Thursday, January 20, 2011

Here I am in Ethiopia

It’s 1145pm, and the guesthouse I’m staying at here in Addis Ababa, described by my trusty Lonely Planet as being “clean, comfortable, and on a quiet side street”, has clearly metastasised a tumourous carbuncle of a nightclub since it passed that original inspection with a clean bill of health. Gah.

The volume of the African music that’s playing right outside on the street – an oh-so-subtle combination of heavy thundering bass, steel drums, and fast rhythms on saxophone and vocals – might as well be inside the room it’s so loud. I thank god for the earplugs I stuck into my bag. And that I’m only staying two nights.

Flying into Ethiopia was quite something – I was unaware that I’d booked on the inaugural Gulf Air flight to the country, so the trip was accompanied by press photographers, tv cameras, dignitaries and the cutting of golden ribbons with golden scissors. It all made us quite late for our departure, so the pilot did his best to make up time along the way, and on descent to our destination as we hurtled out of the sky towards the ground like a screaming metal missile, torn clouds streamed past my window in shreds as the whole plane shook and rattled and groaned with the effort. I briefly entertained visions of the headlines that would result from us exploding in a ferocious fireball as we re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere on our maiden flight – oh the spectacle. It would have been quite Titanic-esque in its irony.

When we touched down safely though, right on schedule, all the African women on board burst into wild applause and that high-pitched wailing sound called ululation: ai-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!!!!!

As the plane taxied to our gate, two firetrucks drove alongside us, spraying the plane in water like a giant aeronautical carwash. What the? Was it ceremonial, or a disease prevention measure, or were the press people just making sure the plane was all sparkly clean for the tv crews? Who knows.

On leaving the aircraft we were all handed an “inaugural flight” certificate, a Gulf Air pen (a nice heavy one in a box), and as we made our way down the stairs to the tarmac and the waiting red carpet, all of the ladies received a rose tied with a ribbon.

Then I spent forty minutes filling out arrival forms, changing Bahraini dinars into Ethiopian birr (at a rate of one to THIRTY-FOUR - about 25% less than what I should have gotten - a tip for anyone else who might be travelling here: wait til you get to the city and then go to Daschen Bank at the Sheraton Hotel!), buying a visit visa, and moving from one incorrect immigration queue to another, before finally making my way through and out the other side, almost falling into the arms of my driver with relief. Did I check that both my bags went into the boot of that car, dear readers? Oh yes I did! We’ll not be having any repeat of that Indian episode, thank you very much.

So here I am, in Africa at last, with another fantastic stamp in my passport and new adventures ahead of me. Ethiopia! Tick that box, baby!

(PS, the music is still going. Loudly. And a dog is howling along with it. Is there any point at all in going to bed, I wonder?)

4 comments:

Margaret @ Konstant Kaos said...

Ever since reading Valerie Brownings book I have wondered what it would be like to visit Addis Ababa. I bet it is certainly a culture shock.

Isabella Golightly said...

It's pretty obvious to me that with the howling racket going on just next door, you need to be down there strutting your funky stuff. Make that dog really howl.

And just to get you into the right outfit, the word verification for tonight is 'satin'!

Mountaingirl said...

I've been waiting for someone's first-hand experience of flying into Ethiopia, since an ex-boyfriends (and pilot) account of the flying skills needed to go there was quite astonishing... something about the short runways and the mountainous surrounds making for an interesting descent... you're a far braver woman than I!

And ooooh, that food looks GOOD.

Janine said...

Hello, May I have permission to use your picture of injera for a project I'm doing?