Africa’s largest open air market in Addis

Feven, our local guide referred to by Professor Rebecca was very deftly driving through the streets of Merkato, the Italian name for a market.  This was our highlight for the Adis tour.  We had read a little about it, but you only get the sense of the magnitude of organized chaos when you are in it.  She had given us express instructions to not roll down the windows and keep our expensive camera gear out of sight.  I think even if she hadn’t told us that, there is no way we would have done otherwise.

After some 30 min of driving through narrow alleyways where we passed several hawkers peddling a local hallucinogen called khat, she pulled the car to a gated parking and exclaimed “I *think* here the car will be *somewhat* safe”.  We had been discussing how everything under the sun could be found selling in this market.  The supply chain laws dictate no matter what the source or destination of goods within Ethiopia, the goods have to pass through this market.  Now this may seem highly inefficient,  but if you are driving a car in the market (or for that matter bringing an expensive camera here), you have just cut out the inefficiency.  The source of the goods is right here in the market, and all they need is a destination.  In fact, people walking around with used tires on their heads gave us a clue that this place would be a haven of chop shops.

Riding shot gun, I turned around to see if J & B had put away their gizmos, only to discover a pale sweating J clutching onto the door.  Not as much as giving me a chance to speak, he exclaimed “there is no way in hell I am getting out of this car.  And keep the car moving !”  I think all of us were secretly relieved that he made the call.  As a compromise though, we decided to drive to a safer part of the market to step out and explore.

Now safer is just a relative term.  Within  minutes of us stepping out, I was attacked by a person yelling something in Amharic that was so obscence that even though we understood nothing of what he said, Feven felt the need to profusely apologize.  For some odd reason, it wasn’t the white or the Asian looking guy who were the target in this market, but this brown dude.  It wasn’t long before 3 kids literally jumped on me, holding and pulling my arm with the intent to move it so they could get to my wallet.

It was a relief when we finally got to our restaurant where we intended to eat dinner.  Now this was a complete contrast to the Merkato.  It was a very large restaurant, but we were the only patrons.  Sadly this is what we encountered everywhere we went in Ethiopia – the country has been under an “Emergency” since last year that has taken a toll on its economy and tourism.  We encountered empty restaurants and empty hotels wherever we went.  The food was delicious though, perfect to fill us for the flight out of Addis.  And we were all looking forward to the airport security drill.

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Our completely deserted restaurant in Addis

If you ever complain of TSA procedures in the US, Addis airport procedures make TSA seem like airport security pre 911 – there is a full security check before you enter the airport building, one after  you check-in and finally one before your board the aircraft.  Traveler tip: wear shoes that are easy to take off.

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The Cathedral of St. George in Addis Ababa