Self Expression Magazine

The Horn of Africa

By Liz
Week two of special guest blogger Jeremy... Jamie and I are happy to highlight such an amazing writer and world traveler.  We're also happy to take a little time off too!  Here is part two of three. 
II Sleep eventually came as my adrenaline rush converted over into a system crash. Somewhere around six in the morning I awoke to the sounds of Muslim morning prayer wafting loudly across the neighborhood. This struck me as a bit odd as Ethiopia is predominantly a Christian nation – unique these days in the Horn of Africa – but it was cool to hear it live. Half dressed I threw on some clothes and went out to the balcony.  Throwing open the curtains I got my first good look at the city. Needless to say what I saw reflected what I already knew; Ethiopia wasn’t exactly rolling in it. Larger buildings—many of which appeared to have seen better days—sporadically jutted up above an ocean of scrappy residential shacks. All but the biggest roads were largely unpaved. Rays of sunlight split through low hanging clouds of smoke rising up from homes and alley-ways – breakfast in the making. Things seemed to be moving slowly with the pace of an early Saturday morning. After a short cat nap, shower, and breakfast I made my way down to the lobby. Getting lucky again, the front desk informed me that the folks I was there to see had scheduled a van to pick me up at 8am. Friends had told me to expect something they referred to as African time, which is to say expect everything to run late and take longer than you’d expect. At first I dismissed it as a tongue-in-cheek jeer, but it turned out to be true. Instead of 8am, the van actually showed up around 8:45am, setting a pattern for the remainder of the day. The ride to my destination wasn’t quite as death-defying as the one the night before, but it was still harrowing: three traffic lanes turned into four or five and the honking continued unabated. Dozens of blue-striped minibuses (the unofficial mass-transit system) cruised along-side of us, their navigators hawking destinations and scouting for riders. Federal police officers directed traffic in the biggest squares and intersections, but otherwise it was everyone for himself. Despite the seeming chaos it somehow worked (though it is worth noting that World Health ranked the nation twelfth in traffic fatalities in the world). The ride was a good first glance at life in the city too. First impressions?...busy, crowed but not in a NYC sort of way, and utilitarian. Streets and alley-ways were filled with just about everything you can imagine: heavy-trucks full of watermelons to tiny cabs, goat herds with shepherds to women carrying firewood down from the hills. It may have been easier to think up stuff you didn’t see. Store fronts were littered with Coca-Cola signs and sold goods ranging from live animals to cell phone cases. Squares often featured open-markets selling anything and everything you could imagine.  Many of the buildings, larger government ones in particular, appeared to have been built in the 1970s and 80s and bore a resemblance to architecture one might find in the old Soviet states. If my guess is right it wouldn’t be coincidence; Ethiopia served as a Soviet ally under a repressive communist regime during that time. Really old buildings bore hallmarks of Italian influence, a product of the late 1930s occupation. Aside from a few scattered new projects in various stages of completion, the rest of the city was comprised of the shack sea. Most were made from what looked to be combinations of sheet metal, wood, and whatever else was locatable; some were larger and made of concrete. In any case, it made the oft-maligned public housing in the US look rosy. All that to soak in and it was still only 9:30 in the morning.  The Horn of Africa

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