Addis Ababa

I am in Addis Ababa, in one piece, and taking advantage of a temporary steadiness in the office internet connection to finally update this blog. Outside, a religious meeting in the local stadium is not letting the rain get in the way of proclaiming the good news as loudly as possible. There is always either a religious meeting or a football match, whatever the weather; they sound much the same from a distance, except the quantity of hallelujahs is rather greater from the former.

That is probably a cockroach right above my head.

I arrived in Ethiopia, settled myself in my hotel room, reached an entente with the cockroaches (floor at night – if you must, wall or bed or anywhere during the day – face the wrath of my flip flop), and presented myself at the office to discover that everyone who I needed to speak to had disappeared off on a training course for two weeks. This is slightly trying as I have a lot to do and not a huge amount of time in which to do it, but I have hope that my carefully cultivated do-it-all-at-the-last-minute skills will save the day in the end. With not a huge amount to do until everyone comes back, I am spending my time at the office reading several dozen identical reports on climate change and the environment, climate change and women, climate change and the environment and women and so on ad infinitum. It is a mystery to me the way that every single NGO and think tank and international organisation feels the need to produce its own report on the subject, since they all say more or less the same thing and have no particular recommendations to make which have not been made a dozen times before, and I would’ve thought they could save some effort by pooling their resources. On the other hand, it does help immensely when you are trying to bulk up your literature review and reference list, so I suppose for the moment I am in favour of this vigorous level of productivity.

I have to say I am enjoying being in Africa again. Addis Ababa is not really one of those cities which you would visit for its own sake: it is not overflowing with must-see attractions (in fact, it’s barely flowing at all), and it is not with the best will in the world what anybody would call attractive. It is scruffy and low-rise, except in a few parts where it is becoming high rise, and twenty-storey glass office blocks are still covered in wobbly wooden scaffolding that curves in and out in a manner which gives the new buildings a rather outré Norman Fosteresque vibe which I think they will be the poorer without when the scaffolding comes down. The rainy season has began in earnest, and every afternoon thunderstorms bucket rain for hours at a time, the kind of rain that has not truck with umbrellas and waterproof jackets but steadily and with purpose sets about the task of making you as wet as it is possible to be without actually dissolving, and leaves brown torrents in the gutter and sinkholes in the pavements that it requires great intrepidity to avoid. It is a city of unexpected hills, and you can turn a corner and find the road dropping away from you or rising up to a hill that positively was not there when you looked before, and what with the rain, really all I probably need to do for my dissertation is start knocking on people’s doors at the bottom of slopes and asking their opinions on flash-flooding.

Still, I rather like Addis. It is brash and lively, surprisingly unpolluted and with rather less traffic than you see in many big cities, and people are helpful when you have got yourself into the wrong minibus. Besides which, it has several attributes which highly recommend it to me personally. The altitude (2,300 m, which I as a lifelong sea-level dweller don’t half feel when walking uphill, but better that than heatstroke) keeps the temperature mild, the Entoto mountains lurk picturesquely in the background of every vista, and quality and quantity of cafes and coffee houses is most impressive. When I am not in the office, I skulk in one cafe or another, drinking fruit juices thick enough to stand a straw up in and pursuing my connoisseurship of Ethiopian coffee, which is truly excellent (it should be, given this is where the stuff was first cultivated). My macchiato consumption has reached a critical level, and it is perhaps indicative of my priorities that the sole Amharic word I can read is buna – coffee. As for Ethiopian food, I have a great deal to say on the subject – at high volume, and with hand gestures – but that probably deserves a separate post.

I hope I will be able to get out of Addis soon, because I think that most of the best bits of Ethiopia aren’t in it, but in the meantime mosquitoes will continue to feast joyfully on my wrists and ankles and intrepid young men will continue to accost me and attempt to convince me I met them the previous day and promised them I would go to their shop/restaurant/on a date and the rain will continue to ensure that I have not a dry article of clothing to my name, and I will care nothing because I will be sitting under a bamboo awning with another macchiato and a glass of fresh guava juice and all will be well.

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