CITY GIRL: From technology to its people, Ethiopia is just magnificent
From 300 feet above the ground with less than a mile to touchdown at the Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, looks like a tapestry weaved with neatly demarcated green and dry patches of land and punctuated with red-roofed houses.
The weather is hot and dry but I had been forewarned that the biting night cold could be unforgiving.
After the usual immigration checks, that took me less than two minutes (I am lucky, it could take up to two hours on a busy day), I am immediately welcomed into Ethiopia when a rather good looking driver from Elilly Hotel shows up.
The ride from the airport to the hotel is quiet, leave for a few remarks from the driver – whose name it’s a pity I cannot recall.
“Kenya, Nairobi or Ethiopia? Which city beautiful women?” he asks me.
“Definitely Kenya,” I tell him. He laughs and apologises profusely for keeping me waiting at the airport for almost 40 minutes.
Ah, the airport wait. Minutes after landing, I wandered around the massive airport that has been built to impress.
The airport is a mammoth work of glass, tile and latest technology, a far cry from what we call an international airport here in Kenya. Sorry, but that’s the truth.
REAL STORY OF ETHIOPIA
The parking lots are orderly with more than enough parking spaces, devoid of the mean looking policemen you will find at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport who wait for you to sneeze to arrest you.
Addis Ababa, is one big construction site. The real estate boom is on steroids here. At every turn is an old building torn down to make room for a taller, glassier and glossier edifice with a Chinese contractor’s name displayed prominently.
The city is abuzz with life, albeit a little slower than Nairobi. Through the highways and narrow streets, you will find little old vintage Ford cabs, painted in an ugly blue colour – the one we use to paint our gates.
The vintage blue cabs, which I am sure are about forty (plus) years old, remind me of Cuba, emitting exhaust fumes as they trudge on resiliently, oblivious of the changing times and vehicle technology. Those who do not take taxis hop on to some rickety jalopies they call buses.
But this is not the real story of Ethiopia, and particularly Addis. These are just sideshows. The true story of Addis, is that it is a town fast hurtling into the transport hub of Africa and the newly minted metro and electric trains are proof of this.
Wednesday afternoon, my friends and I took the train around the city and marvelled at the sheer efficiency and organisation of the public transport system here.
Connecting the city of Addis in utter effectiveness and convenience, the train system here is the cheapest form of transport, available to everyone at any time.
We took a ride from Bambis to CocaCola (yes, it is the name of a place in Addis) hoping to find a conductor to charge us and give us tickets.
When nobody asked us for money, I suggested that maybe the ride is “on the house”, but a young man quickly corrected us and told us that you have to buy a ticket from the train station before boarding. He added that an officer goes round to check tickets and anyone without one “faces consequences”.
Being in a foreign land, and afraid of embarrassing ourselves over 2 Birr (Sh10), one of my friends came up with a bright idea to alight at the next stop before we could be discovered.
We alighted at CocaCola, paid 2 Birr (Sh10) and took the train back to Mexico Square after which we took a taxi to the market place. I will tell the market place story another day.
But what is a simple travel story without a paragraph on the locals? The Ethiopians, are the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. The men are respectful and gentle; twice, they offered me a seat in the shade as they stood in the sun (big sacrifice, up here).
The women are beautiful, well-made up with their silky hair cascading down their shoulders. Oh, their hair. They can do so much with their hair. Ethiopian women love their curls.
It is Friday as I hurriedly write this and my friends are impatiently waiting downstairs for me. Today, we will tour the outskirts of Addis and pray that I will have enough energy to tell you the story.