Market Meandering & Historical Heresy in Addis Ababa.

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Hazy Addis. Not so much pollution but humidity effect.

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Above entrance to what was once palace to Selassie and below fountain in the gardens.

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My taxi driver Debebe Asafa (+251-911-190-418) and I hanging in front of the Addis University Museum. This was once palace to Halie Selassie

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At the National Museum in Addis a painting depicts the traditional coffee ceremony.

Addis holds a lot more interest for me, and the traveler, than simply a place to try and secure a Sudanese visa. The history of Ethiopia is pictorally and literally explained at the University Museum and the National Museum is home to Lucy, the oldest moninid skeleton ever discovered. Named by her discoveres in 1974 after th Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” the skeleton is nearly 3.5 million years old and more than 40% of the entire body of this skeleton was found providing further proof of the evolution of man (woman). According to Donald Johansen, one of the founders of Lucy, “Lucy was only 1.1 m (3 feet 8 inches) tall, weighed 29 kilograms (65 lb) and looked somewhat like a common chimpanzee, but although the creature had a small brain, the pelvis and leg bones were almost identical in function with those of modern humans, showing with certainty that these hominids had walked erect.”

Though the original skeleton was cast and a replica sits in the National Museum, I was told that the real skeleton (3.5 million year old bones) is making a limited tour to the United States through this September. Proceeds for those visiting Lucy will go to improving Ethiopia’s museums. And they need it. While the National Museum is the country’s treasure, it’s dirty, badly lit, poorly labeled and somewhat disorganized. Though the collection is fascinating as it takes you through Ehtiopia’s archaelogical, geological and cultural history, it does deserve better treatment and awareness.

Because Addis is a maze of one way streets and a patchwork of contrasting neighborhoods, I opted to secure a taxi for a two-day excursion of Embassy visits, museum probing and people watching. Neatly dressed and groomed and proud of his 1200cc Russian-built white-roofed and blue mid_1980’s Lada, Debebe Assefa (the best and perhaps only honest taxi driver in Addis – if you visit and want to get around call him on his cell phone: +251-911-190-418 and tell him Allan / WorldRider sent you!).

So beyond the National Museum, we were enamored by the completely mounted and stuffed full-size lion that was once the companion of Haile Selassie, who was known to travel and live with a pride of lions and often gifting them to world leaders or national zoos. And a rich cultural tour of the dozens of diverse cultures that give Ethiopia such a rich heritage. From music, food, agriculture, textiles, craftmanship, architecture and more, the museum within the Addis University is a must see for any visitor to Ethiopia.

With grumbling stomachs and parched palates, Debebe took me to a restaurant rarely visited by foreigners. An orthodox Christian, we agreed to share two vegetable dishes because Debebe was fasting. This doesn’t mean abstinence from food, rather it’s simply abstince from meat and meat byproducts. Interestingly, there are perhaps more days of fasting (250 in total including every Wednesday and Friday) in Ethiopia than any other. The more time I spent with Debebe the more I learned about the interesting and the bizarre when it comes to Ethiopia.

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These textiles are far to classy and crafted for the massive Merkato, instead we found these in the Entoto Market
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The colors and faces of Merkato in Addis Ababa.
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Find whatever you didn’t know you needed at Merkato in Addis.
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But Market days can be taxing, stressful and just too damn much. Take a breather by the wall.

Perhaps the most difficult concept to grasp is the calendar and the clock. Currently, Ethiopia is celebrating the Millennium, something we did in the Western World eight years ago — their calendar is seven years and eight months behind ours. As such, signs noting the celbration and events leading up to the Millennium were posted throughout Addis. But the clock and telling time was the most difficult — though not unique to Ethiopia.

Ethiopia follows Swahili time. Or, perhaps Swahili nations use the Ethiopian clock. No matter what, Swahili and Ethiopian time starts at 6am – not midnight as the rest of Africa and the western world. Consistently I’d have to do double takes at the large clocks that decorated monuments, buildings or posted in hotels, restaurants and markets. There is time in Ethiopia. A lot of time. According to the Ethiopian calendar, Doc hadn’t yet been conceived. And I was still lost in the business world back home.

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It’s 2008 and Ethiopian is celebrating the Millennium.

Wake up, Allan! You’re in Ethiopia.

We chowed on an excellent dish of veggies and rich sauces ordered by Debebe and then cruised to Tomoca, a legendary coffee shop before embarking on a tour of Addis’s colorful markets. To many African travelers the sprawling “Merkato” is the largest in Africa. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, it’s not in Africa. The chaotic market is more like a neighborhood than a market and even my driver couldn’t really tell me where it begins nor ends. Suffice to say the mass of stalls, alleys, people, shades, aromas and questionalble and colorful characters that make up the madness and mayhem in Addis’s infamous market is a feast for the eyes — and the camera. Debebe was undoubtledly confused as to the subjects I found curious enough to frame in my lens, but he patiently let me indulge while we wandered the pedestrian and vehicular infested streets.

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Exploring the Orthodox Christian churches of Addis and hanging with the devout monks in classic chairs.

1 reply
  1. Angie
    Angie says:

    I love the monk from Addis Allan!!!! It’s nice to have you writing again so we can share in your journey 🙂

    Reply

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