My 6am bus trip the next morning, that left at 7:30am, was largely uneventful apart from periodically hearing high pitched screams coming from somewhere in the bus – however no one seemed concerned. After about the fifth scream I felt a peck on my shin – the hen I had been inadvertently kicking had had enough and was fighting back. I moved seats and the screaming stopped.
In Kampala I met James and his wife, two VMM volunteers, who has spent the last two years working in an all girls secondary boarding school in Impala, 4 hours North East of Kampala. Camara had given 10 computers to the school last year, 9 of which were still working – well done Dublin workshop volunteers – and we had supplied another 25 this year. We had also arranged for volunteers to carry out training last July which had been very successful and James asked if we could send another team this year.
That evening I flew to Addis and checked into the National Hotel on Meskel Square the heart of Addis Ababa. Both the hotel and the square were built by the Derg regime, a communist inspired dictatorship that was removed from power some 18 years ago by the current Ethiopian prime minister. Some may argue the most terrible legacy left by communism was the Stalin purges in the former Soviet Union, others suggest the continuing repression of human rights in North Korea and China are worse. While maybe not in the same league, I believe the concrete monstrosity known as the National Hotel high-lights all that was wrong with Communism.
Grey, solid and without any sense of warmth, this is an hotel that was designed to suck all the joy out of life. The staff clearly come from the same era – not like the smiling, happy and gracious Ethiopians I have come to know over the years. The fabled bar/restaurant in the basement was small, empty and with an atmosphere so depressing as to repel me back to comparative warmth of my bed room (the Fish Goulash however was surprisingly good). I tried to buy a sim card for my phone but was told the national monopoly, ETC has stopped issuing sim cards 1 year ago. However I could rent one for 50 birr a day (calls were extra). Disgusted I retired to my room at around 10pm to discover a party in the hotel grounds had just started. Traditional Ethiopian music is very rhythmic and sensual but when combined with Euro-techno with a very distinct and insistent bass beat it becomes the music from hell. Not a great start to my Ethiopian leg.