Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ethiopia: Part 2 of 3: The Glory Road, Elephant Ears, and the Culture Wars, Addis Ababa

I walked back to my hotel. My first tiny seeds of discontent at this place had been my very first night, when I was a little underwhelmed by my room and the guest house location, considering the $30 US per night room rate.

The seed grew the next day (Saturday) when I noted a condom and birth control pills in the drawer of my bedside table. (Their presence made me think this place was rented out by the hour in addition to the night.)

Then when Stephanie and Dawit came to meet with me yesterday, they were unable to reconcile the street address I had given them for my hotel, D's Guest House (provided me by my hotel's affiliate Z's Guest House staff before I left the U.S.), and where I actually was. It took a couple of phone calls between me and them for them to find me.

The guard for my hotel was at the gate when I arrived. I pulled out my cell phone and showed him the number from whence came the text, and I asked if it was Girma's. At first, the guard said no, then he said yes. I went to my room, saw that it hadn't been cleaned, though it was now early evening. I called out to the guard that I wanted to contact Girma. The guard said he wouldn't be back til 11:00 p.m. and I came to understand that Girma was the night manager at Z's Guest House (the owners' "flagship" hotel). What?!

Girma had referred to Z's Guest House's owner as "my brother." So what is this game he's playing, getting me involved with this Habtomi character, offering to change my money for me earlier, to take me to a relative's place who sold traditional clothing earlier??

I went back to the guard and said, "Take me to Z's Guest House!" I was livid. The guard demurred for a few moments, then he made a phone call, and off we went down the rocky dirt road to a three-story building with a pretty little courtyard. Nice!

I walked into the on-duty manager's office and said, "Show me a room here." If the reader of this narrative gets the idea that I was using the command form at this time, he would be correct. All of the little not-quite-right things, including the really big not-right thing from last night and the last-straw text message this afternoon had climaxed into a crashing crescendo of righteous outrage on my end. The manager could tell I was infuriated. We walked up to the third floor. Nice wooden door. Inside, a chifferobe! With hangers! In the other place, no way to hang anything! And this place had a rooftop terrace!!!!

I asked, "what is the price for this room'? Why, it was the same price as at D's Guest House - $30 US!

Whew! I was in high dudgeon now!

I demanded that the on-duty manager call the owner immediately so I could talk to him, which he did. He talked briefly with the person on the other end, then handed the phone to me. It was the wife of the husband-wife ownership team, and I launched right away into my complaint, something along the lines of: "I'm staying in D's Guest House. This guy Girma is saying he's your brother and I'm finding out he's your night time employee! He's taking $30 per night from me for that place. He put me together with this taxi driver Habtomi who took me to a place where the only woman there are prostitutes. This is a text that I received from Girma (and I related the text to the owner) and what the hell do you think this means? I can tell you what I think it means ...I need to change hotels and come to this one!"

In short order, the D's Guest House guard and I walked back to D's, gathered my things, and returned to Z's, where I was given that nice room on the 3rd floor. The owner promised she and her husband would come to talk to me about this whole sorry situation.

Then I called Habtomi and read the text message to him, told him I was completely offended by his behavior, and told him not to come the next morning to take me to the bus station.

Then I walked downstairs and settled down to wait for the owners in the pleasant little courtyard. Enjoyed an interesting conversation with a Sudanese businessman, who travels all over the world buying and selling things. (And by the way, the Sudanese are doing business in Ethiopia these days in a big, big way.)

And then the courtyard gate opened and in came Girma, very much distressed. He reported to me that the owner had called him in a fury! He proclaimed his innocence of any wrongdoing, disavowing any friendship with Habtomi, saying the owners directed him to use Habtomi as he did a good job of routing customers to the owners' establishment.

Girma asked to see the phone text I received; he told me the number was not his and he called the number and talked to the woman who answered, who allegedly reported that even she didn't send the text and that she had received similar inquiries from other recipients of the identical text.

I pointed out to GirmaZ's, acting (to my eyes) as if he and Habtomi were good friends (therefore bestowing on him a cloak of approval); the phone text, which jibed seamlessly with the fact that I owed for that night's room rental and with that offensive business from H. the night before (not to mention it was in English); and I even brought up the condom/birth control pills in my room at D's Guest House.

[Centuries ago, an Ethiopian king sent an ambassador to the French court of Louis XIV. The  Ethiopian king sent with the emissary gold and silver and other riches, including two baby elephants. He did this to express his gratitude to Louis XIV for sending his own doctor to Ethiopia to cure the king of an illness. Alas, the baby elephants died on the way to France, and the Ethiopian ambassador cut the ears off the elephants and wrapped them in cloth so he could show the French king the greatness of the gift intended by the Ethiopian king. Upon arrival at the French court, the Ethiopian ambassador presented the French king with the elephant ears, but when the French king opened the covering, all that remained were rotting flesh, maggots, and a terrible stench. Outraged at the disgusting insult, the French king threw the Ethiopian ambassador into prison despite the man's
protestations of innocence. Somehow, the ambassador finally convinced the court to look at the other things he'd brought with him, and only after seeing the gold and silver did the French court believe the man and release him from prison.

Girma persuaded me that he was as much a victim as I, and though he and I didn't see eye to eye as to how he - inadvertently or not - contributed to the ultimate situation in which we found ourselves, I told him that I'd square things with the owners when they arrived, noting that I held THEM partially responsible for the current state of affairs, as well.

Girma and I settled down to wait for the owners to arrive.

To be continued .....

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