Saturday, December 30, 2006

A kinder way to travel

Tomorrow I leave for Lalibela by plane. I decided to be kind to myself and skip the 2-day bus ride (replete with fleabag hotel for the night) and take the 1-hour plane. Yeah! By the way, I can't seem to access the blogspot domain to see my web pages, so I hope the uploading of pictures I began recently works...

Here in ADD, once the problem of touts is a non-issue (either when one is somewhere they cannot go, such as in your hotel grounds; or when one has been around long enough that one is no longer approached; or when a sufficient number in a 1-2 block walk have been handily rebuffed that those remained (several dozen others) decided the odds of success are too low for the moment), Addis Ababa is not so unpleasant a place to pass time -- with great coffee, cheap internet, good bakeries and spicy food around, the time goes away.

But let me assure you, it is no cake-walk. On the street there are some menacing looking people (desperately poor and sometimes somewhat deranged-looking) and many beggars showing all manner of grotesque physical ailments. It is a common occurence to be followed for blocks by touts or by children begging or selling kleenex or gum.

The fact that the children yell out "China, China" constantly is no surprise, but when grown men do this, to me it is, well, pitiful. I have heard that in some places in Ethiopia, people yell at tourists for no apparent reason, "Fuck you!" It hasn't happened to me, but I'm steeling myself for that.

There is no working ATM in Ethiopia. A lady at an airport cafe laughed at me when upon my arrival I asked her whether there was an ATM in the airport. I did see a non-functioning one yesterday while on a long walk -- a dusty and defunct one probably never having fulfillled and beyond any hope of fulfilling its purpose. I think Ethiopians who have never traveled must have no idea what it is.

I realized yesterday I need to differentiate between touts and everyone else, in other words, not lump any person who talks to me on the street or in a public place into that category. Some people genuinely want to talk or help and don't treat me like just a walking wallet.

I'm now at my favorite internet cafe -- it's not the cheapest one (they charge the average I've found, about $1.33 per hour, and I have found cheaper) but it is my favorite for the coffee ceremony and free coffee for the customers.

Coffee originated here in Ethiopia -- no wonder I like this place! It is thought that coffee cultivation dates somewhere between the 3rd to 10th centuries (big window of time, I know) in the Kaffa region. Coffee then came to Europe in the 17th Century via the spice trade.

TO ALL: HAPPY NEW YEAR AND MAY ALL YOUR DREAMS AND PLANS BLOSSOM IN THE NEW YEAR!!

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