A Travellerspoint blog

Addis Ababa

storm 20 °C

With much trepidation, I ventured into the chaos of Addis Ababa. I tried to book an organized tour but I appear to be the only tourist in Addis today. All the companies needed a minimum of 2 people. So in the end, I just asked the concierge to appropriate a taxi for me. After much negotiation, I still got shafted - but isn't that part of the fun? Actually it worked out OK. Although not especially communicative, the driver still kept an eye out for me, showed me where to buy my tickets and waited around to drive me back to the hotel.


My first stop was the Holy Trinity Cathedral.


It is the 2nd most important church in Ethiopia and I expected it to be packed full of people. In fact, I was the only one there! I wandered around for a while and then a wizened old man appeared out of nowhere and gestured for me to follow him. I normally wouldn't trust some random old fellow but he seemed safe and I was in a Cathedral afterall.


He took me up to the very front of the church and unlocked several padlocks before showing me into the Sanctuary. In this area, hidden from general view, were the massive granite tombs of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife; as well as his throne. I was even encouraged to take a few photos. I couldn't believe my luck!


Nearby I found the Selassie Museum full of fascinating relics from the reign of the Emperor.


Fun Fact: Emperor Haile Sellassie was previously named Ras Teferi Makonnen. For some strange reason, a movement began in Jamaica in the 1930s. This group called themselves Rastafarians and they viewed the Emperor as their Messiah. They believed he would lead all the people of Africa (and those African descendents outside of Africa) to freedom. Check out the colours of the Rastafarian movement and compare them to the Ethiopian flag. Fascinating!


Back in the taxi and off to the Ethiopian National Museum.

Now I don't remember much from 1st year university; particularly the evolution component of Human Biology. However, I DO remember Lucy!! It was so exciting to finally meet her.......


For those of you who don't know about Lucy, she is a 3.2 million year old Australopithecus afarensis. She was discovered in Ethiopia and is maybe the most famous of our earliest ancestors. Again, there were no tourists and I was able to spend quality time with this fascinating specimen and her two (almost as famous) friends Selam and Ardi (Ardi pictured below)


I had big plans in the afternoon to go to another museum but went for a walk and got distracted. I love big cities at the best of times but this one is fascinating. It is total chaos! I was initially anxious about safety but I started to relax after a short time. Despite being almost the only white person walking the streets, I was mostly ignored. I would normally catch public transport when I'm away, but the system here is totally confusing. The buses are unscheduled, unmarked and people are packed in like sardines. The trains are no better. I decided to walk! Even this was not easy. Many of the footpaths are just rocks and mud. It is fascinating to watch the adeptness of the well dressed women in their high heels as they negotiate the landscape.


Unfortunately I got caught in a thunderstorm. And I thought it was chaotic before the storm! The rain did not phase anyone - cars, people, animals - all just carried on regardless.


I thought maybe a coffee stop was in order.......


After a short afternoon rest, I decided to venture out again for dinner. I went looking for an appropriate 'last supper' prior to my month of Ethiopian food in Bahirdar. Sadly, most of the restaurants did not look like places that my sensitive bowels should be introduced to. I was about to return to the hotel when I stumbled across a sign pointing towards "The Hard Rock Cafe". Although somewhat suspicious, I couldn't resist checking it out..........


Sadly it wasn't the real thing. But, it was clean and obviously popular so I took the chance. There were no burgers or chips so I settled for a pizza. Pretty good for $6!


Having taken so long to find my dinner, it was dark by the time I finished. I was somewhat anxious but ended up finding the walk home exhilarating! The streets were packed and exciting. As it is unsafe on the footpaths in the dark, everyone just walks down the road; intermingling with the traffic and animals. It is total mayhem. Not another white face anywhere to be seen. I took to following closely in the footsteps of locals; thereby avoiding any major mishaps. I admit I was pleased to finally see the front entrance of The Capital Hotel & Spa!

Tomorrow I leave 'lovely' Addis Ababa and fly for an hour to Bahirdar where my real adventure begins. I am anxious and excited and terrified. I'm wondering if this really was a good idea. But, there is no turning back now. I suspect these feeling are similarly experienced by many pregnant women as they near their due date; knowing that labour is approaching but unsure what to expect. Like I often advise my patients, I will enter with an open mind, go with the flow and try to enjoy the experience. No (birth) plan in sight!!

Those of you who are avidly following this blog, please be patient. I have no idea what to expect with regard to internet access or free time. It may take a few days before the opportunity arises for me to post. I'm guessing the entries will be much shorter, less frequent and more serious. I will do my best......

Posted by gunny64 20:34 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (4)

The long trip

overcast 20 °C

How do you pack for this sort of trip? I'm told it is 'wet season' so hot, humid and muddy (remind me again why I'm doing this!). And I have to protect against those nasty malaria-ridden mosquitoes. I was also warned by a colleague at Murdoch that I shouldn't swim in the lake or walk around bare-footed as there is a risk of picking up these worms that crawl up under the skin in your legs and suddenly pop their heads out. OMG! So....no shorts, no thongs. And seriously?? Has anyone ever seen me swim - let alone in a body of water that's a) not warm and b) not chlorinated? I think I'll be safe from the worm problem.

The essentials (except I forgot to bring vegemite):


I have been concerned about my morning coffee! Every day is started with a brisk walk to a cafe for a 'flat white with 2 sugars' (don't judge me). It is not a pretty sight if this ritual isn't performed. How will I survive for a month without it? Well, as it happens, my morning coffee actually originates from Ethiopia! And, although I doubt I'll get a flat white, Jenny has discovered from her friends at the Embassy that they love sugar. I think I will be OK! Nevertheless, I made sure to have a final heavenly beverage from May Street Larder before I left home.....



Everyone knows how gross a long flight is so I'm not doing to bore you with the details. Suffice to say, it was crappy and I got minimal sleep. Almost 24 hours later, I descended into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. What a surreal experience! Those of you around my age will remember the terrible famine and those confronting photos of starving Ethiopian children. These memories are etched in my brain and it's hard to believe I have come to this place that has been, and continues to be, filled with such poverty and neglect. I wished back then that there was something I could do to help and now finally maybe I can.......

I've decided to spend 2 nights in Addis before traveling to Bahirdar. This is likely to be the only 'holiday' I get so I want to relax a little. I am staying in the salubrious Capital Hotel & Spa. It has WiFi, a hot shower and a comfortable bed so I'm happy enough. I'm not sure it is located in the most upmarket area of Addis as you will see from my balcony view below:


Fun Fact: Addis Ababa is one of the highest cities in the world at 2355m above sea level. When I arrived I was quite perplexed at my apparent lack of stamina. I know I'm not a fitness freak but the simple act of walking with my bag to the bus would not usually make me short of breath. Being a simple obstetrician (much like being a medical student), my first thought was that I'd developed a pulmonary embolus! Fortunately, I didn't panic. I did some creative googling and discovered that many people actually get altitude sickness for a few days when they arrive here. It is certainly a weird feeling. I am constantly conscious of my breathing, especially if I exert myself. I will definitely not be trekking to Everest Base Camp for my next holiday.......

My first impression of Addis has not been good but I will hold off judging for now. I'm told by a reliable source that it is 'lovely'. I am about to venture off into the chaotic traffic and go exploring to look for it's lovely side.


But first, a yummy non-Ethiopian breakfast sans vegemite.....


Posted by gunny64 22:58 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged ethiopia Comments (2)


Off to do my bit for the world!

sunny 34 °C

Those of you who know me well will be aware of my long term desire to do volunteer work in Africa. Well, the time has come! Earlier this year I noticed a small ad in a medical magazine asking for obstetricians to work in Ethiopia or Tanzania. After multiple emails, endless paperwork and a Skype interview, I'm leaving the comfort of my home to embark on a challenging journey. I am off to a town called Bahir Dar in northwest Ethiopia to work in a maternity hospital for the month of July.

Those of you who know me well will also know that I don't like 'roughing it', I hate needles, I'm scared of bugs, I'm addicted to sugar, I need coffee first thing in the morning and I have very sensitive bowels. Seriously, what am i thinking?! Well I've so far survived the multiple vaccinations (how excited was I when I found out the Cholera vaccine is a drink!) and have stocked up on DEET, lollies and Imodium. I'm not sure how I am going to get around the humidity, lack of hot water and patchy internet. At least they have good coffee!!

I will be working with a group called Maternity Africa which is run by an obstetrician originally from Australia named Andrew Browning. The hospital in Bahir Dar is managed by local staff/midwives and provides free maternity care to the very poor. The aim is to prevent women dying from childbirth and the terrible consequences of prolonged labour such as fistulae. For those of you who are unaware of the problems in Africa, I suggest you read 'The Hospital by the River' written by the inspirational Dr Catherine Hamlin. This amazing Australian gynaecologist and her husband established the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital 40 years ago and she still lives and works there at the age of 90!


My first major hurdle has been getting into the country! After 3 weeks of complicated bureaucracy, I finally got the necessary business visa on the morning of my departure. My amazing wife made a dash to Canberra the night before and turned up at the Ethiopian Embassy at 9am. Dr Andrew Browning's father, David, also made the trip to support her. The elusive confirmatory email had miraculously arrived and I finally had the visa. Jenny hopped back on the plane with my passport and arrived just a few hours before I was due to leave. What an adventure!


You are all welcome to follow my journey via Facebook or directly online at chrisinethiopia.travellerspoint.com (for those who don't have Facebook or are not my Facebook friends) . I'm not sure how often I will have access to the Internet to add posts but I will do my best. I'm hoping to have an amazing experience, do some good deeds, take lots of photos and avoid a nasty diarrhoeal disease. Wish me well........

Posted by gunny64 20:51 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged volunteer ethiopia Comments (6)

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