Friday, November 25, 2011

Inside Ethiopia (part 1)

Yesterday I arrived to Ethiopia, first time ever. So I thought it would be good to note down the experiences while they are fresh, catching the current feelings and ideas. I want to do this day by day and finally put it on my blog. 

Inside of the ILRI campus

 Day 0 (19.11.2011): Arrival

I started from my place in Vienna around 6 to catch the plane going to Frankfurt and from there to Addis Ababa. Everything went well. Surprisingly on the plane to Frankfurt I got the emergency exit place, so plenty of space to stretch the legs. The luck was not doubled on the six hour flight of economy class, but it was still ok. When we landed in Addis I had the sequence of events in my mind: I need visa for entrance to the country, collect my bag, change money and find the driver who will take me to accommodation place. But of course it turned out to be a bit more complicated.

I found the “Visa on arrival” place immediately, but I was not sure if I should collect my bag first. Frankly this was the preferred option for me, but I realized quite quickly that this is just not possible. The 2 minutes I spent with asking around caused that the queue for the visa doubled. So I went to this one and waited there. At the same time I was thinking that there is no way I can catch my bag on the belt in the next hall. But had simply no other option… After a short time I found out that I was quite lucky with the waiting time for the visa, as the number of people in the row doubled again (e.g. 4-5 times of the original queue size). I rushed through the visa procedure paying the 17 Euro fee, went to the bank nearby to change in some Euros to Birrs and then to the passport checking place, which they called “immigration office” or something like that. When queuing there for the third time from my arrival two things caught my attention (except from the huge mass of people waiting in the hall). 

The first one was a young man around 20 who was telling the people at our side of the hall where to go. The strange thing was that he didn’t wear any kind of uniform or a sign of an employee. As for me he could be any random person form the street. But obviously it was his job, as he was in front of the properly dressed officers the whole time even speaking with them. 

The other one was a sad story. I don’t know any details, just describing what I saw. There was this young lady around her 30 brought by a guard to sit down nearby. Not that she would like to flee, but she barely stood on her legs any cried all the time. Something terrible should have happened, but no idea what it was. Hopefully some manageable problem as loss of passport, or maybe she was denied to enter the country. I don’t know… But I hope they managed to solve the problems shortly after.

Back to me. When I went through the immigrations I found the belt for the Frankfurt plane with lots of suitcases on it. Obviously most of the people were like me spending long time in the queues. So I waited some time there but my bag was not appearing anywhere. Just about the time I started to get worried I found my bag on the floor in the middle with about 10-12 other bags. Just laying around. Somebody put them down and just left them. Very strange. After that point it was a clear way of finding the driver who took me to the ILRI campus where I got my room.

Day 1 (20.11.2011): First errands

This is the day I started to write this post. It is noon local time, and about 10 a.m. at home.
I went for breakfast where I met couple of other guys from the workshop. As it turned out they hadn’t changed money yet and were looking for a bank. The one on the ILRI campus is closed on Sundays so the only solution was the city, more precisely the Hilton hotel. At first I was considering if I should go with them, but then I thought I will use the free time and the company of people to see the city as well. We wanted to take a taxi, but the guy who took me the evening before appeared (bringing somebody else to the campus) so we asked him if he can give us a ride. 

At the Hilton area it is hard not to notice the bunch of guards, some just with “normal” accessories, but I saw at least one with a Kalashnikov . Then I thought, “OK, these guys are serious around here!” Of course a security check at the entrance with metal detectors. 

As almost none of the shops were opened, we went back to the campus, where is a supermarket for food and a shopping mall with various things. And yet the next surprise here: Security checks again! This time without detectors, but 2 guards at entrance and several other ones inside for a not-so-big mall seemed to be a bit too much for me. Anyway, not all the shops were opened, so this would be a place to revisit some day.

The other thing I have to mention is the general impression from the place. There is a HUGE difference between the campus where I stay and the outside world in the city. Here everything is very nice, good roads, palm trees, cafeteria and dinner place, swimming pool, tennis and squash courts. So you get the idea. 

The city outside is totally different. Judging from this car trip, it seems that the entire city is being built just now. You see huge concrete skeletons of buildings in different stage of construction. But as for me it seemed that there is much more work to be done before the first inhabitants arrive. It would not be a bad thing, but if you see really many of them along the road you start to wonder if they will be finished in a reasonable time. Maybe it is just my impression, but it seems that they started quite some time ago and struggling to finish them. 

The other major thing is the road infrastructure in the city and the driving habits. Let’s start with the driving. Imagine a highway 2 lanes in each direction separated in the middle by small raised pavement.  Our driver took the one on the right side, but he consistently drive on its left side. Then the discussion came up if the driving habits are the same as in England, to which he responded yes, that’s why he is taking the left side of the road. But this did not explain why we are taking the right side of the highway. After a few turns and small streets full of people and small shops we arrived to a major road of the size similar to the highway, but not separated in the middle. In here the driver went for the left-most lane, with a short explanation that he knows that this is strange, but this is how it goes around here. Confused? So was I.  (Note: The drives in the city in other occasions were not this chaotic, pretty much European style.  Although the drivers had no problem to stop in the middle of the street for some time creating minor traffic jams all around.)

The other difficulty a driver will face in Addis that the infrastructure for pedestrians is not well developed, non existent or the pedestrians tend to ignore it. I saw plenty of people crossing the 4 lane highway at any point. Sometimes we encountered a person in our way in every 50 meters, sometimes a person walking on the inside (!!!) lane, although there was a fair enough and much safer zone for the pedestrians on the outer side. Sometimes this was missing as well, so we had people walking near the road, or the best: a “custom” market on the side of the road, effectively blocking one lane from the 2 lane highway! No more comments… Just amazing. I really don’t understand this. At all.
The poverty (for my European standards) was noticeable on almost every step. One could see this on the clothes of some (but definitely not all!) people and on most of the small houses. I have to say that I also saw quite many middle class apartments in huge houses, so to say that poverty is everywhere would not be a fair statement. I have seen too little so far to judge this. It is a different country, different continent, so I have to see more. 

Evening update:
Just returned from the local pub/dinner place, which supposed to serve as a meeting place for people and it is also used for dinners on Sundays. I met a guy from Sudan and we ended up near the bar discussing some more-or-less serious issues. The nice addition to the evening was the Chelsea vs. Liverpool football match broadcasted live. I knew from before that people in Africa are quite big fans of football, which seemed to be proven during this evening as well. Quite a few of us watched Liverpool defeating Chelsea, which was good news for some, not so good for others. As for me I enjoyed the match and the Ethiopian beer, and rolled back to the accommodation place with the final whistle. 

Tomorrow the workshop is starting. I am quite curious about it…

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