Saturday, 22 August 2009
Sons and daughters
ADDIS ABABA - 3/8/09 12:00
Lots of military everywhere. Work gangs carrying various tools over their shoulders. Wooden scaffolding and haphazard construction. Crazy traffic and thick smog. Many shack-like stores and bars, interspersed with the odd crystal cathedral to the god of commerce. Young men wearing Chelsea shirts, walking slowly through the streets and the sound of crowing cocks. Ladas and Toyotas in blue and white. The frame of the mountains.
Hair-raising taxi rides in the most clapped-out Lada you could possibly imagine (someone said the other day: "They don't rust, do they? Because it's so dry." Amazing how people can have such wrong perceptions. And I don't exclude myself from that) Trawling through half destroyed streets where cows lash their tongues against whatever sparse vegetation can be found on the verge. Herds of goats resting on street corners; women roasting corn cobs on small braziers; women packing bundles of charcoal in leaves.
Every pair of eyes seeming to latch on to me as we progress through the (controlled?) mayhem of the streets, the driver - Mamush - somehow navigating around abysmal pot holes. People, vehicles and animals emerging, swerving and stopping from every side and every angle.
A river of human waste flowing down the side of the rock-strewn streets fills the air with its pungent stench, and young boys in designer jeans and trainers skip over the pools of excrement. An artistically created macchiato, marbled like an Italian ice cream, served in the single room of the Selam Cafe. I fear entering this maelstrom alone, and am content to remain in the Lada cocoon, ferried in its (relative) safety from one haven to another, untroubled by the turbulence of human existence on the street.
High above, in the distance, huge birds I cannot identify are circling slowly. Soon, the Lada will arrive to transport us to Entoto, where Menelik made his palace. At least I think so, but in this place it's hard to tell. Nobody wants to put their name to anything, and every question is answered with a smile.