The Gods were definitely on my side today, granting me these empty streets.
The thought came to me quite late in the flight, when I suddenly realised that the airport in Addis Ababa is only about 20 minutes from town.
So, with 4 hours to kill before my onward flight, and the fact you can get a tourist visa on arrival, I set myself a “maximum spend” and joined the “visa on arrival” queue and then the passport control queue. We’d landed at 6, so I figured if I was through immigration by 7, in town by 07h30 I could be back at the airport by 9, with an hour to spare before boarding.
I wanted to see the new African Union Conference Centre that the Chinese built as a gift, and to see the city itself again, 9 years after my last visit.
So it is that I was in a taxi by 07h16, on my way from Bole airport to the city. And the streets were empty! The taxi driver quickly told me that this is because it is New Year, so “the government and shopping is closed”. I’d remembered that in Ethiopia time is measured in twelve hour periods from 6am to 6pm, but I’d forgotten that they were on a different calendar, so it is that I can (again) say: “Happy New Year 2005!”
He took me around town to the new AU conference centre, now the tallest building in Addis, and a very impressive one at that. The AU has a huge complex (campus) here in the capital city, which is probably a reason for the massive amount of construction happening in town. There are buildings going up all over the place.
When René and I were here in 2003 (our calendar) the only 5 star hotel was the Hilton – now there are a multitude of international chains represented – from Radisson Blu, through Sheraton to Marriot. A veritable boom here!
I was slightly unnerved to realise that nothing looked familiar – apart from the roads around the old AU and the UN buildings and the Hilton Hotel – I walked those a number of time. Otherwise it all looked different. I did notice that there were fewer beggars in the streets (or did they also take a day off?) and that the multitude of “safe sex” and “HIV-AIDS education” billboards seem to have disappeared.
The driver did what so many drivers in Africa do – drive there where it is most convenient or efficient, even if it is not necessarily the “correct” place to be on the road… and I realised that I miss that in Germany ☺
The empty streets meant that my city tour was a lot faster than I had expected, so I asked my chauffeur to stop at a Kaldis Coffee restaurant – “the best coffee in Ethiopia”, and with a logo remarkably similar to that of Starbucks… I wonder who did the copy-cat there…
And so, sitting there, watching the city wake up after New Years Eve, hearing the church bells in the background, smelling the morning dew mix with the fumes of the cars, I got to thinking about how my life has changed since I was last here.
I caught myself thinking, “could I live here?” and my immediate answer was “no” – but I wonder if that is too hasty a response.
15 years ago when I was working in London, I got some information about the Lufthansa Management Trainee programme, where they base the participants in different parts of the world where they have bases, for a period of 2 years. At the time only Johannesburg and Addis Ababa were an option, and I seriously considered applying for that, and basing myself in Addis. At the time I already wondered weather I could live there. For various reasons, I ended up not applying – but whenever I am here, I wonder how my life would have turned out if I had applied for that, and gotten the position in Ethiopia.
As it is, the last 9 years have been tumultuous, but good. I don’t think I could have predicted my current life at that time. I was just about to leave Spirit of Africa, and am now at my third company since then. I’ve owned 2 houses, 2 cabriolets, have come out, and now moved to another hemisphere. Quite a growth and dream-fulfilling phase, me thinks ☺
And I’m grateful for the constants in my life – the friendships that have only grown stronger in that time.
I find it fascinating how one has invisible bonds to places that don’t often feature in life, to which there is no concrete connection – but yet something keeps them in the constant undercurrent of life. Addis is one of those places for me.
I wonder where I will be in another 9 years from now…