Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Back to Addis.


Interior of St. George's Cathedral.

It was an early rise this morning. I had a good night's sleep thanks to air conditioning - the first we've had on this trip. This morning though, the electricity cut off intermittently. We had to be in the lobby by 7:30a - we have to catch the 9:30a flight back to Addis. I grabbed a quick bite of breakfast and then spent a few minutes in the lobby checking email.

At the airport, we bid goodbye to Haile and our driver.  It's always to leave a good guide behind.  I had wished he could have come with us on the next leg of our journey - traveling to the Omo Valley but that was not to be. Tonight. we also say goodbye to Robert as he's flying back to the US. It will be sad to see him as he and I have had some wonderful chats during our brief time together.  Remarkably, he had come to Ethiopia a short six weeks after having a pacemaker implanted in his chest.  As much as he had wanted to continue to the Omo Valley, he had to return to the US to have more follow up surgery.  My prayers are that surgery goes well and that he has a speedy recovery.

Belay, the owner of Roha Tour, has been with us since Gondar though we've only seen him at dinner time.  This morning, he's flying back with us to Addis and it was nice to have him take care of all the check in duties.

Our flight was delayed by about 40 minutes or so.  Landing back at Bole International Airport, it felt so familiar to me.  By now, I even recognized some of the streets and landmarks in town - especially those near the hotel.   By the time we arrived back at the Jupiter Hotel in Addis, it was close to noon.  Belay got us checked in and at the same time introduced to our local guide who will be accompanying us through the Omo Valley.  He said his name which we all had a hard time pronouncing let alone remembering. He then said that his name means *Freedom* so if we wanted to we could just call him that but I will Google and get the Amharic word so I know his name.

we had just a few minutes to freshen up before we had to be back in the lobby.  There is no rest for the busy traveler! :-)

Driving through Addis.

I was eager to get going and bolted down to the lobby as quickly as I could.  There, our local guide was already waiting for us.  A familiar face!  It was the same guide as who we had on our first day. This time I got his name - Jeremiah. Finally, a name I could remember!

The first thing on our agenda was to get lunch.  We were back at the Lucy Restaurant which seems to be a popular place for tourists, expats and wealthy Ethiopians as the prices are not cheap by Addis standards.  Foodwise, it's okay.  What is nice is that you can dine outside, among trees and under the shade of umbrellas.

Entrance to Lucy Restaurant.  You actually have to go through a security check before you get to this point.

Tables set for an al fresco meal

After lunch, we drove a short distance to Addis Ababa University to visit the Ethnographic Museum or as it's officially known as, the Ethnographic Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies.  The  museum is housed in what was palace of the late Emperor Haile Selassie.

Entrance to the museum.  The displays, in the entry hall give some history about Haile Selassie and the construction of the museum.

The group getting their briefing from Jeremiah.

Some items in the museum's collection.

The museum is actually divided into three parts - the ethnographic section and the bedrooms of the late Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife are on the first floor and a small art gallery on the second floor.

Although it is small, the ethnographic section was actually very interesting and I thought very well laid out.  The layout is presents the life of a tribal Ethiopian from birth to death and beyond and describes how the different stages of life are viewed and experienced by different ethnic groups in Ethiopia. It was good to see this before we visit the Omo Valley where we will be seeing the various tribes who live in that region.

On display in the Childhood section.  Balls made from whatever can be stitched together, small metal wheels that can be rolled about - just two of the toys you typically see children playing with in the villages.

The ubiquitous foosball table.  I grinned when I this - lost count of how many we saw when we drove by many a village. This one was much newer looking than any of the ones we saw in play in the villages.

The adulthood section basically had a variety of every day use items on display.

Statues were on display in the adulthood section. 
I hope we get to see more of these when we are in the Omo Valley.

Typical wooden pillows used by Ethiopian villagers. 
Reminded me of the ceramic pillows used in ancient China.

After our short walk through the ethnographic section, we went to visit the bedrooms of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife, Empress Menen Asfaw. 

We started in the Empress's bedroom.  It must have once been a very opulent and bright space but now, it's devoid of furniture, a few paintings hanging on the walls and one of the Empress's royal robes displayed in a glass cabinet.

The Emperor's bedroom had some furnishings in it. Compared to the rooms you see in European royal palaces, Emperor Selassie's was relatively modest.

The Emperor's bathroom - very modest though I am sure it was outfitted with fixtures that were modern for its time.

After our short visit to the museum, we headed over to St. George's Cathedral, named after the patron saint of this deeply Christian nation.  Robert was really keen to see the church and I'm glad we were able to do so - we were really running late and poor Jeremiah was really trying to get us to hustle along.

St. George's cathedral is an orthodox cathedral and it's noted for its distinctive octagonal shape.  It's not a large church but it does stand out because of it's unique shape.

The cathedral was commission by Emperor Menelik to commemorate his 1896 defeat of the Italians in Adwa. Italian prisonsers built the church and it was completed in 1911.  Empress Zewditu who ruled from 1916 to 1930 was crowned here in 1917 as well as her successor,  Emperor Haile Selassie  in 1930.

The interior walls are covered in paintings and mosaics by renowned Ethiopian artists. Also there is a museum which contains Ethiopia's best collection of ecclesiastical paraphernalia outside St Mary of Tsion cathedral in Aksum.  



The group listening to the deacon as he tells us some of the history of the church. 


Plush carpets lined the floor which was nice as we were walking around without our shoes.

Compared to the other churches and monasteries we had visited, St. George was relatively ornate with nice decorative details.




There's even a mural documenting moments in Haile Selassie's
life. Seems a bit out of place in a church.  



St. George, presumably.

I heard the prayer being broadcast so I took the opportunity to capture the sound along with a bit of sight :-)

A bell with Cyrillic font inscribed around the bottom.  If I recall correctly, it was a gift
from what was then known as the USSR.

Statue of St. George in the church  museum's courtyard.

The church's museum was also very small and nothing is described so there is no lingering to read plaques of any sort and photography was not allowed.  There were a lot of liturgical robes and other religious items on display.  Also, because the church was built to commemorate a war victory, the museum also has a few military items on display including giant helmets made from the manes of lions and curved swords that were used in the war against the Italians!  The museum was small enough that we were all in and out in less than 10 minutes.  After our walk though the museum, our visit to St. George's was over.

We were slated to go to the Merkato, the largest open air market in Africa.  As much as a few of us wanted to walk through the market, Jeremiah told us that parking the van would be inordinately difficult as the market is tremendously crowded and so he asked if it would be okay if we just drove through instead.  Even that was a challenge for our poor driver.  The streets were so packed, we moved along like a giant snail. I then understood what Jeremiah was concerned about.  But I still managed to take a few photos.

Giant mass of yellow plastic containers.  Ethiopians typically use these containers to carry either water or cooking fuel.
You see these containers everywhere you go!

Like many old world markets, the Merkato is divided into sections and stuff is piled into every nook and cranny available.  The one thing that I did note was how goods are recycled for use e.g., tires become sandals.

I had hoped to make it to the spice section to buy some berbere to bring back with  me but it was not to be :-(

We got back to the hotel in the late afternoon.  We said goodbye to Jeremiah for the second and last time.  He turned out to not only be a good guide but he was also quite sociable - he got a good tip from me!  On our rides between destinations, I peppered with all sorts of questions so I could learn more about the country which were in driven by the billboards I had noticed as we drove through the city e.g., what is the literacy rate? (49%), is domestic violence against women a common issue?  (No, but the government wants to nip the issue in the bud by raising awareness), is HIV/AIDS an issue (Yes and on the rise due in part to prostitution) is fitness and more specifically martial arts a common activity (some what), and so on. It was a strange set of questions but then again, they were strange billboards :-)

Back at the hotel, Pat and I took a few minutes to freshen up and then we hit the streets around the hotel to kill some time before having to meet back up with the rest of the group for dinner.  I decided to buy some fruit so we used finding a grocery store/fruit stand as our goal so we weren't just wandering about aimlessly.

We asked one of the hotel employees where there might be a fruit stand and he gave us some rough directions.  With that, we headed off.  Our first stop came when we saw a young woman making coffee.  I asked Pat if she wanted a cup and she did so we entered into a small room.  It looked like someone's living room.  There were a few girls sitting around and they offered their seats to us. We graciously sat down and chatted while we waited for our coffee to be served.  It was a bit odd as it definitely did not feel like we were sitting inside a commercial establishment of any sort.  That and the girls seemed high to me.  One was chewing on some leaves - I was guessing it was khat.  Another asked us in Ethiopian, which yet another girl translated into English, to buy her a cup of coffee.  Hmmm.....I did not really feel comfortable being there and would have left if not for the fact that Pat was with me and the coffee really tasted good!  Ethiopian coffee cups are so small that just a few sips later and we were done.  The two cups cost me 30 birr which seemed high for Ethiopian standards but I was not about to negotiate.

From the little coffee place, we headed up to the end of the street and looked down our right.  There it was - a fruit stand which also was a teeny weeny grocery store.  I bought a small but ripe pineapple and a mango that needed a bit more ripening before it would be ready to eat.

After this, we decided to head back to the hotel.  On the way, we stopped at a roadside convenience stand and bought some snacks (roasted wheat berries with peanuts) and some biscuits.  Pat needed to use up some small change - she had coins totalling up to about 75 Ethiopian cents which is about 2.5 US cents.  With the help of the shopkeeper she managed to burn her coins on 3 small pieces of hard candy.

Update:  February 18, 2014.  The roasted wheat berries with peanuts turned out to be very tasty and addictive - you can't eat just one pinchful.  They're also very filling.  The bag was large enough that I had enough to bring back to the US.  I'm still munching on them.  Best snack deal ever....only cost me 75 cents!

Dinner was  a cultural event - traditional food with traditional dance and music afterwards.  What a nice way to send Robert off!  Unfortunately, Judy, Sam, and Carol were not up for a meal so Pat, Gale, Marianne, Belay and I were the only ones there.  We all got into the van for the ride to the restaurant with Belay driving on his own. He would later take Robert to the airport.

Dinner was at 7p and Robert was worried that it would be too late for him to make it to the airport on time.  Belay told him the airport was literally a two minute drive away and that he had plenty of time to enjoy the meal and a bit of the entertainment.  Robert didn't seem convinced.

The restaurant.

The driver pulled off the main road, onto an unpaved road.  Yes, we were still in Addis.   The street was narrow so cars were carefully inching by each other.  It was too dark outside to see the name of the restaurant but when we got inside, the stage backdrop had the name emblazoned on it - Dessalech Kittfo & Cultural Music Hall.  A few musicians were already performing music on traditional Ethiopian instruments.  The large dining floor was filled with low wooden tables and chairs. Belay had reserved a table for the entire group and since three were missing, we had plenty of space to spread out and we would need it!


When I saw the word, "kittfo" on the backdrop, I asked Belay if that was the same word as the classic raw, chopped meat dish that is classic Ethiopian.  When he replied that it was, I asked if he could order some for me to try.  He was a bit surprised but I told him that I had eaten raw meat before and even had had kitfo in the US but I wanted to try it here.  He went ahead and ordered something that we could both share as he also enjoys the taste of the kitfo.  Again, the lighting in the restaurant was rather dim so taking photos without was inordinately challenging. Argh!!!

Before our meal arrived, a waitress came around with pot of warm water for us to wash our hands.

A bit of song and dance to help us pass the time.

The kitfo platter which was H-U-G-E....more than what Belay and I could possibly down.  The raw meat is the clump in the middle.  To the left is lebleb which is rare meat.  Around the platter, at the top, are various types of flavored cheeses.  At the bottom are flat pieces of kocho which is bread made from the fermented pulp of the false banana plant and two types of injera which is the iconic Ethiopian bread that is made from fermented tef, a type of grain.  I enjoyed both types of meat but eating this much protein can sure fill you up!

Belay also ordered a platter of tibs - more palatable for the rest of the group none of whom were too keen on kitfo.  Seconds after I snapped this photo, the waitress piled on the meat - the injera was fully covered with food!

And yet another platter.  Belay ordered way, way too much.  Perhaps he was ordering according to the adage that it's better that your guests leave something on the plate than they walk away hungry??

We watched song and dance performances while we dined.  This was a variation of the umbrella dance we saw last night in Bahir Dar.

Drummers and dancers who were were some unusual headdress - looked like the lid to the woven baskets we had seen for sale in Simien National Park.

Before we knew it, it was time for Robert to leave with Belay.  We all gave him a hug and hopefully (even though he does not have an email address or voice machine on his phone), we'll keep in touch.  I told him I will see him on my next visit to San Francisco.  After all, Sonoma is just a hop, skip and a jump away....metaphorically speaking.

Shortly after he left, the rest of us also left.  Tomorrow would be a long road trip so it will be early to bed for me.  But before hitting the sack, I had to Google *freedom amharic* to get our local guide's name. This is what I found - hope it's the correct translation.


Now all I need is for him to pronounce it so I don't mangle it since he'll be spending the next ten days traveling through the Omo Valley region with us.  I'm really looking forward to visiting several tribes and am beyond excited to get going!!

Goodnight from Addis!