The capital city of Ethiopia is populated by more than 3.3 million people. For the sake of comparison, L.A. has about 4 million people.
Among the things that strike a Westerner in Addis Ababa are the lack of resources and the chaos, balanced by beautiful, loving people, vast diversity, and an incredible cultural history. The lack of organized systems…danger is everywhere you turn, from the intermingling of cars and people on the roads to unprotected construction zones to missing sidewalks. I can’t tell you the number of near miss accidents we have seen or narrowly avoided in just two days…total adjustment of expectations of how people and traffic coexist. Pickpockets are notorious, beggars abound, litter and pollution prevail.
Today we visited the Mercado, the largest open market in all of Africa. We cheated a bit…we decided to just stay inside the nice van our driver, Alazar, was carrying us around in. It was a long slow procession through the craziest scenes. We really wanted the children to see it, and we also wanted to stay at arms length. Because honestly, it’s a lot, and we have a 2-year-old with us.
Big trucks being unloaded by hand…boxes of table salt, soap, food, oil, everything you can think of. People selling scrap metal, used electronics, shoelaces, cloth, produce, spices, dry goods, I mean, you can’t even tell what’s really going on or what kind of commerce is being successfully achieved. It’s incredible to see.
There’s a new public campaign to try to change the local attitude toward taxes. Apparently, those who have enough income to have tax obligations tend to evade them, and generally people think that tax evaders are clever. There’s no tax structure, no replenishing fund that can be applied to the public good. Organized systems are obviously a really important basis for a forward-moving society. The current government is trying to provide the underlying structure that will give their citizens the support they need to flourish. Maybe the reduction in conflict and other issues that steal resources, will help everyone move forward.
The day before, we visited the national museum in Addis, which houses fascinating relics, including the fossils of the oldest hominid ever found on earth, “Lucy.” I kept thinking that the British Museum must be dying to get their hands on some of these things. Amazing stuff, not labeled very well, barely secure, in a run-down building.
Above are the remains of Lucy that they found, and below, the re-creating of the missing pieces for an upright model.
Below is the throne of Haile Selassie I who was emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974 (prior to that he was Regent of Ethiopia from 1916). He is believed to be of the Solomonic dynasty (in the lineage of Jesus), and considered to be God incarnate by the Rastafari movement. He was dubbed “the Lion of Judah.” When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Selassie and his armies resisted, but he was eventually forced into exile. In 1941, after six years of brutal occupation, the Italians were defeated by British and South African forces and Selassie was allowed to return to his throne in Addis Ababa, where he remained in power until 1974. Prior to his official title, his name was Ras Tafari Makonnen, which is where the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica got its name. Read more about this incredible history…it is fascinating in its international influence.
We ended the day by driving up Entoto Mountain, the 10,500 foot peak that overlooks Addis Ababa and is surrounded by Eucalyptus forest. It’s beautiful, and also very populated by families in traditional dwellings who do a lot of climbing up and down that road. Entoto is the area where Ethiopia’s famous long-distance runners do their training in the thin air. Impoverished women (always women) carry absolutely enormous bundles of sticks to sell as firewood for not much money.