My time in Addis Ababa was a breath of fresh air. Addis is a bustling city with an international crowd thanks in part to it’s evolution as the business hub of the African continent and the locale of the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). The locals are very friendly and happy to engage in conversations about Ethiopia and whatever else comes to mind.
When comparing Ethiopia to some of the other African countries that I travel to for work (mostly conflict countries), one noticeable difference is the level of safety. First, tourists/business travelers are able to walk around and take taxis on their own. It is a relief to not be shuttled from building to building, which after a week leads to a little cabin fever. Second, the ability to go to museums, shop, relax in cafes or restaurants independently or with colleagues, meet locals and experience the culture cannot be underestimated.
When walking around, it is easy to spot the UNECA and AU employees, diplomats and their families who frequent local traditional restaurants such as Yod Abyssinia
or mixed fare of international and Ethiopian cuisine of the Lime Tree – both are highly recommended. For the vegans and vegetarians – it is pretty easy to forage for food because it is normal to find fasting (animal free) or bayenetu options on menus. Full disclosure – Ethiopian food is in my top 5 favorite cuisines, so spending 10 days in Ethiopia was this vegan foodie’s dream come true.
Getting around is also easy with the queues of blue and yellow taxis around town. However, be prepared to barter and even walk away from your taxi because tourists pay at least twice the going rate for a ride. If in doubt ask at your hotel what the rate is to the destination.
During work trips it is very rare to have free time for tourist adventures. This trip, however, it happened that one Saturday morning was free to pack full of local sights. The hotel secured a taxi driver who agreed to drive and stay with me for a set amount of time for a flat fee. This is a good way to see the city for those who do not want to participate in an expensive all day bus tour. The National Museum of Ethiopia was the first stop. The 3.2 million years old fossil named LUCY aka DENKINESH was one of the items that initially drew me to this particular museum. https://flic.kr/p/DDynEC
The museum has three floors and is full of paleontological and pre-historical artifacts and bones, archaeology, ethnographic items and works of art.
Next up, the Ethnological Museum, which is located in the former palace of Haile Selassie, now part of the Addis Ababa University. It contains scenes of a traditional home, musical instruments, clothing, toys and religious art.
The driver also took me to a row of traditional shops off the tourist route where textiles, traditional items and coffee – a mainstay of Ethiopia’s exports – are sold.
During my stay the holiday Timkat took place, which is an orthodox Christian holiday. It was wonderful to be able to experience their celebration and witness the processions of people wearing traditional clothing on their way to their festivities. The hotel had its own display for the faithful who celebrate Epiphany.
The remainder of the visit was spent in meetings at the UNECA and the AU for the 27th session of the Gender is my Agenda Campaign (GIMAC), focusing on “Looking towards 2020: Securing Women’s Right’s through Gender Equality and Silencing the Guns in Africa.”
Hopefully the next visit to Ethiopia will take me further outside the city center, perhaps to explore the city of Lalibela, the Simien Mountains or the Omo Valley.