Driving Misser Jay

January 10, 2014
9:45 p.m. local time
Bethel Guest House
Addis Ababa, Ethiopa

The ride from the airport to the city is probably not the best introduction to any city. My ride from Bole Airport to the Bethel Guest house didn’t make me love this place, that’s for sure. The air is smoggy; the roads, though paved, are dirty. There is construction going on all the time, and nothing — absolutely nothing — seems to be finished.

We stopped for petrol. My driver, who spoke very limited English, did not pull up parallel to the gas pumps. Rather, he backed in, perpendicular to the pump, blocking all traffic. While I was sitting there, a ghastly beggar lady with two teeth came up to my door and asked for money. I shook my head, said, “No, no,” but she just stood there, immovable. I stared straight ahead. Eventually, she moved on, and I felt bad.

I’m still haunted by something that a Philadelphia beggar told me a couple of weeks ago. “I haven’t eaten in two days,” she said. “No one cares about me.” That just struck me as the brutal truth. It still haunts me.

I had asked my driver to take me to an ATM, so after he finished filling the gas tank, we drove into a bank parking lot. I was surprised once again by the miracle of international banking. I inserted my PNC Bank card, withdrew 2,000 birr, and that was it! (When I got to my hotel, I immediately checked my PNC Bank account online and saw that $104.43 had been withdrawn from an ATM in Addis Ababa.)

We drove on and on, through a maze of roads. Some were jammed with cars and trucks. Some were almost empty — divided highways with two lanes on a side and almost no traffic. I saw one donkey-drawn cart. We passed a couple of large stockyards where hundreds of goats were awaiting their doom. My driver asked me if in my home country, it’s possible to buy such a fine goat and take it home for a feast. I said no, our meat comes wrapped in plastic.

I asked him if they sell chickens, cows, pigs. Not pigs, he said — those can only be purchased in the supermarkets. He told me that Ethiopian Orthodox Christians do not eat pork. Neither do Muslims, of course. “Who eats pork?” I asked. “The Protestants,” he said. “And the Catholics. And the foreigners.”

We passed an ambulance. He crossed himself three times.

The guest house is surrounded by a high wall with a gate. I checked in and fell onto the bed. I was so exhausted. I slept most of the afternoon, my dreams interrupted by the Muslim call to prayer. Just my luck — there’s a mosque across the street.

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