Update: Africa Down, London Calling

Posted by Joel on August 17th, 2008 filed in update

It’s my last day in Cairo and since I’ve seen the pyramids and the museum already I figured I’d get back to updating my internet. Africa has been a pretty fantastic experience, full of sweat, safari, squalor, and smiles. Also, dudes walking arm-in-arm with dudes. I tried it, and it wasn’t so bad. Allow me to briefly break down: the rest of the highlights

Cairo:

I flew into Cairo from Madrid on an evening in July. From the plane I had seen a football stadium it up and filled with fans and now that I had landed and as in a taxi the streets were full of people cheering for the winning team. I pretty much hatehorn-honking and Cairo loves it. The taxi driver drove with a reckless finesse (if that is possible) that made me feel endangered but calm about it. “It’s Africa” I told myself, and acceptd that things are just different here. I would repeat that phrase many times.

My ‘Hostel’ was called the “African House Hotel” and had a rating of 100% on Hostelworld.com. The staff were very friendly, but the accomodations were certainly not what I would rate as “100%”. Though things were abviously cleaned regularly, the building (built in the 1800s) had a residual dinginess and the mosquitos everywhere didn’t help my impression, nor did waking up to the obvious sounds of a mouse SOMEWHERE in my room. But, it is Africa and it is $12 a night, so I’ll probably join the 100% rating bandwagon.

Through the hostel I arranged a trip to the pyramids and Memphis, a trip which would be considered absollutely perfect if not for the outrageous price I paid for a camel ride around Giza. I was new to the idea that you need to bargain for everything, and my driver told me it was a good pric, but in retrospect he was probably in cahoots with the tourguide and getting some sortof kickback. I did get an amazing photo out of it, though, so I guess it was worth it.

That night, I had a 3am flight to Ethiopia, and the hotel staff were nice enough to let me nap in an unbooked room until my flight, further reinforcing that while the place isn’t the nicest, the staff are.

Ethiopia:

I had been planning t go to Ethiopia for a long time. In DC I worked with 6-7 people from Ethiopia, and my friend Eskinder always insisted that I go there. I told him I would when he movd back, and 5 years later he DID move back so it was on me to uphold my promise. We met in Addis and I had to borrow 200 Ethiopian Birr from Eskinder to pay for my visa, but first had to convert the Birr into US Dollars, which I found a mildly amusing annoyance.

Our first 5 days in Addis were full of egg sandwiches, Ethiopian Chiiro, and hanging out with Eskinder’s friends. It was fun, but it was a welcome change to book a plane flight along te Ethiopian Historical Route and see some of the amazing cultural sites in Axum, Lalibela, and Bahir Dar before ending up in Eskinder’s hometown of Gonder. Axum was full of old buildings, tombs, and obelisks, old bibles, and kids selling crosses. Lalibela was a more rural mountain town containing the astounding rock-hewn churches. We also saw Bill and Chelsea Clinton there, at the airport. I lived in DC for 8 years but had to come to Africa to finally run into them. bahir Dar was where to took a boat out onto the largest lake in Ethiopia, lake Tana. We saw some island monastaries and the Blue Nile, the source of the river that eventually runs through Cairo. I also did a good bit of dancing in Bahir Dar, earning the name “The Gonderian Elvis” from one of Eskinder’s pals.

We ended up in Gonder where Eskinder’s family has a restaurant and I got to sleep in a room next to the room sheep are slaughtered in. I now know a bit more than  ever wanted to about how food gets to the table. Unsurprisingly, I’m still vegetarian. Traditional Ethiopian food has plenty of Vegetarian options, due to their predelection for ‘fasting’ a couple days each week, but I did end up eating the same meal a good number of times. It was delicious each time, but I began to miss variety.

Driving through the countryside there were people everywhere. 6-7 year old kids tending cattle along the side of the road and plenty of huts. There are about 80million people in Ethiopia, but only 5million in the capital city. Compare that to Egypt which also has 80million, but 20million in Cairo. I had expected the poverty of the 80s to have tapered off as foreign investment turned the place into a tourist destination, but there’s still plenty of national-Geographic-Style photo-ops to be had. I didn’t take many photos of people, as I didn’t feel comfortable doing so, but it definitely made me think about how lucky I am to have falen into the life I have. That said, many of the people I saw seemed very happy with their situation, Yorkpossibly moreso than most of the people I see in New York. 

Kenya

Everyone warned me that Nairobi would be  dangerous place, but after 3 weeks in Ethiopia where the muddy streets (it was rainy season) were full of people asking for money and most people spoke only Amharic, it was nice to land somewhere that people on the streets had ther own things going on and everyone could understand me. Also, I was able to get my first Veggie Burger of my 2+month trip there. I met up with another old co-worker, Christian, who put me up in his apartment which was admittedly in a fairly posh part of town, so my exposure to any sortof dangerous situation was very limited.

We did a safari when i arrived, which was something I didn’t think I’d have time for with only a week in Kenya. We drove through Nahuru National Park and saw plenty of Water Buffalo, Zebras, Flamingos, Storks, Antelope-type-things, Rhino, and Giraffes, but no Lions or ven Hippos. Maybe next time?

After a couple of days in Nairobi, I took a bus to Mombosa, a coastal town where there is an orphanage I was going to take pictures of for their press stuff. The bus reminded me of the chinatown buses between NYC and DC. I swam in the Indian Ocean, took plenty of pictures, and stressed myself out by letting some of the 30+ kids at the orphanage hold my expensive camera. The orphanage was a great experience and another instance of people to whom life has been hard still finding their own happiness.

I got drafted to help out with some of the things that needed fixing around the home, but my record wasn’t that great. I managed to fix a severed printer power-cable, but failed to repair a vacuum-cleaner and freezer gutted by rats, and a television with a burnt-out circuitboard. I did manage to give myself a nasty shock working on the TV while it was plugged in. Luckily, I didn’t die.

For more information about the orphanage, and to help out, have a look at onehomemanyhopes.com

Cairo 2

Now I’m back in Cairo. Yesterday I went to the national museum, which was a let-down for me because they didn’t allow cameras inside. the museum was chock full of old artifacts and most of them were unlabeled soit felt like more of a giant antique store and eventually my brain sortof shut-off.

Now, on my last day in Cairo, I’m taking it easy. I’ll walk the streets for a bit and get some Kochary (a delicious and cheap street food consisting of pasta/rice with fried onions and tomatoes) and just relax. I’ll definitely return to Africa someday soon, but for now I’m looking forward to Londontown.

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