Life in Addis Ababa

Some of you have asked about life in Addis Ababa. Here are a few highlights:

Addis sprawls over the foothills of the Entoto Mountains. The city sits at nearly 8000 feet elevation – – third highest capital in the world. That high altitude makes my morning jog feel like a marathon. Half an hour and I am totally bushed.

The city is a crowded urban concentration (3 million), but there are touches of countryside within – – like the goat market (about $50 for a goat) just down the street from my hotel. The goat market is adjacent to donkey market (more than twice that price for a donkey.) One morning a rural visitor was herding cows down the street. Maybe fifteen cows, big horns, looked like long horned Texas steers. I crossed to the other side of the street.

We have had three, all-day, electrical outages in the 10 days I have been here. Much of Ethiopia’s electricity is derived from hydropower and as we are nearing the end of the eight month dry season, the reservoirs that drive the turbines are running low. Consequently, I am told that one should expect an outage every several days – – sort of rolls through Addis on an unpredictable basis.

Getting money in Addis is a regular challenge. ATMs exist but are exceedingly sparse and often don’t have money to dispense. There is virtually no acceptance of credit cards (outside of the big international hotels like Hilton and Sheraton.) Just a handful of banks accept travelers’ checks. Consequently, one must bring all the cash one needs – – sort of a problem for a long stay – – or make special trips to the few travelers-check-accepting banks.

Cashing a travelers’ check is a bit more bureaucratic than in the west. For those of you who recall cashing a travelers’ check, the procedure was simple: Go to the teller, show ID, sign the check, receive money.
Here in Ethiopia we have some additional steps: Go to bank officer’s desk. Give up passport and travelers check to be Xeroxed. Sign check. Xerox again. Bank office then fills out comprehensive form – in triplicate with carbon paper. Returns passport, hands over a numbered metal token. Wait in main lobby, 5 to 30 minutes, until number matching the token flashes on teller’s screen. Go to teller, collect money. Go back to hotel and take a nap after this ordeal.

And finally, a word about names: In this very Christian nation, a few names are recognizable from the bible: Samson and Solomon. A few others have biblical or saintly roots that require some head scratching: Yohannis (John) and Gyorgis (George). However, most are totally unfamiliar: Worku, Workeneh, Girma, Shimeles, Yikanu. Here is a quick test, identify the lone female name above. I have taken to writing down the name of each person I meet so that I can (sort of) remember them and keep them straight.

By the way, if you selected Yikanu, you are correct.

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