Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ethiopia: Part 1 of 3: The Glory Road, Elephant Ears, and the Culture Wars, Addis Ababa

Breakfasted at London Cafe in Hotel Yelo. Indifferent breakfast; coffee rather bitter.

Cold! I think Addis Ababa is similar to San Francisco -- wonderful when sun out; chilly when not. Breezy.

When I was here in 2006, I don't remember being able to look out and see the surrounding mountains. But it is pleasant to do so now.

Today, my objectives are to:

- Check out an internet cafe
- Get money
- Get adapter with narrower pins than I got yesterday
- Find my way back to the D Guest House where I'm staying
- Call a hotel in Gonder to make reservations for tomorrow night

Later ... Am at Friendship Cafe on balcony. Was here in 2006. Coffee OK. Sat first on the side balcony, but sun brutal. Went to front balcony - shady and breezy - nice view of the mountains.

Quick thought: This is my now. So in my now, I look up from my book (Glory Road, by Robert Heinlein) and think, "Wow, I am sitting in this place that is literally halfway around the world from my starting point."

[In Glory Road, the protagonist almost gets himself and his companions killed due to a cultural gaffe when he refuses the offer of a chieftain's wife and daughters to share his bed. Refusing this offer
was a grave insult to the family's honor, and the protagonist, not understanding what went wrong with his visit, had to run for his life the next day as a result of the chieftain's ire the next morning.

Though I've been to this precise place before, it is different by myself. Not better or worse, just different.

When I'm finished with coffee, I go downstairs and see a place to buy an adapter. Stephanie and Dawit (English Alive Academy), with whom I'd met yesterday, had said I might need one with narrower pins than the one I bought yesterday with Girma, for the rural areas of Ethiopia. Great! They have the other kind here! But, what's this? So much for Girma, "my brother," who found me the other adapter at the alleged non-faranji price. The one here is five birr cheaper than that.

Last night was rather a bummer. Habtomi, the taxi driver who drove me and the hotel rep, Girma, to my hotel from the airport on Friday night, had offered to take me to see traditional Ethiopian dancing. I had seen this last time I was here, and it IS wonderful to see, but I was ambivalent about going last night.

But I struggled with insecurities - am I being a stick in the mud? Being unfairly distrustful when he's just being nice (albeit being compensated for the transportation and his time away from taxi'ing)? Blah, blah, blah -- typical fuzzy, mullet thinking.

In the end, I did go, agreeing in advance on a price for the transportation and that I would pay my own cover charge. I viewed it all as a tour guide sort of thing. We went to what appeared to be a decent place, and I paid for my modest cover charge. When the attendant presumed I was paying for both of us, I said, no, I'm only paying mine. We went in and sat at a table. I ordered a water and H. ordered a soda. Not many customers here, but it was pretty early. To make a long story short, I came to see that all of the customers
except for me and one other woman, were men. There WERE other women there, but all seemed to be employees of the establishment. They stood against the bar or against a wall, or along some steps that went up to an interior balcony, dressed as if for a nightclub, beautifully made up, stiletto heels. After continuing to observe and consider this for awhile, I leaned over to H. and said, "It seems there are only men customers here." His response was noncommittal. In my desire to be fair and not distrustful (I was thinking, helloooo, I think all of the women are "working girls"), I continued to watch the dance performances and observe my environment. But over time, it became evident to me that all of the women in this place were prostitutes. In
effect, I was the only woman in the place who was not, which made H. .... what?

I said it was time to go. The waiter (male) brought the bill and presented it to me (!), and I pushed it angrily to H. and said, "You pay."

We got into his taxi for him to take me back to my hotel, and I demanded to know why he would take me to a place like that. I had been to traditional dancing places in 2006, and they were FAMILY places. No good answer.

If I were a different person, I would have walked out of the place, hailed a taxi, and gone home. Instead, with a lack of presence of mind, I allowed him to take me back in his taxi, and upon my arrival at the hotel, I paid him the agreed-upon fare. We'd previously arranged that he would take me to the bus station the next  morning very early (e.g. 5:00 a.m.), and I said I expected that transport to be at no cost to me, to which he agreed.

All of the above describes perfect "mark" behavior (mine) for a skilled manipulator.

Footnote: I had my suspicion, only recently confirmed, that some foreign women "of a certain age" come to Ethiopia to enjoy liaisons with younger men, for which the women pay. Even so, I exhibited nothing in my language or demeanor, other than a stupid naivete, to indicate my interest in such an arrangement, and H. made a really, really, really bad judgment call on his end. Jeez, even if I were interested in such a deal, please, some finesse!

So back to the present on this fine Sunday afternoon .... I walked about the city and I saw a wedding convoy fronted by men on horseback! White cars with flowers. Horns honking. Very cool.

I reminded myself to pay Girma for my hotel room when I returned later, as I'd be getting up very early tomorrow morning to take the bus to Gonder.

I stopped for an early dinner at a Turkish restaurant. I had a lamb sandwich, which was only so-so. The coffee was good, but nothing special. I loved the ambiance, though - tables on terraces; a separate, partially-enclosed are for the water-pipe smokers. A long, narrow balcony. Flowered archway at the entrance.

While enjoying my pleasant surroundings, I realized I had a text message on the phone I rented from Habtomi on Friday evening:

"Hey. Can u imagine, u didn't give me the money. Any way it's okay, I'll withdraw tomorrow. Enjoy ur meeting with ur fiance. Will talk to u later."

WHAT THE HELL?! I immediately concluded that this text must be from Girma, that the money he's referring to is the payment for tonight's room, and that, as Habtomi's buddy, he was aware of the presumed
"relationship" we must now have.

Be fair, be fair! I told myself. I called the number from which the text came. The sender's phone was shut off.

To be continued ....

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