Feb 17 Tuesday
After our travel troubles in the U.S., the international portion of the flight went pretty well other than the hour delay on departure. We arrived in Addis Ababa later than expected but breezed through customs. Only a couple of our team members were even questioned and none of our bags were scanned. Considering all the medical and electronic supplies we were carrying, we were quite fortunate. Our hotel shuttle was waiting for us when we arrived, got us to the hotel quickly, and got all of our bags unloaded and up to our rooms while the team ate breakfast.
After breakfast, our Project Mercy drivers loaded us up in two vans and we started our tour of Addis. Our first stop, Entoto hill, was in the mountains overlooking Addis. Driving through Addis was quite the adventure. There really isn’t any concept of traffic lanes here even though they are sometimes painted on the roads. It’s pretty much everyone for themselves but our drivers got us through safe and sound. There are parts of Addis that have a very modern feel to it. Bright, neon lights, several western-style hotels and restaurants, and fancy high rises can be found scattered about, but for the most part, the vast majority of Addis is entrepreneur type small roadside stores built of corrugated metal sheets selling and/or making everything imaginable. One of the things that stands out about Addis, which we all noted, was the smog and choking vehicle exhaust, your eyes and lungs burn with it. But another, much like Tanzania, the people of Ethiopia are absolutely amazing. Greetings are important in their culture and they have been incredibly friendly to us with smiles, handshakes, and hugs. As we drove up the mountain, we encountered women doing the backbreaking work of hauling large bundles of eucalyptus down into town to sell for a dollar or two. The higher up we went, the more of this we encountered. After an hour drive, through the crazy hour traffic, we had arrived, Entoto Hill.
Entoto Hill is the home of Menelik II Palace and Church. The Palace is an historical place where Emperor Menelik II resided when he came from Ankober and founded Addis Ababa. The mountain where the buildings were constructed is considered sacred and is home to many monasteries. Entoto Maryam is the church where Menelik was crowned in 1882. The interior is only accessible during the 9am service, which, unfortunately, we did not make. Entoto Hill is densely covered with eucalyptus trees that were imported from Australia during the reign of Menelik II. It is sometimes referred to as the lung of Addis. The mountain offers amazing views of the city of around 3 million.
The next two stops were shopping. The first, Ellilta, is a local company that works with women at risk. All the women that work here, come from a life of prostitution on the streets. Here they are taught to make unique handmade jewelry, pottery, baskets, and woven products. A number of our group picked up some beautiful items here. The second stop was another local business that makes beautiful handmade scarves and bedding. We picked up a number of things here as well. They also invited us to participate in a coffee ceremony. We watched as the beans were roasted, and the coffee poured over and over until it was the exact color with each of our group was presented with a small cup along with popcorn. Unfortunately, we didn’t know we weren’t supposed to eat the popcorn until the coffee was ready so they kept have to serve us more (and more and more). Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and our group loved the taste.
The last stop was the Red Terror Martyr’s Memorial Museum. This is a must-see to learn about the horrors of the Derg that led to the famine of the 1990’s. The museum displays reveal the fall of Emperor Halie Selassie and the rise of the terroristic Mengistu’s Derg regime. Most of the employees of the museum are survivors of the themselves, as was our guide, and offered us incredibly detailed, first-hand accounts of the horrors they were witness to.
Time for a quick bite to eat, so we stopped at Mama’s Kitchen, which has both Ethiopian and Western foods. After a delicious supper, we all headed back to the hotel and were ready to catch up on sleep from our long plane ride.
Off to Project Mercy tomorrow.