Salambo discovering Ethiopia
I have been so busy in the past few weeks that I somehow neglected this blog, so I’ll try to catch up on it. A month ago, I had the visit of a very special visitor, a VIP as far as I am concerned: my own mother! She came with an old school friend of hers and my teenage niece. They were all travelling South of the Sahara for the first time in their life. It is always interesting to see the country through fresh eyes again, especially with such generational extremes: my mother being 70 and my niece 16 years old. I was a little apprehensive for my mother, knowing that she is not a great traveller and that it took her three years to take the jump to come to Ethiopia, while her friend seemed more open to new experiences. My mother adapted surprisingly well, but her friend really struggled to come to terms with the reality of living in Addis and was rather critical of every aspect of daily life here. My niece on the other hand, with the unadulterated enthusiasm of her youth, was taken by the place.
How to entertain them for ten long days in Addis alone was another issue, as the city is somewhat limited in terms of entertainment. After taking them on the usual arts and crafts tour, visiting cotton weavers, handbag makers as well as silversmiths; after visiting the few museums of Addis and Menelik’s palace in the Entoto hills; after breaking the day by having lunch in every fashionable restaurant in Addis, I began to run out of steam. So I thought I could take them on a couple of day trips outside of town. One of them was the classic pilgrimage to Debre Libanos, one of the most important church and monastery in the country which is only one and a half hour north of Addis and has the added advantage of being close to the spectacular gorge of one of the Blue Nile tributaries. They said they enjoyed the trip. While driving in the Shoa high plateau through fields of tef and wheat, they were shocked by how rudimentary agriculture still is. They kept on commenting on it. No mecanization whatsoever, a lot of hand plowing and harvesting.
In Addis too, they could not get used to the poverty in the city, the beggars at every street corner, the disabled people lying on the pavement. The makeshift shops along the streets also made a big impression on them, particularly the many butchers with meat carcasses hanging freely, with no refrigeration whatsoever, in their little market stall. When I took them to Piassa, explaining that it was considered the shopping centre of the city, they could not hide their disappointment. They had in mind the town centre of the major European cities they knew, so of course Piassa was an eye opener for them in terms of urban facilities and design in Ethiopia.
I still appreciate that they made such a huge effort to get out of their comfort zone, especially at their age, when it is not that granted that one can travel easily.To see more of the country, I also try to book tickets to Lalibela, but could not get any return flight within our dates so we had to give up on the idea. I took them to Adadi Mariam instead, a rock-hewn church about an hour south of Addis (to be continued in the next post…)