ETHIOPIA 12: Return to Addis

September 15, 2004

Daniel drives me to the airport. When he drops me off, I say, “Coke and wine!” And we dance the boxing-cabbage-patch together, me on the curb, he behind the wheel.
I’m flying to London that night at 11 pm. So, I plan on hiring a taxi for the entire day, doing all the stuff I have to do before I leave Africa.

Principally this involves souvenirs. I go and buy a bunch of nickel Ethiopian crosses for friends back in the US. Then I go to the National Museum. By law, you can’t take souvenirs out of the country without a permit, so I go to an office where they examine all these rather rinkytink souvenirs, fill out a form, wrap them and tape them up, give them official stamps.
It seems like a bizarre formality, but it makes sense; all those ancient crosses, crowns, and books kept out in the open, or in shacks behind the churches. A Belgian tourist almost got out of the country with a golden cross from Lalibela a few years ago.
Apparently UNESCO keeps complaining about the sorry state of security and artifacts in Ethiopia. But I think it’s very cool. Priests are still reading those books. How great that my guide in Lalibela tells me a cross was made 800 years ago, and then leans down to kiss and be blessed by the same cross? It’s a living tradition. People have been kissing that cross for 800 years.
I go buy some books, I eat some lunch. I have so much time to kill that I end up tagging along while the taxi driver takes care of some errands. At dusk, he drives me up a hill to the north of the city, past the US Embassy, which is a fearsomely guarded, walled, prison-like behemoth.
He parks up on an avenue overlooking Addis Ababa, and I take a walk. Past a church, singing voices emanating from a loudspeaker, a painting of the Selassie–the three identical bearded men–presiding. Children run up yelling, “Faranji!” wanting to shake my hand. College-age girls smile at me, and when I smile back, they erupt in laughter.
He drives me to the airport and I fly to London.