Thursday, February 21, 2013

I am writing this from my room in Ethiopia’s oldest hotel (the empress Taitu), having returned to the chaos and mayhem of the capital after 2 weeks spent wandering in the beautiful north. Despite this hotel being one of the most popular budget traveler lodges in all of Addis Ababa, internet here is still incredibly frustrating and woefully temperamental, so I am writing this in Word document form to be uploaded later. (Maybe it’s my Italian ancestry, but being the incredibly impatient person I am, internet that takes forever to load, quits sporadically on me, etc etc, tend to put me in an incredibly pissy and critical mood….so you have been warned,  before reading any further, haha.)

I think of how Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and the impasse that having things like such poor internet connection means: without a stable fast, connection, a country can in no way possibly compete with the world economy or stay relevant in a world where e-commerce is everything, and yet, without the initial money to make high speed internet possible, they cannot have the connection that the 21st century demands and thus create wealth in any way for themselves (through online start up business’ or otherwise).. This type of frustrating catch-22 is what Ethiopia seems to embody most for me, maybe demonstrated most by the never ending parade of beggar children demanding money, pens, sweets on every corner (sometimes fairly aggressively) and the conflicting desire to help them by giving, what to my pocket is a mere pittance, or knowing that in giving at all you are creating a terrible precedent for future travelers, as well as not contributing whatsoever to a sustainable solution, and encouraging the begging, aid-driven mentality.

Don’t get me wrong…I think traveling to Ethiopia is rewarding for many reasons, there is certainly beautiful  historical sites, unique culture, and the eye opening experience of seeing what life is actually like for a huge amount of the world – a day-to-day struggle so far removed from the western decadence of smartphones, facebook, and 24 hr conveiniece that you cannot help but feel completely spoiled and out of touch. Is it a good place for an easy vacation? No. Certainly, if you have the money, you can stay at European style Hilton hotels, fly from site to site, and pay someone to shelter you from actual gritty Africa, but I hardly see the point, especially since the real risks (Malaria, common food born illness, etc) are still very present, no matter what your financial status. (Speaking of which, getting tested for malaria in a country with an 8% HIV rate is another eye opener – something that would be routine in Canada becomes stressful and requires you to actually make sure that a fresh syringe and gloves are used – things we would take for granted in the west, and, spending all night vomiting in your filthy bathroom in Lalibela just plain sucks). I think that Ethiopia is a good place for an experienced backpacker to travel- or just a slightly insane person who really doesn’t give a damn what risks they are putting themselves through, haha. 

Tomorrow I take the 10 hr bus to the eastern city of Harar, which involves getting up at 4 am, being ripped off in a taxi, to reach the absolute chaos of the local bus station, fighting off touts and pickpockets, claiming a seat, and putting up the thorns of travel defence – basically grinning and bearing it. And while it might sound like I am complaining, I’m really not…I just don’t see the point in sugar-coating the actuality of my experience, or glossing over the realities (like certain writers of the Lonely Planet guide seem to enjoy doing). Will it be worth it to see the house that Rimbaud lived in (supposedly), or feed a wild Hyena from a stick, after dusk outside the haunted city’s crumbling walls? Certainly. And that is why, despite the challenges, despite how eating Injera every single day is making me loathe the food I initially liked so much… I am still here. Just like today, when I looked close up into the eyes of an Abyssinian lion at the Addis Ababa zoo – an experience that one could only have here, being that this is the only place in the world which has any in captivity-, or like last week when I ate lunch in the mountains, mere inches from a gaggle of dozens of endemic Gelada Baboons, I felt lucky to have the chance to see this country, in all its dirty, chaotic, conflicted glory.

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