8 Oct 2016: Leaving Addis Ababa…

Some thoughts on my week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia whilst it has been ‘facing its biggest anti-government unrest in a decade’ Agence France-Presse

The Human Seasons

Today I should have been making my way back from the UNESCO world heritage site of Konso, in the south west of Ethiopia, to the captial Addis Ababa. But the on-going protests there (and strong government response) flared up again a couple of weeks ago. These events bypassed the international media. So my plans were duly changed and I would stay in Addis Ababa.

img_3670 Lucy at the National Museum in Addis Ababa

Arriving in Addis Ababa last weekend, and having seen Lucy(!) I was determined to see some of the beautiful mountainous countryside that rings the city this weekend. I started planning a weekend trip out to the lake region around Bishoftu in Oromia. On Sunday protests at the Ireecha celebrations, the resulting tragic deaths of over 50 people from the government response to the protests, not to mention the general anger felt against the government ,meant that this…

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Safe and slow is good

“Hold on, but loosely,” he said. 

The blood flowed back into my knuckles as I released my grip. 

“I don’t want to go fast,” I reminded him, “Safe and slow is good.”

Whilst deciding to take a motorbike back from the airport in Dar es Salaam might seem slightly reckless at first sight, I promise it wasn’t. Honestly mum (if you’re reading this!). 
The domestic flight terminal is a good 15-20 min walk to the main road where the buses go from and it was getting dark. I’m feeling more comfortable in Dar now, but I try to avoid being out by myself after dark. This seemed like the best option – and avoided changing buses at the central bus station at night.

But more to the point I trusted this guy and his bike looked well-looked after. As much as I could tell…

And he did go slowly.

So that was how I took my ever ride on a motorbike. Not only that but with a backpack too!

The security guard at the hotel  chuckled as we arrived and just said, “Welcome back.”

Culture shock from an unexpected direction 

I’m standing there looking at a row of doors on either side of a raised platform. You can’t step down from them, they are too high, so you’re forced to use the entrance/exits at either end. None of the doors are labelled. Occasionally a bus turns up at one of the doors. But I have no idea where they’re going or where they’ve come from. I ask if there’s a map or timetable. The person looks perplexed and simply says, “No.”

It’s an empty island of quiet in a dense river of noise and bustle. 

When you dream, alternative realities become reality, things can be slightly offbeat, confusing and just generally weird. But you accept them – or you wake up…

Except this wasn’t a dream. This was the first phase of the new Chinese-built, Japanese-grant-aid-funded, high-speed bus system in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. It has its own empty lanes on the road. The only time it is influenced by the traffic that chokes the rest of the city, is when a bus comes to a crossroads.

The juxtaposition of empty efficiency against the hooting and shouting of the standstill buses, dala-dalas, tuk-tuks, taxis, motorbikes, cars, lorries – not to mention people – is completely surreal. And for a few minutes I find it hard to take it in.

But it doesn’t take long before I’ve figured it out (along with the other users) and it’s become an oasis of calm and efficiency. 

Talking to someone who commutes into Dar es Salaam, he hadn’t used it yet, but he seemed as intrigued and confused about it as I was. His children had used it for the first time yesterday.

“You don’t have anything like this London, do you?” he asked.

“No, I’ve not seen anything like it before,” I say. And half an hour before I step back onto one.

Journal entry 1: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that eye can change

The following is an entry from my journal. Whilst we arguably all have an imaginative engagement with environments and landscapes, these are not static. Instead they are often fluid and contingent…

…I think it was at this point on the journey that I fell in love with Africa…

The full article was first published here: Journal entry 1: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that eye can change

Travel – safety in numbers

“Is this where the dala-dala stops?” I ask the guy who is standing by a slight bulge in the kerb of the road.

To be honest I’m not entirely sure what a dala-dala looks like. But I have a feeling it’s basically a minibus. And whilst I’m massively apprehensive of it, I have little option but to try one out…

Somewhat tired, hungry and generally crotchety after 36 hours of travel and very little sleep, I’m making my way into the town centre of Arusha in Tanzania in search of much needed local currency, a SIM card for my phone and food.

The idea of time without a working phone/internet doesn’t normally cause a problem. But sitting in the back of the taxi on the way to the hostel from where the Nairobi bus had dropped me – I suddenly felt very vulnerable.


Travelling between Nairobi, Kenya and Arusha, Tanzania on small bus going quite fast…

It was something I’ve never really experienced before. I couldn’t check on Googlemaps that we were going in the right direction. What would I do if something went wrong? There was no one next to me or on the end of the phone to discuss it with. I had to trust strangers. And in a country that I’d literally only just arrived in.

I wouldn’t say the taxi ride was entirely relaxing. A safari salesman came along for the two-mile journey and then they tried to charge me $30 for the pleasure.


The walk from the hostel to the dala-dala stop.

In contrast, I’m totally converted to daladala transport. It’s cheap, frequent, and genuine. It might be crammed with people, but you are not ripped off as there are set prices. Strangers let you know when it’s your stop. And no one tried to sell you anything else.


The dala-dala journey.

Once you scratch beneath the tourism veneer then you start to see a very different country. One that is friendly and welcoming, like many places. 

Today has been a bit of a lesson in trust. Who to trust and who not to, when to trust myself and when to trust technology. And how to make those decisions in a new place. There is no ‘right’ answer, but today’s steep learning curve has certainly made me think about it how those decisions are made.

Ironically, by the time I was back in a dala-dala, Googlemaps was once again reassuring me that I was indeed in the right place, not that I needed him right at that moment…