Fear & Loathing In Addis Ababa

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Scenes From an Ethiopian Wedding

…flight to Ethiopia is on Turkish Air, so I change planes at Istanbul, finally getting in at midnight… friend’s there to meet me; first time for everything… night air is cool; that suits me fine.  I drink a beer and we shoot the sh*t for a while.  It’s midnight and I’m wired, jet-lagged as Hell.  Welcome to Ethiopia.

…Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi is playing on Sunday; I’m in… first thing’s come first, though, so I go get my visa to Somaliland, even though it’s not really even a country…

The “ambassador” calls me into his office.

“Who told you to go to Somaliland?”

“No one.  I decided to do it on my own.  I plan to go to every country in the world.”

“Have you ever been in Ethiopia before?”

“First time.”

“Where else have you been in Africa?”

“Mali and Senegal.  But I’ve been in eighty other countries also.”

003

Cultural Dinner in Addis Ababa

He nods.  He didn’t have to know that Mali was an unmitigated disaster and Senegal only somewhat mitigated.  He knows that Africa is a continent unlike any other, where your very conception of what it is to be human will be put to the test, where you’ll see things you might rather forget… like humans eating off the ground in flocks like pigeons… collecting discarded mango skins to process one more time nutritionally.

…seems as if a whole nation is hungry and willing to do just about anything to satisfy it.  When I suggest to two amputees, one male and one female, that they look cute together, they suggest that I should snap up the thirteen-year-old girl with her hand outstretched.

…girl immediately comes over closer and strokes my…arm-hairs.  They ask where I’m from, wondering if I’m Chinese.  I guess it’s not obvious with my baseball cap and sunglasses on.  I respond that I’m American, lifting my glasses and showing my eyes.  That seems to quell any further interest.  Apparently the Chinese are getting all the press as the nouveau riche from heaven.  Apparently the new Mandarins are the old Mandarins; they just haven’t come to collect the rent yet.

Oliver 'Tuku' Mtukudzi

Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi

Ethiopian women are quite fetching… comparisons to Thailand occur to me…  word for “foreigner” is even almost the same, “faranji” instead of “farang”…  people equally subdued in character, with delicate lines and fine features, both men and women.  Stuff’s cheap, too.  A Plan “C” gradually emerges in my fantasies; if all else fails, then one could do worse than here.  It gets worse…

Blogs are illegal apparently, and so is Skype… Addis no paradise either, though some modern conveniences and a bustling night-club scene… sprawling and chaotic and hard to walk around… probably “shambolic” too, as the quote goes, but I’m not sure what that word means.

…go to a “cultural dinner” complete with song and dance… traditional Ethiopian dancing has to be seen to be believed… like pec exercises… while hopping around the floor, kicking and screaming and gesticulating wildly to music that is best described as a cross between Mungo Jerry and Khmer-style gantreum

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A Decent Restaurant in Addis Ababa

…coffee is excellent, apparently an Italian legacy… cheap too, except in the foreigner haunts… it originates here, but the Italians took it to a high art… antique espresso machines prove it… old fashion machines with four-barrel carburetors… words “macchiato” and “cappuccino” are in the local vocabulary.  Ethiopians drink it with popcorn traditionally, and incense too, a more distant legacy I guess.

…don’t like to have to watch my back every day in the city, so I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve seen the countryside.  Cities should be reserved for great art and beauty and culture, not shanty-towns.  Poverty still has dignity in the countryside.  Leave it there.  ‘Tuku’s show is great, but I’m getting antsy…

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