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{09/11/2012}   Addis Ababa: walking around

As Addis Ababa is quite a full-on city, I thought that perhaps the most effective way to reflect that would be to kind of list things as they come to me in terms of what I saw walking about:

Dust.  Potholes so big you could lose a herd of goats down them (it transpires people get high on chat and disappear down such holes).  Goats with Golden Retriever type tails in herds by the side of the road.  People lying by the side of the road, not dead but not looking much better than that.  No road markings.  No traffic lights (I discovered there are 20 sets of lights in the city, only three of which work).  Lots of blue and white beat-up mini buses.  Blue and white Lada taxis.  Yellow taxis.  Taxis decorated inside with varying lengths of faux fur, some of which is long enough to billow in the wind.  Very retro, ludicrously un-roadworthy cars.  No open spaces so children playing by the side of the road, sometimes pipped at for being in the path of cars.  Surprisingly, reasonably slow drivers.  No mopeds or motorbikes or bicycles, or not that I can picture.  Lots of corrugated tin.  Streets lined with small businesses/shacks.  Lots of printing presses.  Very old-fashioned shop signs.  Areas with certain shops, for example an area full of old doors, another full of jewellery shops, another full of meat shops with meat hanging to dry (kind of spatchcock style cow).  Scaffolding made of wooden palings fence posts/glorified sticks.  People standing around.  People chatting to stall holders (shops that are makeshift tin boxes with a window counter).  Stall type shops crammed full of things.  Crazy writing that makes me picture stick people dancing wild dances.  Shop fronts and corrugated tin painted bright but mostly a bit faded and battered.  Chaotic road junctions that somehow work(though our driver suggested otherwise – lots of fatalities, which often result in the drivers moving the bodies to the side of the road as the police aren’t easy to call out).  Mountains beyond the city.  More low level high rise buildings than I expected in certain areas.  Not much lighting on the streets at night.  Traffic noises.  Breezy.  Warm to hot during the day, cool at night.  Food smells.  Smell of urine and sewage with a distinct whiff of death, particularly near rivers.  Residential shanty type streets made of large stones that cars probably can’t get up or down.  Hilly within the city.  Occasional whiffs of incense, charcoal burning and coffee.  Sometimes drivers stop at things that vaguely resemble zebra crossings.  Otherwise roads that seem impossible to cross but which somehow you manage to do without having to run or roll over a bonnet.  Rubble pavements, though at least there is a semblance of pavements.  Calm people.  People don’t seem to shout or go about their business noisily.  Children are the ones most likely to try to get money from you, sometimes reeling off a few poverty words, eg “no parents, no parents”.  Few white people walking around yet hotels like ours, Radisson Blu, full of white people.  Don’t feel particularly stared at.  Feels very much like a working city rather than (remotely) like a tourist city.  Nothing particularly beautiful in the architecture but hugely interesting in its grittiness.  Fruit and vegetable shops selling wonderful-looking produce.  Buildings going up everywhere; a staggering amount of construction work going on.  Corrugated tin panels to block off building sites.  No road signs to suggest there is a massive trench right by the road, for example.  A few areas of water running across the pavement, the water being a kind of pale grey.  People washing in filthy rivulets of water.  People lined up along pavements to sleep at night time.  Busy.  Lots of traffic noise and tooting.  A rigor mortis dog, like the one on the cover of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”.  Lots of dust covered trees and plants; more greenery than you’d expect. No sign of wealthy Ethiopians.  No houses and few apartment blocks (that we saw).  Poverty.  No expensive Western-style shopping malls or shops (though maybe there is an expat area?).  Lots of Coca-Cola.

The next instalments will be about food and drink (a sore subject at present!), a trip to a museum and my overall impressions of Addis Ababa.

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