Addis Abeba has many faces

Addis Ababa city view
Addis Ababa city view

Naturally, people love travelling, but not without purpose. The bulk of travellers in the so-called first world countries seem to want escape from the boredom of their lives for a while and fly away to far off lands seeking new experiences to share with others.

More often than not, scant information is obtained through various outlets, some of which motivates visitors to go and visit a country on their own. The old maxim “Seeing is Believing”, still seems to hold true.

The excitement and sense of disbelief begins right after passengers boarding Ethiopian Airlines are told to fasten their seat belts as the aircraft prepares for take-off. Should communication be difficult, passengers from Paris or Brussels may have demonstrative assistance to heed to the captain’s English or Amharic instructions, by the pretty Ethiopian air hostesses.

In descending, on a bright morning flight bound for Addis Abeba, the meandering Nile River is visible winding along the white semi-arid terrain of the Sudan. A closer look shows the 880,000ha Geizra Cotton Plantation that produces one of the best cotton staples fed by the waters of the Blue Nile. The irrigation project was started in the early 1920s, long before the Sudan became free from British colonialism.

As the aircraft approaches the terminal, slowing its flight speed down from cruising altitude, excitement mounts until the moment of touchdown – the test that has for years earned Ethiopian pilots fame for their unequalled abilities of smooth landing as well as taking off. While the aircraft is still hovering slowly over the skyline of the capital, window shopping is inevitable.

Some strangers may notice the wide and vacant spaces between sky high structures. Residents from rural Ethiopia take these towering structures as a sign of modernity and even aspire to have more of them.

Architects coming to the capital for the first time look through the window with their hungry eyes for historical structures standing as the heritage of the past, in this land which is among the richest countries in the world in terms of ancient civilisation. But then Addis Abeba is the youngest capital, by this country’s standards.

The parodox of an ancient history with a capital of not even 130 years of age is only the tip of the iceberg. The city of contrasts, founded at the top of Entoto Mountain and later moved downhill, is young and old; young in terms of age, but old in terms of its purpose as a capital of the second most populous nation in Africa where the taste of colonialism had never been experienced in its full-fledged definitions.

The city is crammed in some areas while sparsely settled in other areas. One may be tempted to find out how many people reside in the capital. Perhaps one may even consider the question as only a normal query.

Despite the capacities of information centres installed here and there, for some incomprehensible reason, no official worth his or her position can give a satisfactory answer to this question. Some ministers who are supposed to have the figure at the tip of their fingers, for all intents and purposes, shy away from the possible mark and sway back and forth on the three million range, an extrapolated mark of half a dozen years ago. In fact, the question of demography keeps on surprising even those who should know best.

Such details should not worry the visitor. Another query could be what ethnic group of people are the settlers of Addis Abeba. Just like Brussels of Belgium where the French-speaking population is surrounded by Flemish-speaking people, Addis Abeba is the residence of all ethnic groups of people from throughout the country, residing in the middle of the Oromos and living harmoniously. The Oromos happen to be the majority both in terms of population and land holdings.

As soon as one disembarks from the aircraft, though, one feels very relieved to leave behind the polluted air of Europe or any industrialised country, to enjoy fresh air without the slightest wind or breeze. One wonders whether or not the whole city is air conditioned. Immediately, associated with this atmosphere, in which many people find it easier to breathe, is success in long distance running. Though, Addis Abeba’s high elevation may make breathing more difficult for some, especially in city centre’s traffic, where the air is less clean.

This is just the first phase of the city with double faces in many ways. No doubt describing the contrast will continue.

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