I’ve been learning plenty about Ethiopia while I’m here. Some of the oddities:
- It’s 1999 in Ethiopia, thanks to some quirk of the Orthodox calendar. New Year’s Day is, I think, on September 11.
- Clock time is different, too, running from 6 am to midnight. So 7 am
is 1 o’clock, etc. Apparently the way you’re supposed to cope with that
is by asking whether appointments are on Ethiopian time or “foreigner’s
time.” And then there’s something about how they only count time in
5-minute increments, so it can never be 11:03, only 11:05, and so forth.
Lots of other interesting things, many of which I’ve seen elsewhere
in Africa. One of the most startling things is the way you have to pass
through a metal detector to get into all hotels. Just like the TSA, only
without the barking and bellowing.
Interrupting this entry to say that President Carter has just
unceremoniously walked into the lounge, alone (where are those Secret
Service guys?), announced that he couldn’t sleep any more (who can?),
said good morning to me while I tried not to seem startled (it is about
7:30, and here I sit in my bedroom shoes, with no makeup on), and is
pouring himself a glass of orange juice! You’re not able to say that
just every day. . .
Ah, I’ve just espied the men with the clear plastic cords behind
their ears. Secret Service is on the case. Actually, they’re digging
into scrambled eggs, but I’m sure they keeping an eye on everything.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Like every African city I’ve been in, Addis Ababa is crumbling and
dirty, filled to overflowing with people on the broken/absent sidewalks,
children running around, garbage everywhere (though there is actually
less than I’ve seen elsewhere), and gazillions of corrugated iron
shacks/lean-tos that most people live in. Life is lived out in the open,
from buying and selling anything you can imagine (including lots of
plastic and broken junk), laundry, cooking, etc. There are plenty of
beggars and limbless people–yesterday I saw a one-legged young man
crawling along the sidewalk, wearing pieces of old tires for shoes. I
had read in my guidebook that kids here seem to enjoy throwing the
occasional stone at foreigners (more as a game, so the book says, than
out of real hostility), so I wasn’t too surprised when yesterday one was
thrown at the window of the car I was riding in. Interestingly, it
didn’t even make me angry–I immediately thought, wow, just like the
Addis is the third-highest capital in the world, surrounded by
mountains, and with a cool-ish temperature right now, especially in the
mornings. It does get fairly hot in the afternoons. I’m bracing for
Nigeria, where it is about 100 degrees and 100% humidity.
Ethiopia is an old Christian (Orthodox Christian or some version of
Coptic, and related to the Greek Orthodox Church) enclave, unique in
this part of mainly Muslim Africa. But at dawn and dusk you can hear the
calls to prayer blaring from the mosques. Yesterday I toured Holy
Trinity Cathedral, where the Emperor Haile Selassie was finally buried,
some 25 years after he was smothered under a pillow by his successor.
(For most of that time, his body was either stashed underneath a
toilet–the guy who killed him wanted to make sure people got the
message about his status–or waiting around in some church for the
government or his family to come up with the money for his funeral.)
I can’t say anything about the food yet, since I haven’t had any
Ethiopian dishes here, only in New York (there are essentially two main
dishes–injera (in the photo) and hmmm, something that has now escaped
me, wot? or close enough–more on this after I’ve tried some). There’s
plenty of good Indian and Middle Eastern fare. The water is not, of
course, drinkable, so I’ve stuck to bottles of the fizzy type. Yesterday
I read this great note on the label: “bacteriologically, the water is
potable.” Well, I should hope so.