Our first full day in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, was Juliet’s birthday, so we put off getting-to-know-Addis temporarily to celebrate properly, with manicures and massages.
In the evening we had birthday cake and champagne at our hotel, courtesy of Juliet’s mom, and then went out for dinner and drinks with a few of Juliet’s friends who are currently living in Addis.
At dinner, we got our first real taste of Ethiopian food (delicious), traditional music (delightful), and dancing (interesting, to say the least). There are a lot of different types of Ethiopian dance and each region has its own style, but almost all of them focus their movements in the shoulders. I tried to take a few sample videos — unfortunately, I can’t figure out how to rotate a video on the ipad, so the best one is horizontal when it should be vertical, but if you can turn your head around 90 degrees counterclockwise for just a minute, I think it’s worth it. In the other video, two of the guys seem to be kind of phoning it in, but keep your eye on the one on the left.
The following night, on the recommendation of another friend of Juliet’s, we went to Fendika, a much smaller and more local bar where there was similar music and dancing, but without a stage. The musicians and dancers walk around among the patrons and sometimes make up songs about them as they go along. It was really fun and interesting — thanks, Juliet, for having access to insiders’ tips in every corner of the world. I also tried tej for the first time at Fendika. It’s Ethiopian honey wine that’s served in a glass flask that looks like it should be used for cooking chemicals (which I guess is not that far off), and it’s strange but pretty good and surprisingly strong.
We spent two more days in Addis at the end of our trip, and we used that time to see museums and a bit more of the city, which we hadn’t gotten around to with all of the trip-planning and birthday-celebrating in the first few days.
These are a few areas of the Mercado, which is described as an open-air market but is really more like an entire neighborhood devoted to shops of every conceivable type.
The African Union is based in Addis, so we drove by the new and very modern looking AU complex
Lucy (probably the world’s most famous fossil) was found in Ethiopia, so we saw the National Museum’s exhibit on archeology and evolution, which was really cool.
Apparently there is no Amharic translation for “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (or “bone size” or “brain capacity”)
The site where Lucy was found
Juliet with a replica of Lucy (the real one is on tour)
Next, we visited the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum, which was extremely sad but very worthwhile. To understand the museum, you need to know a little bit about Ethiopian history, so here’s an extremely rough / condensed version of what’s happened in Ethiopian politics over the past forty years or so:
With the exception of a few years of Italian occupation, Ethiopia was a monarchy until 1974. The monarchs were generally (again, with a few exceptions) believed to be descendants of the first King, Menelik, who most Ethiopians believe was the illegitimate son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. In the 1960’s and early 70’s, many Ethiopians became unhappy with Haile Selassie, in part because the country was suffering from a severe draught and, consequently, a famine as well. According to many, Haile Selassie did nothing to help his starving subjects and may have even covered up the famine to ensure that he stayed in power. Emperor Selassie was permanently removed from power and then killed in 1974 by a communist military group known as the Derg. The Derg, led by General Mengistu Haile Maryam, ruled Ethiopia for almost 20 years, during which they arrested, tortured, and executed many dissidents as well as many Tigrayan Ethiopians, who live in the northern part of Ethiopia and share the same language and culture as many Eritreans. The Derg’s time in power is often called the “Red Terror.”
The Red Terror museum was built by victims and their families, on top of a former jail used by the Derg. The man who showed us around the museum had himself been in jail for eight years, had been tortured, and (not surprisingly) still seemed quite traumatized.
These photographs are a small sample of people who were wanted by the Derg, usually because of their political activities
This sculpture shows a common torture method used by the Derg
One room of the museum was devoted to the mass graves that were found underneath it, from the time that it was used as a jail
These photos show parts of the trials of various Derg officials. General Mengistu, the leader of the Derg, has been convicted in absentia of genocide and other crimes but is currently living in Zimbabwe, where Mugabe has refused Ethiopia’s extradition requests.
I hate to end this post on a sad note, because like many of the other places I’ve been to in Africa so far, despite having a lot of sadness in its history, Addis didn’t feel like a sad city. So instead, I’ll end with one of my top five favorite moments in Addis: Juliet standing triumphantly in front of an ATM after retrieving her wallet and all of its contents from a strange black hole next to the ATM into which I had somehow managed to drop said wallet and contents. The retrieval was accomplished using only a flip flop, a phone flashlight, and a pair of salad tongs that I borrowed from a restaurant nearby. It was a magical moment for everyone involved.