Addis Abeba somehow reminds me of Los Angeles. Minus the ocean, it too consists of harsh (and on the other hand overly luxurious) neighbourhoods connected by stretches of heavily congested highways, air pollution coloured sunsets and a diverse set of hustlers selling whatever a person might need. And just like Los Angeles, Addis Abeba is not a love at first sight city, it opens up slowly, taking its time, not trying to please you.
Addis Abeba means ‘new flower’ in the Amharic language and it inhabits almost four million people.
This is a city which Emperor Menelik II, the king of kings, founded back in the 19th century. The story goes he was standing on Entoto Mountain looking down in the valley and decided that a city should be built here.
This is also the city from where Emperor Haile Selassie was transported away from his castle in a small baby blue Wolkswagen in 1974. If a man is judged by the way he enters or exists a room, Haile Selassie certainly didn’t have his ideal ending.
It is also the city where the military ruler Mengistu remained in power for nearly two decades, resulting in what is called the Red Terror. Thousands of lives lost, the stories of which now reside in a museum just by Meskel Square.
In Addis Abeba, you will become familiar with the ‘Yes Taxis’. Wherever you walk, you will spot local taxi drivers hustling around their blue Lada taxis, casually throwing an idea in the air: ‘Yes Taxi?’.
If you live elsewhere in Ethiopia and come to visit the capital, you will adore its abundance in goods. There is everything a person might wish for: cheese, almonds, olive paste, different kinds of wines, chocolates, even cashew nuts. Strawberries. Grapes. Ice cream.
The city looks like a giant traffic jam. The reason is a giant sky train system being built in the city. The skytrain is a brilliant idea. Currently Addis Abeba is a nightmare for anyone walking or crossing a street. No traffic lights, no traffic rules.
If you are not used to the altitude, you will often be short of breath. Addis Abeba is at 2,4 kilometres the worlds’ third highest capital.
Slowly by slowly you will learn how to navigate its busy streets. In the narrow side streets you will find wonderful restaurants and coffee shops. Most of the places don’t have exact addresses, though. The name of a nearby building is a common way to navigate.
And on the other hand, when sitting in a taxi on Bole Road, you may feel like you are visiting just another western city. Skyscrapers, cars, supermarkets, even christmas trees. Addis is urbanizing and westernizing so quickly. I do hope Ethiopian culture remains.
Except for the traffic culture. Good riddance to that.