This post should not have taken so long to get up, but with a tight schedule and many important business meetings, I am finding the time to sit and post about my time in Africa (and I am sure you’ve all waited with great anticipation).
Addis Ababa is a capsule of a whole different world. The term “culture shock” has never, for me, been so appropriate. Much of what we saw in the city was demonstrative of the shocking poverty and lack of infrastructure in many African cities.
By all accounts, Addis is a booming economic hub that serves as the “capital” of Africa, both politically and economically. In contrast, it is riddled with derelict buildings, all sandwiched between tin and mud shack housing complexes. The visuals are truly shocking, whether one finds themselves driving through a bustling economic sector or through the poverty stricken markets. Addis is the geographic point where poverty meets progression.
Residents sell their wares and goods on the road side, and the relationship that pedestrians have with traffic is one of impressive trust or blind faith. People jaywalk with staggering conviction, which is to be expected since the number of traffic lights can be counted on your hands. The fast pace and uninhibited flow of people through the city of millions is slightly disconcerting.
The local people, especially those in the rural areas of Ethiopia, see our group as outsiders. There is an impossible language barrier (the people in Ethiopia mostly speak Amharic, but some speak disjointed and rudimentary English) that is impossible to reconcile, and the residents usually approach members of the group to stare at them with no regard for the comfort of those who they view. Many are more comfortable with the prospect of begging or demanding money or food, a practice that is outlawed by the Ethiopian government.
Ethiopia, above all, has introduced to me the true and shocking face of abject poverty.
Most Ethiopian people are wearing tattered clothing and broken shoes (if any at all). While there is a class that lives in comfort and affluence, these people still don’t live a life of comfort akin to the level of Canadian citizens. People of all ages can be found walking, seemingly aimlessly, for great distances. Approximately 1 million people are homeless in Addis alone.
Aside from the quality of life that people can expect in Ethiopia, there are a few more points of interest here in Ethiopia.
A lot of food is uneatable here. Any raw fruits and vegetables washed in water not from a sealed bottle are likely to make travellers ill. Meat quality is usually several levels below the standards in the West. Water is only drinkable out of a sealed bottle. Quality of food preparation is also questionable. Speaking for myself and my colleagues, you will get sick if you find yourself eating meals in Ethiopia.
On a positive note, the spices are exquisite and the coffee is outstanding. Ethiopia is a land of gourmet food, but our paltry western stomachs simply aren’t used to that level of food quality. If you have the chance to try traditional Ethiopian cuisine here in Canada (or wherever you are reading from), do so. If you’re in London, Ontario, TG’s Addis Ababa Restaurant is a great spot. Eating Injera with Tibbs and other delicacies is a must try.
I can ramble on about the trip forever. Simply put, it was a life changing and horizon-expanding experience that I would recommend for anybody who likes to live a life of adventure. By no means would I say that the Horn of Africa is a comfortable place. What I will say is that it opens your eyes to a number of things.
Firstly, it will open your eyes to how lucky you are – lucky to have safe water, abundant food, healthcare, education, employment opportunities, and conflict-free living.
Secondly, it demonstrates that all over the world there are opportunities to learn. I can, with complete conviction, say that I learned more in ten days in Ethiopia than I have in years in classrooms. Real lived experience is priceless and incomparable.
Finally, Ethiopia taught me that people are inherently good. I met people in poverty who had nothing, but still offered what little they had. I learned that you can own so much in your life and make so much money in a year, but the character that one demonstrates despite those qualities is the true determination of a person’s worth. With that being said, never be quick to judge people, and always treat people as your equal.
Aside from my preaching, I hope that I have convinced some readers that travelling to somewhere you never imagined going is a truly positive and life changing opportunity, and if the chance falls in front of you, take those first steps and say yes.