Salambo discovering Ethiopia
Moving somewhere new is always difficult, but moving to Addis Ababa is quite a shock! What struck me first coming from Europe was not the poverty, the chaos or the lack of infrastructure, but the unbearably high pollution level. I had read and heard about it, but only realized what it meant when I had to constantly breathe the black fumes myself. It is hard to escape. The pollution is everywhere in the city, not only in the bustling centre. Even the many old eucalyptus trees, which were brought in from Australia when the city was created, do not help anymore; the smell of black diesel fuel is overpowering.
For the first few days here, I felt I couldn’t breathe, my lungs were burning, I was gasping for oxygen, desperate to get out of the city as soon as possible to get some fresh air. A lot of it is due to the high altitude of the city, which stands at 2500 metres. I was told about it, but didn’t think I would feel it so badly. When I opened my windows at night, the air didn’t feel fresh. There is always a lingering smell of pollution and burning. I don’t know if I’ll get used to it. The mixture of altitude sickness and pollution is something else.
Having been here for a week now, I begin to feel a bit better about breathing. I feel less claustrophobic and wake up less in a panic at night. Still, having to go every morning to Churchill road, one of the city’s main arteries where our school is hasn’t been a particularly nice experience so far! We’ll probably get used to it…
I’m going around Addis with a driver, it may seem quite exclusive seen from Europe, but it is a necessity rather than a luxury here. The car we use is a 20 year-old Toyota Corolla which is everything but glamorous (a temporary arrangement until we can import a car). If it wasn’t for Salomon, our driver, I would be completely lost. Addis doesn’t function like a western city. There are no maps, and even if there are, they are completely irrelevant. Locally, people don’t use street names, they use reference points across the city. Only the wide avenues, such as Churchill road or Bole road leading to the airport have proper names. As an example, one road is called “spare parts” road because that’s where all the spare parts for cars can be found. Another road is called 6 kilo and then 5 kilo leading to Arat kilo, the square officially named Meyazia 27, the day in the Ethiopian calendar which commemorates the victory over the Fascists, but in Addis it is called Arat kilo. Another area is called “what you have” because that’s where people buy or sell personal items they no longer want. Salomon told me that people even sold single shoes there, which are bought by people who have only one leg or one foot.
Foreign embassies and schools are also an important reference point, which local people know very well. According to Salomon again, most residents wouldn’t even know the official street names as they appear on Google maps. So finding one’s way when new to the city is practically impossible. After a few days, I had to look at a map again just to understand where places were in relation with one another. I still don’t know the streets, but I now know where the French embassy is in relation to the German or the Canadian one (at opposite ends of the city).