We’re Not in Kansas Any More
I’ve been in Addis Ababa for one week today. One thought comes to mind when driving around the city here, “We’re not in Kansas any more”, or more appropriately “We’re not in Monterey anymore”. Driving in Addis Ababa is an experience. There is always something weird, crazy or unexpected happening all around you. Most of the population has never driven a car. They have no comprehension about how challenging it is to stop quickly or veer out of the way when they decide to mosey across the street. When I say street I mean six lanes of traffic where four lanes of traffic are meant to be driving. That’s another thing…in the United States there are lanes and people tend to stay in them, here there are also lanes but the lanes are only used so long as it is convenient for the driver. If the traffic is slow and you need to get somewhere more quickly just make another lane, maybe use the lanes for the on coming traffic? The rules here are “More like guidelines, really”!
In the United States we have things like stoplights, stop signs, yield signs, not so here. I have seen traffic lights but they don’t work so there are these unwritten rules about driving. You just sort of creep forward and then when the time is right, move through the intersection or traffic circle. The Somerville NJ traffic circle is a freaking cakewalk compared to this place. It is terrifying at first but after a week it has already become less so.
Other things that you may encounter while driving are cows, donkeys, chickens, mules, cats, dogs, sheep, goats and a lone white horse that seems to live on the street. I’ve seen him in the middle of a traffic circle grazing, on the side of the road and on the street corner just hanging out. I asked about this horse and discovered that when animals are no longer useful they will sometimes be turned out onto the street. We believe that this is the case with the white horse; he was left behind, and because of this some people here have affectionately begun to refer to him as Lefty.
There is public transportation in Addis in the form of buses, taxis and these blue and white vans that are all over the city and will go pretty much anywhere. During our security briefing we were instructed to only use taxis and only from a list of reputable sources. The taxis are not like they are in the US, here you call a taxi driver and he will come and get you, you don’t call a taxi company. Some people will find a driver that they like and will only call that driver. As for the other forms of transportation we are not allowed to use them. Honestly I wouldn’t want to use them. The buses don’t look too bad but the vans are CRAZY! They are everywhere and they drive like maniacs. They have a nickname here in Addis, they are called ‘Blue Donkeys’. I assumed that they were called Blue Donkeys because they cram tons of people inside of them but I was told yesterday by some Ethiopians that work at the embassy that the vans are called Blue Donkeys because they just drive, they don’t watch out for pedestrians or other vehicles they just drive however they want, just like a donkey will walk and not take notice of much going on more than a few feet in front of him.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to ride in an Ethiopian Taxi cab. I had some work to get done at the Embassy and my day guard also had to get some work done at the Embassy as well so we decided to link up after we were done and share a taxi home. When I finished at the Embassy I called Yitbarick (I’m not sure that is spelled correctly) and he said he was waiting for me out side the compound. Okay, cool…wait…What? Outside? Let me tell you, I haven’t been outside anywhere on foot yet. I haven’t even been outside the compound that my house is in. I was just a little nervous to go outside alone. Addis is a safe city. There is tons of poverty but the people here are generally good people so I should not feel nervous right? Well I did feel nervous. As I walked through the gate of the Embassy, the small piece of America here in this country that is so far from home, I felt stripped of safety it was scary. Where is Yitbarick?! I grab my new phone (I’ve already dropped and cracked the corner) and begin frantically calling him. I’m a blonde white foreigner who looks completely lost, not good! As the phone begins to ring I see him, across the street waving to me. WHEW, saved! Wait….across the street?! Crap, as I mentioned above the roads are insane here! I put on my, “I know what I’m doing” face and my, “big girl panties” and walk confidently toward the street. I head to the cross walk like a good westerner, cross walks are where it’s safe to cross the street, right? I quickly realize that crosswalks mean nothing here, but it makes me feel better. I patiently wait for the Blue donkeys and the stream of small Toyotas to pass and then run across the road before the next Blue Donkey gets to close.
Made it! Yitbarick has a taxi waiting for us. I decide to get in the back. In NYC we never ride in the front! Riding in the front would be too emotionally uncomfortable! The taxis are small and low to the ground. Until yesterday the only cars I’ve ridden in are 4wheel drive SUV’s. The taxi driver has his window open, a big no no according to my security brief from the Embassy. With the window open you can REALLY smell the pollution and because we are so much lower to the ground the view of the city is much different. The people are closer, the other cars are closer, and the cows are closer. The taxi has a seatbelt but it’s broken so I don’t have the feeling of being safe by wearing one. We made it back no problems and I paid the driver. Yitbarick said that the driver wanted to charge me 200birr ($12.00) because I’m not from around here, but he talked the guy down to 120birr ($6.00 and some change). Who knew that a simple taxi ride could be so life changing!
What is the take home survival message?
Wear your big girl panties.
Be sure that you use safe public transit.
Keep a camera in your car to record weird stuff you see while driving around.
Make local friends!
Until next time friends and family!