Oh, how I wanted to like Ethiopia. How I looked forward to it! How I longed for the still of the Simien mountains and the maybe-maybe chance of seeing a wolf. How I hungered for my first taste of injera and the crazy mess of the market, but most of all, most of ALL – to see Lucy, our oldest aunty.
Oh, how shit it was.
Yeah, I know you’re not supposed to be rude about a developing country, because white privilege, and also because Google and Lonely Planet exist for a reason. In my defense, I’d done my research. I knew Ethiopia would be less a treat and more a tribulation. So maybe it was just that I chose to ignore the tiny voice in the back of my head said, duuuude…. you’re SO not in the right headspace for Difficult Places right now. Also, you hate rain.
But I was in Africa already, and when in Africa.
So, the weather. I’d arrived smack in the middle of rainy season, which I thought would be tolerable. I mean, I’ve survived South East Asia’s ready-or-not-here-I-come downpours for a year and a half now.
But Ethiopian rain is like New Zealand rain. Cold, constant, unpredictable; sometimes torrential, sometimes drizzly. Always shit.
So, fine. Trekking was out. I could still enjoy the city, and the people, and the food.
My room, that first night, was a little more than a concrete cell with a bathroom attached. But the wifi worked and it was cheap by Addis Ababa standards (Ethiopia is not cheap, folks). And the street life outside – once you’d picked your way around the open construction sites and slurry – was fascinating. There were thumping dance clubs and grubby fruit stalls and honking buses and little old men selling boiled eggs. Eggs are good.
My second day in Addis Ababa was sort of up there with one of the worst days of my travel life. But it was also one of those you-had-to-be-there situations which I will in no way be able to convey, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
The wifi didn’t work. Anywhere. I couldn’t get a sim card because it was a public holiday. (And then I couldn’t get a sim card because you have to register your phone details at the airport upon arrival; a detail Google had not given me beforehand.) In any case, wifi is not a thing in Ethiopia. I had been told that some cafes had it; and indeed, some did – but the strength and reliability of most connections was somewhat akin to dial-up in 1994. Fine, I can go without Facebook. Not fine, I can’t go without work.
Then the toilet in my room/jail cell decided it was no longer into this flushing thing, which went from iffy to seriously gross. I alerted the hotel owner (I say hotel, but it was really a … house? Homestay? Prison?) who responded by jabbing the flush button. Twice. Toilet spewed forth its watery contents all over the bathroom floor, which – thanks to gravity and uneven floor tiles – ran smartly into my bedroom towards my luggage and remaining dry clothes.
As crappy as that was, it got a whole lot crappier when said hotel owner calmly declared this was my fault, as I’d had the audacity to flush toilet paper down the toilet.
The breaking point, though, was when members of her family stood around giggling at the situation like it was all some fabulous show I’d put on for them. I picked up my things, slugged back some Nairobian gin (yes I bloody needed it) and walked out in the evening, forfeiting the $26 I’d already paid for the night. I found a modest hotel some 3km away which walloped me with $65 for a single room, which turned out to be the best damn single room I’ve had in my life, despite the broken shower tiles and broken internet and broken TV and the amorous shrieks of my neighbors at 3am.
Having rearranged my lodging and my face, I stumbled (probably literally, by then, for all my luggage-dragging and gin-slugging) into a local restaurant that had opened its doors for the first time the day before, and where I was welcomed by a crew of smiling staff who couldn’t sit me down fast enough. I drank (bad) red wine out of a beer bottle and ate a mercilessly spicy curry, and everybody was nice to me and even shared their barbecued corn cobs with me (like popcorn, madam!) and I felt a lot better.
So, that was day two. And, unfortunately, about as good as it got, because after that things went from okay-I-survived-this to omfg-what-is-this-hell.
Which I’ll save for the next post.