Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Stopover in Addis Ababa

When my plane from Johannesburg took off an hour and a half after schedule on Thursday, I had a suspicion that I may not arrive in Khartoum that evening.

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"

The blue and white sedans and kombi busses above are the city taxies

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. )

I also enjoyed the agricultural exhibit very much. Ethiopia, like the Sudan, sets great store by its agriculture and there were many exhibits of how the people farmed the land in the past. The plough (photographed above) is the exact replica of the ones still used here in Khartoum on the banks of the Nile river. The contraption is fitted to an ox and a man guides the plough from behind while the animal pulls it.

Can anyone guess what the above is?

The mammoth throne of Menhelik I
In the section withall the royal gowns and other ceremonial paraphanalia, my mouth hung open at the size of the throne on display. Menhelik II was emperor of Ethiopia from 1889 to the first decade of the twentieth century. He was instrumental in defending Adwa against Italian invasion in 1896. While travelling through the city that morning, we passed an obelisk which looked like a memorial. Fikru told me it was the War Memorial of Adwa and it stood on Menhelik plain. You can read Menhelik's story here.
When I returned to join Fikru who was waiting in the shade of the beautiful trees in the museum garden, I thanked him for the opportunity to view the museum. I also told him we'd better get back to the hotel because I had already used up 1 1/2 hours of my fare with him. However, he said he wanted to take me to another special museum. One which I would really enjoy visiting.

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.
After paying 20 Bir (US$1.50) entrance fee, I wandered through the university to the museum section. This housed life in Ethiopia starting from childhood to death. There was even a section on the huge obelisks erected on graves when you die. There was also basketry, weaving looms, jewellry worn by the 82 different tribes in Ethiopia and household goods. The place the Fikru had told me to be sure to visit was the Emperor Haille Selassie's bedroom. This influencial man was Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 until 1974. By this time he had begun to lose support because of the droughts and famines taking their toll on the nation and his apparent indifference to the plight of the people. He was deposed in a military coup that year and died under arrest. Haille Sellassie claimed to be a direct descendant of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba. You can read about his life here.
By the time I returned to the Fikru's car, my two hours had become almost three, but he was not at all concerned. He wanted to show me the craft market and stopped at a small stall on the way back to the hotel. I bought a little brass bell (like the one my mum-in-law used at table to summons the cook - how colonial!), a larger wooden camel bell and two small paintings on papyrus for my two oldest grandchildren. This little pile of curios relieved me of 750 Bir (US$62.50) !
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.

The entrance to the Bashale Hotel in Addis Ababa, where I stayed while in transit to the Sudan. It was Christmas in Ethiopia on 7th January

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.


  1. That's quite a world you live in! You certainly covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Great photos and descriptions.

  2. Wow, Jo, what a fascinating post. Your life sounds like an amazing adventure, thank you for sharing.
    Sunny :)

  3. That is a great tour of the city. Beautiful shots give full picture of the place.

  4. thank you for taking us on tour of this beautiful city!

    love your photos!
    Come and visit my place if you have the time!
    have a great day!

    ~Fickle in Pink

  5. A most interesting post. Missing the connection seemed to be a bonus rather than a problem. You were lucky to get such a helpful driver. Thanks for the tour of the city.

  6. Hi Jo,thanks for a brilliant post!I have only heard of Addis Ababa on news programmes and then probably not for very good reasons.Your taxi driver looks very well dressed compared to ours over here.You had a fascinating tour thanks to missing the connecting flight.

  7. Hi Jo - so interesting!! Thanks for the stop over - your writing is so ♥good♥ that I'm feeling I sit next to you on your journey through the city! Jy is "amazing" en geseënd om die Here se Woord uit te leef, oor te dra en te versprei. ((((H))))

  8. how fortuitous you were actually...the tour of addis ababa was interesting. enjoyed your photographs and commentary very much.

  9. What a terrific and interesting post, Jo! You do have an amazing life! Thanks for sharing it with us! Great adventure! Have a good week!


  10. Hi Linnea W;) when one sets off on a trans-African flight, you never know what is in store. Thanks for popping in. I've been over to you and added myself as a follower.

    Thanks Sunny!

    Hi Rajesh;) Thanks for the compliment and for visiting my blog.

    Hi Fickle in Pink:) thanks for joining me on the tour. Off to see "your place" shortly.

    Hi diane;) I had made up my mind when I began to travel this route, should I ever miss a connection, I would make the stopover worthwhile.

    Hi Peggy;) I only ever heard of Khartoum and Addis Ababa in Tintin books the boys read when they were small. Now here I am living in one city and have toured a bit of the other. Thanks for your visit.

    Thanks Ida;) dankie vir jou mooi woorde. Ek kan net nie stilbly oor die wonderlike evangelie nie, Liefjou. xxx

    Hi itsnotjustapicture;) good to see you again! Thanks for your kind comment.

  11. Jo, I LOVED this tour. I felt like I was there with you. How neat that you met that man on the airplane. AND--how neat that you met the taxi driver --and could share Jesus with him.

    What a neat city (Addis Ababa)... I will probably never get there --so it's great to tour it through you. Glad you got to go to those museums. WOW!!!!

    Thanks again for a fabulous post.

  12. Very exciting post, you saw a great deal. As a taxi driver myself I can say it is the best way to see any new place, going with a local taxi driver who really knows and loves their town, hired by the hour is quite the best way to go about it too. And I just love being hired like this as I so enjoy showing off my district.

  13. Thanks Sylvia, and thanks to you and the rest of the team who made this meme possible.

    Hi Betsy;) when I asked my husband whether he would have accompanied me on the tour, he said Of course and normally men are not keen on museums. There were huge groups of European tourists in the first museum, My guide told me that Ethiopia is very popular these days for its wonderful old history. Yes, I love the opportunity to share Jesus with others and here He gave me one. (((Hugs))) Jo

    Wow Glennis, good to see you again. I love your new profile photo. I will definitely remember to take your taxi when I come over there! Have a good week.

  14. What a wonderful tour of Addis Ababa, Jo - I thoroughly enjoyed it and would now like to see it for myself sometime ! I would've loved the museums, too ....

    We also have many buildings 'under construction' here ... some have been like that for years ! Wooden scaffholding is also a familiar site.

    Ah .... and now for the 'mystery' photo. I'm guessing that it's perhaps a crown of some sort, shrouded in special cloth on a pedestal. Do tell !

    P.S. Love your new profile pic !


  15. What an interesting blog you have. Before I die I'd love to visit every place on the earth. Well, most. It won't happen but the desire is there.

  16. Hi Lynda, I imagine Tanzanian cities are similar to Addis Ababa. Most of Africa is similar but there are always deightful surprises. I have come across a few new ones here in Khartoum. (((Hugs))) Jo

    Hi Lucy; that would be a feat. Hope you get to see quite a few on your list! Thanks for popping in. I'll visit your blog soon.

  17. What a wonderful post, I am happy that your unplanned stay turned out to be a nice one with a great tour. Great photos and story.

  18. Seems like this side trip was meant to happen Jo. I truly believe in coincidence. What a wonderful guide you had. Thank you.

  19. What a great tour this is! I so much enjoyed this! Fikru was a thoughtful guide, and the opportunity to give him your pocket bible was a blessing for both of you.

  20. Hi Jo,
    Wonderfull to follow your travels I love to read and see the pictures, I found your blog through Skywatch,

    Be welcome & see my blog from Holland with snow and ice right now,

    Greetings JoAnn Holland/Europe


Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate your feedback. Jo