Let’s start saying that I won’t talk about my expectations on travelling to Africa: I’m sure that many of you now think of it the same as I did until a couple of weeks ago. Then let’s put aside every prejudice and here you go with my first Ethiopian days! Ah, since I got it’s not extremely safe to bring my Nikon around, not all of the pictures will have an extreme good quality. But I’m looking forward to use it way more, especially out of the city!
In the night between 4 and 5 March, I leave from Rome to Addis Ababa, capital city of Ethiopia, where I’m gonna perform an internship at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in East Africa. But I would have started just on Monday: in the meantime, I scheduled 4 days for discovering the city and finding an appartment, which didn’t look that easy standing at the info I got before the big day. But I had imposed a rule to myself: never trust completely the guides, always do the adventure yourself!
Once landed, I perceive something terribly unusual: Addis is located on 2,500 metres in height and breathing is tough, even considering the terrible heat and the dense air which smells like carbon and incense. “Nice start”, I think. Once gone through the controls for the VISA and the Ebola, I jump on the first cab for heading to my hotel, and I already understand to be noticed. Out of the window, people wave to me, wink or shout out something. Farenji! (namely “white”) will be a frequent soundtrack during my walks around the immense capital of Ethiopia. The hostel is well run by Ethiopians, but mostly attended by international people. For sure, it has been the perfect opportunity to get to know expats and locals to share experiences with: and well, certainly you never get bored talking with backpackers from all over the world 😉 In this environment I start to get in touch with the local culture: I understand that Bole (the neighborhood where the hostel is located) is quite rich considering the city in general, and while venturing around it’s impossible not to wonder for the enormous contrast between wealth and spread poverty. Besides the people who makes a living by grinding the seeds for the injera, polishing the shoes of the richer ones, leading donkeys/goats and begging, there are luxurious hotels, restaurants and shopping centers, and many many others have still to come. American and Chinese investments have imposed from above a progress that certainly doesn’t sit very well with the local culture, as I have been explained by Bruno, a young Ethiopian owner of an Italian restaurant in Addis. Here he invites me to a falo’ – event which sees as main protagonists the top producers of Amharic music, and where I have the opportunity to be introduced to the international environment of the city. I spend the evening chatting with Jamene and Michel, two nice italo-ethiopian photographers freelancer, and many other guys belonging to the world of the UN agencies and local NGOs. Then I plan to keep in touch with them, as well as with Daphne (a friend of Milande which I got to know in Utrecht) and her friends from AIESEC Ethiopia. Thanks to them, I will enjoy for the first time the crazy nightlife of Addis!
Meanwhile the days go on and I get more used of the rythms of the city: in a short time I find an apartment and start to work. Up to the end of March I’ll be living in a typical and crowded Ethiopian compound: beyond my cheap and super basic room, there is space for 4 other guys, a woman with her little baby, the armed guard and his sister. It’s not as comfortable as staying in Scheveningen, but who cares! The place is totally surrounded by the nature of the hills and getting bored is quite impossible. In early April I will move to the East of the city, but in the meantime Milande and I are having great exploration projects around here. Wait for that!
Finally: some personal feeling! The Ethiopians are very proud of their culture, which has never been affected by any foreign power. Getting in contact with it doesn’t take long: the super spicy kitchen, the loud Amharic music shot in every corner and the hustle and bustle typical of an African booming city almost immediately becomes something normal, as well as the massive disorganization at work (well, maybe it will take a while for getting used to that). Ah, For your information the public transports work better here than in Palermo, since the minibuses are likely to be found everywhere at every time: usually a guy steps out of one, shouts the name of the main destination (Merkato! Arat Kilo! Kazanchis! etc.) and for a ridiculous price your tight place is ensured. The only thing that still leaves me a bit perplex is that in this country Muslims and Orthodox Christians do live together in complete harmony, but the ‘white’ is still generally seen as something that struggles to fit in the everyday mechanisms of the society. My presence in the streets of Addis sparks very different reactions: several times I was approached for robbing or scamming, but also for a greeting, a nice chat or an invite to join the lunch (also in the most unusual places where you can imagine happening that, like the post office!!).
But being farenji means also that, and for sure it will be a great personal lesson. Catch you later guys!