The situation in Egypt has us delaying the school year. We teachers end up working despite no students, but end up with almost a week off, before the kids start on September 15. When our break is announced I head for Expedia.com and within an hour I’ve booked a flight to Ethiopia for most of the week we’ll have off. I’ve barely settled back into my flat in Maadi, but I can’t bear the thought of just hanging around.
Day 1. I leave Cairo at 0200 and arrive in Addis Ababa at 0700. My ride isn’t there. My acquaintance in Addis is having Internet trouble and doesn’t get my messages of the last few days. Fortunately she has provided me with information on someone who can get me around the country, a small tour outfit near the Hilton, which has a booth at the airport.
In the visa line, which takes over an hour to get through, I meet a young woman from Seattle and two guys from England. By the time we’re through customs Oscar, David and I are on a first name basis and since my ride doesn’t show and we all need a ride to somewhere to get organized we ask the HIlton's driver if he’ll give us a lift. He is happy to oblige for a small tip. Once there we enjoy a couple early morning local beers (hey, we haven’t been to bed yet) and wait for things to open. Oscar and David connect with their friends, we bid farewell, and I wander just out the gate to the tour office where I arrange flights, guides, and destinations. The tour people find me a hotel for the evening, get me there, and I settle in.
It’s New Years here and the year is about to be 2006. Ethiopia, for local and religious purposes follows the Ge’ez calendar, which, like other pre-modern calendars, has twelve 30-day months. Do the math, eliminating the days in the modern calendar based on more accurate later scientific discoveries, and it works out. For official purposes, like international air flights, they use the modern calendar.
My hotel is typical of something I’d find in a US city. The staff is proud of its modernity. I find it out of place and start feeling a need to get into the country. I leave the hotel and walk around the neighborhood to find something to eat, wanting to avoid the colonial atmosphere of the hotel. There is an orthodox mass going on just up the street at a local church, which turns out to be the largest in Addis. There are bright and colored lights, and throngs in the street, people selling religious paraphernalia, most noticeable the two ended beeswax candles.
There is a mob of beggars. I think this due strictly to the celebration, which lasts for the entire 30-day month leading up to New Years. I’ll find out soon enough that this is not the case and they are not unique to this holiday period. I stop at a grocery store, then a sort of fast food place. Food is inexpensive and I decide to eat back at my room. By the time I arrive back at my hotel I’ve given everything away to the blind man, the woman with one leg and a cloudy left eye, and the filthy emaciated crippled guy on the hand peddle adult sized tricycle. I can always use to skip a meal and go to bed knowing I’ll get to eat in the morning. The alarm will ring at 0430.