So, I'm in Ethiopia.
Addis Ababa, to be specific -- the capital. This is a job for my current employer, and it's relatively short as these things go -- just ten days. I've been here a week already, so I go back in a few days. Meanwhile, a few things about Ethiopia.
It's high. Most of the country is mountains or plateaus. Addis is about 2300 meters or 8000 feet up. You can definitely notice this. I have the habit of running or trotting up stairs; after three flights, I'm noticeably wheezy, and half an hour on the hotel's treadmill the other night left me light-headed and shaky. There's about 25% less air in every breath, so I guess one must either breath 1/3 more deeply or 1/3 more often.
The altitude also means that it's not that hot during the day, and it's actually coolish at night. You see people walking around with jackets and sweatshirts, which is not something I'm used to in Africa. (It also means Ethiopia is mostly free of malaria mosquitoes and some of the more hair raising parasites.)
It's Africa. But it's slightly askew. By which I mean that in some ways, it's very typically Sub-Saharan African, but in others it's just weird. For instance, it's mostly Christian and part Muslim, which is pretty common in Africa. But the Christianity isn't Catholic or Protestant. No, it's the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which is 1700 years old, rather Old Testament (no pork, lots of fast days), and looks down on Catholicism as an upstart newcomer. Or: everyone speaks English as a second language, which is common enough. But the first languages are Oromo or Amhara, and everything is written in both English and the Amharic script -- which is its own weird alphabet that resembles nothing so much as Armenian.
Ethiopians look different, too. On one hand, there are some very typical Ethiopian faces -- one spots that right away. On the other, there's a remarkable range of skin colors and hair textures. My tentative assumption is that I'm looking at different ethnic groups, but that's just a guess. Certainly the place has had a history complex enough to support a lot of mixing.
The food is supposed to be excellent. Unfortunately, I'm here on business, which means I'm gravitating towards bland foods that are thoroughly cooked. I broke with this rule one day, and had some chili, and ended up getting really sick for a day -- nausea, chills, you name it. (Man, I hate chills.) Business travel makes you conservative, y'know? So I can't talk much about the food. Well, I can note that the coffee is brutally strong, and any meat is going to be tough. (Seriously. Africans generally enjoy their meat tougher than Europeans or Americans, but Ethiopians seem to take this to an extreme.)
Ethiopia is poor, but it's also seeing very rapid economic growth. Very, very rapid. As in: better than 8% average growth per annum sustained for over a decade. Since the turn of the century, they've more than doubled the size of their economy. Since their population is growing rapidly, per capita income has only grown by about 50%. But that's still pretty impressive. And you can see the growth happening in real time: downtown Addis is basically one huge construction boom. I haven't seen anything like it since 1990s China.
Of course, it's growth from a very low base. Ethiopia is still very poor. It's poor even by African standards. And you see that too -- people in ragged clothes, beggars, you name it. But fifteen years ago, it was very very poor. Now it's just very poor.
I'll probably have more to say about the economic stuff in a day or two. Meanwhile: questions about Ethiopia?