Friday, February 4, 2011

Ethiopia: Tall Tales in Addis

Walked across the street to the Wutma Hotel Restaurant. Really nice ambiance: Carved wooden dining chairs, wood paneling, brick interior, pretty wood-mullioned windows looking out onto the street (which the HGTV hosts would call a "transitional" neighborhood***).

A number of tourists here. Swapped stories with British Mike, Australian Andrew, and Argentinian Pablo.

British Mike wove an interesting tale. Allegedly, he has been stranded in Ethiopia since some time in December. On his way back from Awassa (which I will visit later), while on the bus, someone evidently stole his passport and money (all of which he kept in his back trousers pocket). And at some point since, his passport expired. And evidently the British Embassy here has been mulish about helping Mike get home even though it can positively locate his passport info in its system (he didn't carry a photocopy of his passport with him; nor did he post a scanned version online in his email account), and even though Mike had sufficient money sent to him for airfare home.

Supposedly, the British Embassy required that Mike get an affidavit from an Addis police station (any police station) that he has had a clean record since being here, and per Mike, no police station will give him such an affidavit. So he is apparently in a catch-22 situation.

Addis architecture, Piazza area

When, supposedly, Mike first called the Embassy, stating that he needed some emergency money to tide him over - and that he had an outstanding bill at the Wutma Hotel - A Wutma Hotel staff person listened to the call, as Mike had it on speaker phone. Both Mike and the staff person were aghast when the British Embassy person suggested that the Wutma employee just have Mike arrested and put in jail for failure to pay his bill. Eventually, the B.E. did give Mike some emergency money, but then the above-explained drama began.

Addis architecture, Piazza area

Incredibly, British Mike intends to return to Addis at the end of February (presumably after he goes back to the U.K.), as he will take over operations of the hotel's restaurant and rework it into a British-style pub.

Seems like something important is missing in this fantastical story, but who knows? (Stephanie and Dawit, when I related the story to them later, disbelieved the story entirely, staunchly confident in the British Embassy's support of stranded tourist.)

Australian Andrew's positive impression of Iran matched that of the South Korean couple's impression. (In fact, after eight months of world travel, the S. Korean couple loved Iran the most of the countries they'd visited. They were decidedly unimpressed with the camels we passed en route from Lalibela to Addis, as they saw a lifetime's worth of camels during their travel on the legendary Silk Road.) Andrew expressed his appreciation for the generosity and kindness of the Iranians he met, and the depth and breadth of the country's historic culture. Iranians felt embarrassed at the poor reputation their country suffers in other parts of the world vis a vis the harshness and militancy of its leaders.

Andrew has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East. He had an interesting take on a Western man and woman tourist's access to Yemeni society. Andrew said that, as a man, when he goes to a Yemeni's house, he will only see the living room and he will only see the men of the family. A woman, on the other hand, may have access to the entire house and family. Thus, she enjoys, arguably, greater entree into Yemeni culture.

Courtyard, Ankober Guest House, Piazza area

Betty's experience in Yemen was that Yemeni men simply looked through her when she was out and about, as if she were invisible. I mentioned her experience to Andrew; he and I concurred that this was likely the only way a Yemeni man could safely reconcile the presence of a non-conforming Western woman without creating internal and external dissonance. (Betty also noted that on occasion, when she passed a Yemeni woman, she'd hear a whispered, friendly "Hello!" from behind the veil.)

I'd be interested in the thoughts of others who have traveled to Yemen, and of Yemeni men and women, on this man v. woman travel experience there.

Pablo and Andrew were departing for overnight bus trips to Harar in the evening (each with his own arrangements). After Harar, Andrew will head for Somaliland.

***Andrew, his first night in Addis, experienced an attempted robbery on this very street. He told the guy that someone had already taken all his money just up the street, and the guy left him alone. Shin Su was bonked on the head by an assailant right about across from my hotel. Her head hurt for three days, she said. When I told Ethiopians about Shin Su, they seemed shocked. While pick-pocketing is not uncommon, physical assault is very uncommon.


Unknown said...

Hi, I landed on this page to read about your story in Ethiopia. I know it's a bit dated but...

Be assured the fellow "traveller" begging money from other tourists is a common scam. I've experienced this twice in my years abroad. I found the story goes like this:

1. appear guileless "I had my passport and all my money in my back pocket"
2. repeat the story to inexperienced travellers, change if necessary
3. adopt new friends that will lend you an air of acceptance and credibility, this will help you broaden your potential donation takings
4. invoke a crisis whereby your new friends will feel compelled by the high standard of human decency you have shown to raise money to help you out!

The lie here is as pronounced as it is incredulous. An "affidavit from the local police" of a "clean record" required before his foreign passport is re-issued!

Perhaps the embassy might have asked for a police report for his stolen passport? That is believable, but what is more credible is that he is a known criminal and that he is embroidered the truth with subtle lies.

The only thing to do is to ignore these fellows. Hanging out with them just makes them seem trustworthy to others.

Mzuri said...

Whoa - thanks for the clear layout of your description. Makes sense. I especially like your last sentence. He hung out (apparently) with the hotel owner family, which gave his story credence.