Ethiopia - the most extraordinary country in the World
A country of kindness, kings, emperors and history
My last days in Kenya were busy but good. It felt strange getting back on the road after such a long time in 1 country. But Kenya had been a great host to me with it's kind people and easygoing ways.
I had the opportunity to appear as a public speaker at www.dsv.com. Jan Jensen, who is both Danish and the Managing Director invited me to speak at his office in the airport as well as the main office closer to town. In some ways it's ironic how many times I've been to airports within a project, which would come to an end if I flew even just once! So far we have come more than 153,000 km (95,000 mi) and we've been keeping on for more than 3 years and 2 months now.
Jan's team at DSV in Nairobi were helpful to arrange for 1,000 new OUAS calling cards. Cheers! 4th batch ;)
It went well with both talks and I even made an employee cry when I replied to her question: "Why do you not give up - what makes you get out of bed in the morning?" The answer might surprise you ;) It's not my business to make women cry and I suspect that her reaction was a mix of inspiration combined with happy tears. At least I hope! Jan and his wife then invited me for dinner at their home which I happily accepted. As it turned out they had guests over from Denmark and one of them was Thomas! Who's Thomas? Well the Saga benefits from several partners and one of them is www.dbschenker.dk, a freight forwarding company which helps out with a few shipments now and again. Thomas happened to be in touch with me regarding a shipment back in July 2014. And now we were face to face in Kenya. It's a small world sometimes.
Jan is to the left and Thomas is to the right.
And DSV Nairobi also helped me upgrade the Saga with a brand new IPad! Much needed!!
I departed Nairobi on Sunday December 18th in the evening. Before that I had a morning interview at KTN, where I sat in the studio with my hostess Akisa. Kenya has been so kind when it comes to media attention and the Saga. I might just apply that Kenya is forward thinking ;) The bus departed from Eastleight in Nairobi which is also known as "little Somalia" due to all the merchants there. It was long distance bus number 226 which laughs at the mere 9 containerships I have been onboard to get this far. But the containerships are getting a lot of attention these days. I wonder when Greyhound might take interest? :)
It was an overnight bus which played local traditional music all the way up to Moyale, far away from Nairobi. I woke up inside the bus on December 19th and knew I was know 38 years old. Happy birthday.
Entry Ethiopia! This young man wanted to do a selfie with my phone ;)
Moyale is a small border town with a little more charm than most. I had a simple breakfast and proceeded to cross the border into Ethiopia. The Kenyan immigration was kind and helpful. There was no line and the process was swift and professional. The entire border area was under heavy construction and I expect that it will be an astonishing sight in the near future. Now it's simply a rather large construction site. Two men were sitting at a humble shack on the Ethiopian side. They waved me over and I was unsure if it was official business or just curious bystanders? It was official business. They had a few questions for me about who I was and then they pointed me towards immigration around the corner. That went swift as well and I soon had a stamp in my passport. Welcome to Ethiopia! I was now 31 years old again.
I dont like coffee. But in Ethiopia I do.
Ethiopia has a different calendar and according to Ethiopians it's only 2009 now. So I've traveled back to 4 years before the Saga began. Since Ethiopia remains our 122nd country I must underline were making great time! They also have a different point of view when it comes to time. Ethiopians reason that the clock should start when the day does. And the day starts at 6am which is then 00:00 to Ethiopians. Therefore 8am to Ethiopians would be 2pm for the rest of us. Ethiopians are however pretty clever and get that this confuses us so they tell us both time and dates which correspond with Western standards. My friend James told me that once I go to Ethiopia everything would be different. James said that Ethiopians are different. They think differently. They act differently. Things that apply to the rest of East Africa does not apply to Ethiopia. I suspect James might be right. To me Ethiopia appears slightly mysterious in an adventurous way. I'm loving it!
I made my way from immigration to a hotel where from a minibus would go straight to Addis Ababa (Ethiopias capital). The regular bus leaves in the morning and most people recommended that I would stay the night in Moyale and save the money. The minibus ran for 600 birr ($27) and the regular bus would be less than 200 birr. However the minibus was leaving the same day and I would have to spend the night versus the regular bus the next day. Besides the regular bus was said to take 2 days and the minibus only half of that. I opted for the minibus. While waiting for it (for several hours) a young man came to me to say that a Toyota Land Cruiser was about to go to Addis and I could get a seat. It would cost me 800 birr only! I negotiated that down to 600 birr and off we went. The driver was Addisu who had bought his Toyota in South Sudan and was now heading north to Addis along the 700km route we both had ahead of us. There were 3 other passengers: "The Chinese", "the fat one" and "the other Somali". I wonder what Adissu called me? Anyway, Adissu was a good guy and we all got along fine.
The amount of khat available and in use around this part of Eastern Africa is extraordinary.
It didn't take long before we pulled over to pick up some jaad (khat) which are small green leafs that when chewed act as a stimulant. Something to keep you awake. I tried one leaf just to taste it and it had a rather nutty leaflike taste. To get an effect you need to chew handfuls of it so the "fat one" or the "other Somali" would pick the best leafs and hand them to Addisu who over time became more and more "stimulated" and talkative! Now that's not quite how we do things in Denmark, but then again we do drink a lot of coffee which by the way is also a stimulant. And coffee happens to origin from Ethiopia where it remains the countries no 1 export and income.
I especially like the EFFECT of coffee. Since I don't usually drink it it's quite potent! :)
Ethiopia has had effect on much countries in the world whether people know it or not. Apart from being the oldest country in the world with more than 2,500 years of existence (San Marino (Europe's oldest country) is around 1,700 years old), it also has had immense influence on both Christianity, Islam and Rastafarianism. Ethiopias population has reached 100 million people placing them 2nd to Nigeria (200 million) in Africa. That's a lot of people! Anyway, Ethiopia is the only African country which was never formally colonized although the Italians did try twice. But the Ethiopians pushed back keeping their independence, traditions and unique culture. Trust me: I can go on and on about Ethiopia! But suffice to say it's a pretty unique and pretty wonderful country which boasts a lot of sights for tourists and explorers alike.
Ethiopian food is spectacular and a much needed change for me. Ndjera is the sponge-like pancake rolls used to pick up the meat! :)
It had gotten dark outside but the Toyota kept moving forward. Addisu wanted to pull over, have diner and go to sleep, but the 2 Somalis kept pushing. "The Chinese" and I were kind of neutral and willing to go with the flow. At around 2:30am we reached a guesthouse at Awassa having traveled the past 200km on a road which was under construction. We had covered around 400km since the border. I was knackered and went straight to bed! 3 hours later the "other Somali" was hammering on my door telling me it was time to leave?!
I got up and met the others at the 4x4. There wasn't agreement about it being time to leave so I spoke up and said that I would rather sleep. So would Addisu and he was our driver!! The Somalis wanted to go so the situation became that I was sent back to bed, "the Chinese" (who's name is Reus) and the Somalis were dropped off by a nearby bus station and Addisu returned to catch some zzz's as well. 3 hours after that Adissu and I had breakfast. Food is spectacular in Ethiopia! Then we got on the road again which was now perfect all the way to Addis. On the way we passed through Shashamane which is the Rastafarian city which Haile Selassie gave to Jamaicans who wanted to return to the motherland. I didn't know this, but reggae is highly popular among people in Ethiopia.
Finally we reached Addis. Adissu drove me to where I had agreed to meet Alemu. Who's Alemu? Alemu is married to Almaz and they have a son, Dereje, who married Kathrine. And Kathrine is Danish. She also happens to know my fiancée and my fiancées sister. So all of that worked out well for me. I said farewell to Addisu and hello to Alemu. Then Alemu and I drove off into the night. He's such a great guy! Alemu is a retired geologist and then some. He has seen more than a lot of his country. He has survived 2 helicopter crashes which have now left him with a slight limp and a lot of good stories. We picked up Almaz who is as sweet as sugar. She has a few stories of her own after 30 years of working for the United Nations. We reached their home just a little outside of Addis Ababa and it didn't take long before I felt like I was adopted. Good food and good times.
I was in Ethiopia for the first time 15 years ago. I even came to Addis back then and I can promise you that much has changed! Both with Addis but also with me. Addis now has a very modern and very new metro which is more than you can say about any subsaharan country in Africa. It's quite something! But then again; in 2012 Ethiopia became the 2nd country in the world to own and operate a Boeing 787 Dreamliner - so we are really talking about a different kind of country here. We have come a long way since Band Aid sang "Do they know it's Christmas?" for the benefit of Ethiopia back in 1984.
Downtown Addis Ababa.
There's still no such thing as a perfect country if you ask me, and there is still humanitarian work to be done in Ethiopia. Hence the Red Cross is active here. But there are also smartphones and flatscreen TV's around here. And lots and lots of Ladas!! They are mostly painted blue and white and operate as taxis. The USSR also left its fingerprints in Ethiopia :)
Haile Selassie 1 was Ethiopias regent and later on Emperor until 1974.
I have been around Addis to see if I could relocate any of the places I went 15 years ago. It's not easy but I did recognize a few things so far. The National museum which keeps the world famous Lucy on display has had a complete remake. But Lucy looks the same. I guess it's hard to see an extra 15 years on an already 3,2 million year girl?
Lucy got her name from the famed Beatles song.
Oh yes, as mentioned Ethiopia has influenced us all whoever we are and wherever we live. Our ancestors walked out of Ethiopia and spread all over the world on our behalf. And if you need a far less abstract thought then just check if there's coffee in your country. Thank you Ethiopia for keeping us stimulated.
I popped into the cinema to see the new Starwars film "Rogue one" which is something you can do in Addis as well. I spoke to several Ethiopians who didn't believe I would find anything other than local movies. But that's absolutely not the case. I even saw it in 3D which I'm by no means in favor of. What's the point with 3D movies? Please stop it and stick to 2D - is that too much to ask for? :)
Oh yeah...I almost forgot: Ethiopia is currently midway through a 6 month 'state of emergency'. There might be a few more checkpoints than otherwise but I haven't come through a checkpoint were anyone said anything else than hi. The government has shut down several online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype (video and calls) and other stuff. But Instagram and whatsapp works? Besides the Ethiopians are clever and know what to download to get onto their favorite social media...so a lot of fuss for nothing? According to experts Ethiopia is super safe and there appears to be more tourist here now than before the 'state of emergency'.
Ethiopia has a special place in my heart and I'll be back "soon". But now we are first off to Somalia and then Djibouti. Only after that we'll return again to Africas most mountainous country.
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - amazed
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga