First Impressions 2

By: Northern Seminary

Addis Ababa Airport

It is unavoidable that my first impression of Addis Ababa was the airport, which looks pretty much like any other major airport in the world.  After leaving the plane, though, I found myself immersed in a diverse sea of people.  The confusion of tongues after the Tower of Babel is traditionally understood as a curse, but surrounded by the voices of many nations, I couldn’t help but wonder if God had intended His actions, not for a curse, but for a multiplication of beauty.  Human language flowering in a diverse garden of tongues.  Odd that one can find an echo of heaven in a customs line.

The Customs Line

It may not look like a line, and it was actually two lines.  One line was made up of Americans and other inexperienced travellers who were dutifully shuffling forward one person at a time.  The other line was made up of experienced travellers, primarily Africans and Middle Easterners, who were determinedly moving faster and bit by bit pushing ahead of the newbie travellers.  There was one woman, not an inch over 5 feet, with a gorgeous silk scarf wrapped around her head — the very image of a matronly babushka — who kept leaning into the people ahead of her.  Americans like myself would instinctively flinch away from the physical contact, and she would smoothly step past and move up in line.  A whole row of Arabic men, chatting animatedly in loud voices, kept close step behind her as they all moved forward.

In the customs area, and throughout the airport, I was struck by the absence of clocks.  Such a prominent feature of the American transportation system, they are not part of Ethiopian municiple decor.  In Ethiopia, it seems, one is not late or early.  One merely is; suspended in a sabbath of mass transit.

A Typical Construction Site

I have previously mentioned the melange of traffic, not unlike the customs line, that moved in an amazingly dynamic mass of huddled vehicles.  As our bus driver kept up a running commentary in Amharic, I distracted myself from all the near-misses by concentrating on the roadside scenery, which was primarily construction.

With a Chicago urban developer and a seasoned city construction inspector as members of our class, there were numerous remarks on the differences between Chicago and Addis Ababa construction.  From wood scaffolding to street maintenance workers in sandals to a welder without any face mask, there were numerous examples of what happens when OSHA is not around. My personal favorite was the power line worker splicing together power lines with his bare hands.

We reached our hotel at last:The Kings Hotel

And everybody got to get out and stretch:

The Mob

The main sidewalk from the hotel leads up a steep hill into the “project area” where we will be spending the next several days learning from Jember Terferra and the staff members at IHAUDP (The Integrated Holistic Approach Urban Development Project). At 7,500 feet in elevation, I can feel the stress of walking up the hill in the thinner air. At first glance, the path up the sidewalk looks much like any other urban business district:

Downtown Addis Ababa

But even foot navigation in Addis Ababa has its own challenges:

Watch Where You Step

Here are two images that sum up many of my first impressions:

Addis Ababa is a mix of the new and the old, sheet iron roofs butting up against skyscrapers and new construction.  The city stretches up even while the lives of her people remain rooted in traditions that are distinctly Christian and African.

The New and the Old

What is missing from that first picture is the lush greenery that sprouts everywhere.   Blessed with ample rainfall, even some of the most impoverished areas of the city are softened by the beauty of foliage and flowers.

Flowering Addis Ababa

June 20, 2012

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