6 Things to Know about Addis Ababa
When I first thought about going to Ethiopia, Africa, I thought about those old Sally Struthers commercials. The ones with the violin music and malnourished children. The thought of seeing that did not sound like a great time. All of my trips have being semi uncomfortable. The thought of seeing these kids like this was a hard pill to swallow. This would be extremely uncomfortable. Plush beds in hotels and easily accessible transportation was not a likely occurrence if I decided to go to Ethiopia. The nervousness I felt about traveling Ethiopian Airlines had me feeling like a jittery first time flyer. I have seen the African culture in action when they travel. They tend to travel with bags upon bags upon bags. These bags are the size of coffins. There is constant arguing with agents about the weight and size of the bags. With all this Trump madness going on in the world, people were filling up my head with thoughts of anti American sentiments. At one point I almost bailed out of the trip. The fear and confusion built up in my mind like gas on a fire. Luckily my friend who accompanied me was from Sudan. He had many ties to Ethiopia. He had been there before. He also spoke the language, Amharic. I trusted him, so he told me I had nothing to worry about. I put on my big boy pants and decided to go after all. Ethiopia was surprisingly an alluring place to visit. After spending a week there, I can’t wait to go back and spend more time there. From my one week there, here are “6 Things to Know about Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
6 Things to Know about Addis Ababa
1. The Women – As my Ethiopian friend said, “Don’t fall in love with the flight attendants, wait until you get there to fall in love”. I didn’t know what he exactly meant until I went. In America, we have a standard to be attractive by any means necessary. This includes surgeries, implants, or any other accessories that aren’t ours naturally. This was the first thing I noticed about the women of Addis Ababa, the natural beauty. They had caramel complexioned skin, green and hazel eyes, red and brownish hair, and hour glass shapes. These are traits we Americans put such high value on. My admiration for the women of Addis Ababa may seem shallow. But most of these women tend to be conservative as most of them are usually covered in their fashionable Habesha dresses. Here is an article about some inspiring Ethiopian women. http://www.expatkings.com/ethiopian-women/
2. Ethiopian Hollywood – This is what the locals call the Bole area. It is similar to what Hollywood would be considered to Californians or Time Square to New Yorkers. It is filled with attention grabbing bright lights and people who have expensive taste. For days I didn’t see any European looking people until I visited Bole. It was then I realized that this is a tourist spot. It resembled an ant farm of people much like New York. There were people from all over the world here. If you don’t want to fumble while socializing with the locals, this is the place to do it. Bole is such a tourist spot, most of the locals learn and speak very good English. If you resemble anyone famous from America, strut your walk on the streets and watch the locals try to guess who you are. Also famous Ethiopian celebrities are known to frequent this place. When I first started looking for places to stay on Airnb, I didn’t expect much. I ended up staying in a hotel. When you visit here and if you want to keep your stay some what Americanized, look for Airnb places located in Bole. I recommend staying in Bole otherwise you will be overwhelmed by the high poverty rate.
3. Poverty – Well, the Sally Struthers comparisons wasn’t far off. There is a lot of flourishing parts of Addis Ababa. But unfortunately there is a lot of poverty. Like any other area with hardships, street beggars come out like roaches at night. The harsh reality is most of these people are kids. I saw so many kids holding out their hands like they wanted candy. The sad and broken look in their eyes made me not look down. My empathetic spirit couldn’t bare to see kids like that. Have you ever heard of kids in Iraq being used as decoys in wars, I would be the dude to stop to help the kid and get us all killed. Get used to seeing this when you visit. Just having basic necessities like shoes got you the center of attention in some areas. The poverty in Addis Ababa has made some of the people very disciplined con artists. Some of the men in Bole spot tourists in a predatory manner. I luckily knew someone there who was a native. So anytime I asked for a taxi, I would get decent rates instead of the hiked up rates. These rates would be hiked up because I was a foreigner. Some of the women in Bole use their intoxicating looks to lure American men. Some are looking for an American husband to take them to America. Also, Addis Ababa is known for a lot of prostitution of young girls. These girls run the streets in certain areas looking for money via sex to take back to their families.
4. The Currency – Want to be a baller, shot caller? Yes, you know the old school Lil Troy song. Converting your American USD to Ethiopian Birr gets a big bang for your buck. Here is a chart to get a better idea.
So my hotel was about 500 birr a night. I was told that was considered $40 -$60 U.S. dollars a night. If you are financially savvy, then you know how cringe worthy it is when you convert your us dollars to another currency. This is because you mostly lose money when converting. After converting $300 U.S. dollars to birr, I had a fat stack of birr looking like Tony Montana in the movie “Scarface”. It totaled out to be 4000 Ethiopian birr. Let me clarify that you still get more currency when converting U.S. dollars to birr. But if you know natives who reside there, they can help you convert your currency on the black market. The black market is where you will get the best value when converting your U.S. dollars. The black market is not available to tourists. This is why it is good to make friends and have connections.
5. The Infrastructure of the City – Addis Ababa is a burgeoning city with lots of potential. At a first glance, you would not be able to tell. The city had a real biblical feel to it. Growing up in many churches and having familiarity with the bible, I could imagine this is would B.C. would look like. What made it so biblical was how the city was built. Think Roman Empire style. There wasn’t any of the American technology you see that helps sports stadiums get built right before our eyes. There was nothing but ordinary men building huge buildings brick by brick. In western culture, the buildings infrastructure is mainly metal. In Addis Ababa, it is cement cylinders. God knows how long it takes for these buildings to become a finished masterpiece. This is impressive because the city has quickly expanded to three million people.
6. The Food – A friend recommend that I try to eat at a Ethiopian restaurant first. I foolishly ignored her request. After one entire day of eating Ethiopian food, my stomach felt like a time bomb. Every room I stepped into smelt like rotten eggs. My stomach could not contain the gas. This may be from the food and a mixture of protein shakes. The food was spicy, good, and healthy. I was introduced to a spicy flat bread called Injera. It looked unappetizing at first because it had this spongy texture to it. You use it like Americans do with bread and sandwiches except you pick up the food with it like chop sticks. The spicy seasoning of the food was incredible. Make sure you have water at hand because of all the spicy foods. The meals were very size proportionate. They were broken down with rice, lots of meat, and a side of vegetables. Another dish was called Tibs firfir. This was my favorite because it consisted of meat and vegetables, a fitness fanatic’s dream plate. The meat was not disturbed by hormones. I saw gruesome sights of what appeared to look like a butcher shop right out on the street. PETA would be pissed.
I had a lot misconceptions about Africa. I was wrong but this is why I travel. I like to prove myself wrong. Being married to your beliefs does not allow for growth. Addis Ababa is a very well kept secret among the travel community. Don’t be fooled, there is poverty here that might turn some people off if they are looking for a comfy vacation to post beach pics on Facebook. An open mind is required. But as every city does, it has the typical tourists spots to make people feel comfortable. Again, if you decide to visit Addis Ababa, get acquainted with the Bole area first before you venture out into the heart of the city. Addis Ababa is a big place contrary to popular belief. There is so much of the city I did not get to explore. It’s history is what I missed out on especially learning about Ethiopian Emperor Menelik and the castles of Gondar which is located an hour away from Addis Ababa. I will be back in September.
- Eric L. Bolden
- E The Traveling Trainer