Remember that tire? You know. The one that flew off my motorcycle in Zambia and that was miraculously found more than a month later. But perhaps more amazing was that the founder schlepped it to a Christian mission where a missionary eventually contacted me. And thanks to the kindness of Lusaka’s KTM dealer, Ray Wilson packaged my lost rubber and sent it to Nairobi. But due to a screw up on DHL’s side, the tire never made it to Nairobi. Instead, DHL agreed to send it here, to Addis Ababa, at their cost. So while biding my time waiting for an opportunity to secure a Sudan Visa, I’m also waiting for my tire to arrive via DHL.
Things get funnier for me in Addis. Important to note that Ethiopia is the first country in Africa where the telecommunications company is government owned and operated. Everywhere else in Africa I’ve been able to purchase a simple SIM card/chip for my unlocked GSM phone. These usually cost less than $5 and give me a local phone number. With “Pay As You Go” I can simply recharge my phone with credits at local kiosks, grocery stores, ATM machines and more. And in populated areas I even can use the phone connected to my laptop using GPRS or 3G and thereby access the internet. But in Ethiopia I was surprised to learn that a GSM card/chip for a phone costs anywhere from $100 – $300, plus it takes a tedious application and over a month to get activated. And while I’ve had a number of debates with locals, some of which feel that it’s best for the government to own and run the telephone networks because they are motivated to provide coverage in areas where a profit-venture may not build cellular towers. My rebuttal was simply that in the swamps of Zambia and the war-torn border of Mozambique and Malawi I found access to my CelTel, Vodaphone or other mobile provider. So for the first time in Africa I’m unable to freely use my phone, text or access the internet.
So what do I do? I pull out my Iridium satellite phone just to charge the batter and test to make sure it works. In my room on the sixth floor of the Yoly Hotel in Addis I set the phone on the window ledge with the satellite antenna pointing toward the sky — sat phones only work outside for obvious reasons. Like a GPS it takes a minute to search and find a suitable satellite. Just then a massive breeze blew through the building and the window slammed shut. Bam! The noise startled me and as I glanced over my shoulder to look at the window I realized my Sat Phone was gone. Disaster.
I looked out the window. Next to the hotel was a 2 story building that housed the laundry and linen operation for the hotel. Next door behind wire mesh gates were two loudly barking dogs. And there were stairs leading to the roof of the building adjacent. A narrow alley between the two buildings was littered with trash and blocked by a locked gate. I couldn’t see the phone. Panicked and pissed I called the manager whom I befriended earlier that day and he jumped into action sending a worker to scout for my phone. I watched from my six floor as he tramped around the ground, up the stairs and onto the roof of the adjacent building. He almost gave up but spotted something as he walked down the stairs. My phone, which I’d used perhaps twice since landing in Africa in November – once in Botswana and once in Tanzania.
When the worker showed up in my room with phone in hand it was missing the vital antenna. Must of snapped off in its Galileo-like descent from my window ledge to the ground – six stories. The worker went back down. From above it was easier to spot the antenna and I guided him to the thin black blob on the ground almost directly below my window. At first I couldn’t get the antenna attached, but after nearly an hour of fiddling and working it I got the antenna to work. With only a slight scuff in the corner of the phone, it was housed in a thick leather case, the phone still works. Amazing.
The next morning I make another trip to the Sudan Embassy. I leave my completed application, my passport and two passport photos. They want a letter of recommendation from someone living in Sudan. This is impossible I say. After some grumbling and shady looks they keep my application and my passport and tell me to return the next day after 12:30pm.
On my way back to the hotel I stop by the DHL office. My tire? It’s in Nairobi and everyone’s confused. Good god.