Entrance to the 4 star $100 Jupiter Hotel with $70 holiday rates which the manager extended for the duration of my time in Addis Ababa. The manager, Antro Korajlan spent much of his adult life in America and still carries an American passport. He proved a well informed and helpful resource during my several weeks stay in Abbis Ababa.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Entrance to the 4 star Jupiter Hotel located around the corner from the $170 Intercontinental Hotel where I found myself the first night in the city. This is an area of frenetic construction activity with tall buildings going up on every vacant plot of land in the area.

Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Painting hanging on the lobby wall in the Jupiter Hotel.


Reference photo: author
 August 2002

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