I was seated at the back of the aircraft. My neighbour to the right of me was a young, good-looking Ethiopian. I noticed that the stewardesses frequently stopped at his seat to chat. I couldn't understand what they were saying because they were speaking Amharic. When I asked what his business was, he told me he was on the staff of Ethiopian Airlines! He had spent Christmas in Johannesburg and was on his way home to Addis Ababa. As always happens in a plane, he asked where I was headed for. I told him Khartoum, to my husband who lives almost on the Nile. He asked if I knew where the source of the Nile River was. As I didn't know, he told me it was in Ethiopia. He also proudly told me that Ethiopia was the only country in Africa never to be colonised.
As the time approached for our connecting flight to Khartoum to take off in Addis Ababa, I asked him what would happen if I missed my flight. He said that the airlines would have me (and other passengers in the same predicament) bussed to a three-star hotel in the city. The hotel would also allow me one three-minute international call.
We touched down thirty minutes after the connecting flight had taken off so would spend the night and next day in Addis Ababa. We were duly taken to a hotel in town. When I asked the receptionist if I could make an international call to let my husband know that I missed my flight she said: "Yes, three minutes costs US$5." I told her that I knew the hotel offered one free call, and after checking with her supervisor in the rear office, she came back and said I could make the call. I KNEW there was a reason why I sat next to an Ethiopian Airline official on my flight in! Later up in my comfortable room, I took a much-needed and welcome shower. Afterwards I slipped into bed and can't even remember falling asleep.
Fikru, the Ethiopian taxi driver who took me around the city of Addis Ababa, poses beside his vehicle for a photo
After breakfast on Friday, I asked the bell-hop if it was possible to see the city. He said: "No problem" and called a taxi driver waiting out on the street. A well-dressed gentleman came up the stairs, shook my hand and introduced himself as Fikru. He quoted me US$15 per hour. I booked two hours with him.
The poorer part of the city has shops and stalls built from scrap iron and wood. The goods are always temptingly displayed on the streets
After Fikru posed for a photograph, I got into the passenger seat beside him and we took off on a tour of the city. He spoke impeccable English and he had an unequalled passion for his country and her people. He was also a believer so there was an instant rapport between us because we loved and served the same Lord, Jesus Christ. Initially we drove through the poorer part of the city where market goods are displayed beautifully on the side of the road. Pedestrians thronged the streets on foot and as always, in any African city there were dozens of vehicles moving along. I always wonder where everyone is off to and who is actually working in a place of business.
Another thing that always catches my attention is the fact that there are always buildings in the process of being built in African cities. Here the first thing I noticed (after passing yet another building under construction) was that the scaffolding was made of wooden branches. Not steel structures. Wooden branches - still in the shape of the branches - joined together with rope! I asked Fikru if people willingly scale these structures to do the work. He pointed upwards. Sure enough - there high above us walking nimbly across the rickety scaffolding, was a man with a hammer in his hands.
The tree-lined streets were clean and kept in good condition
Entering the city centre the streets were tree-lined and clean. The other thing that one notices in African cities are many vehicles with the letters UN stencilled on the back. The United Nations is present all over Africa.
The wide street above was called Winston Churchill Avenue
Further along into the CBD, we entered a wide street with parks and grassy plains alongside. Fikru informed me we were now motoring along Winston Churchill Avenue. When I asked him if he knew who Winston Churchill was, he said: "He was one of the greatest statesmen of the last century"
When we arrived at the National Museum, Fikru came to the entrance with me and paid the 10 Bir (just under US$1) required for me to see all the exhibits. He then approached a middle-aged lady who came out from behind a counter and they greeted each other effusively. When he returned to his car to wait for me, I asked the lady if she would mind taking me on a guided tour of the museum. She agreed and was I glad. She was just as passionate as Fikru about her country and its amazing history.
Lucy, (australopithecus afarensis) the world-famous human fossil discovered in Ethiopia
The first exhibition room she took me to housed the remains of the most famous human fossil in the world - that of the tiny ape-like woman, Australopithecus afarensis, Lucy found in 1975 in the Afar region, Ethiopia. (You can read all about Lucy here. )
Can anyone guess what the above is?
He took me to the University of Addis Ababa which had been the old palace until the sixties. Cruising up the tree-lined drive along which many students were strolling, I asked what they studied. He told me most students studied agriculture.
When Fikru stopped outside my hotel, he had been transporting me around the city for more than three hours. I gave him an extra US$10. He'd also seen the pocket-size Bible I had in the side of my handbag. He said he'd love an English Bible so I wrote his name in the front and added several Scripture promises for him to refer to. He was thrilled to bits when I handed it to him.
Addis Ababa is Africa's political capital and houses the United Nations Conference Centre which is becoming increasingly popular for summit meetings and other assemblies of world leaders who take decisions that impact millions of people. Addis Ababa is also a vibrant, friendly, history- soaked city which I intend to visit in the near future.
For posts of other people's worlds, click here.