February 5, 2009
So, now I’m lying in bed in a hotel room watching Worlds Scariest Police Chases.! I am suffering from culture shock. I am at the wrong hotel but things have seemed to have worked out. I met Canadian guy in Addis who recommended a hotel in Sanaa, but I’m not sure this is the hotel he recommended. I wrote down “Dwahi hadrabut” near “Babel Yemen” across from the Hotel Barcelona. Eric, that’s his name, Eric Hebert, recommended the hotel and said it was on thedge of the old city and was only $8 a night instead of $20. This place is called “Wadai Hadramout” for $20 a night and on the Al Tirar Square which is famous for some reason I will have to discover.
My original plan to learn Arabic in Cairo would have helped here that is for sure. Eric told me I needed to get a travel permit from the Tourist Police, but I have yet to find them. I got instructions from the Manager at the front desk, but ended up getting a ride from a helpful guy who dropped me off at atravel agent. I thought I was at the Yemenia office, but it was a travel agency. As I have misplaced my flight itinerary, I thought I could at least get my flights printed out, they directed me somewhere else, but I decided I’d better backtrack and try to find the Tourist Police according to my original directions, but I ended up in what must be the infamous cell phone district. It’s an area where they only have cell phone stores. It was quite bizarre. So I made my way back to Al Tahrir Square, and past the National Musem, which was closed. I forgot to mention I slept until 3PM, the reasons for which I shall get to soon, watched some kids riding horses in Tahrir Square, and there paid 200 Rial to tour the military museum which features a Mig Jet, a Ford built in Canada and used by a famous Imam, as well as two armoured Cadillacs from the 1950’s, one of which has an amazing bullet ( big bullet) hole in the rear passenger door window, and a Jaguar used by Queeen Elizabeth during a vists here. The thing of interest to me though, and quite rmarkable were some ancient remains of stonework featuring carvings of ibex that were exact matches to the ibexes carved into the door of the church in Yeha in Ethiopia. I mean EXACT. And there were quite a few different stones with the Ibexes on them. Unfortunately the descriptions were in Arabic, and I can’t read Arabic (because I didn’t take lessons in Cairo like I had planned. Did I mention that before?
I am now watching The Yemen version of Sesame Street. It might help. Except There’s a Kermit type puppet with only one eye, which is a bit disconcerting. Back to culture shock.
It’s not so much that I’m in a city where there are not too many signs in English, it’s the Hotel Room. It has more than one electrical outlet. It has a fridge. I have my own, not only clean, but spotless bathroom with a shower, hot and cold running water, a television, matching table and chairs, and A TELEPHONE! After the shared bathrooms at the Hotel taitu, this all seems far too luxurious for me, but it’s all for $20 a night. I have no idea how much things should cost, because I think its 200 rials to a dollar. My taxi cost 2,000 Rials, but $20 a night should be 4,000 rials, and Eric said the taxi ride from the airport should be 1,000 Rials. The driver wanted 3,000 Yr (Yemeni rials) but I paid 2,000. I also ended up paying 2,100 Yr for a bag of almonds and some raisins, and I am sure I got ripped off, and I would be satified with knowing I would never buy raisins from that gut again except I have enough for the rest of my stay here.
I paid 40 Yr for a Schwarma sandwich which was delicious at the Palestine café. I had two. It was 850 Yr for a meal of Lamb and Cabbage and Spicy baked bean plate with two ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS coffees at a reatuarant near Tahir Square. A guy kept popping his head out of the wall beside my table and shouting things at the waiter is the restaurant. He did apologize for stratling me though. The hole had a sliding door into the Jiuce Bar next to the Restaurant, and I found out later he was ordering food for the customers in the juice bar. They also have an interesting fried falafel and french fry meal that’s sold in the same places that sell Shwarma. And I bought a bottle of the most delicious bottled mango juice I’ve ever bought called Fakher. It was a good price I think. 40 Yr.
The thing I find most disconcerting here is the complete lack of female customers in the restaurant. The few women I have seen on the street are covered in habibs from head to toe and all that’s showing is their eyes. Young girls seem to have no such conditions, but the effect is to make the women almost invisible. It’s like I landed on a planet full of men. A lot of the Yemeni men carry ceremonial daggers in their belts. I don’t remember the name of them. It may come back to me. A number of the men wear headscarves as well, but they are not as covering as the women’s. It’s ironic that they have an institution called the Women’s Shadow Parliament here; the women are shadows. Dressed head to toe in black, even some wearing gloves, they appear only as dark shadows and after only a day, I am beginning not to notice them at all. I don’t like not having women around. It’s kinda creepy.
The thing that is nice here is the absence of street touts, no one bugging me to be there guide, trying to sell me anything. It’s not that there’s no one selling anything; I’m in a district full of shops and the sidewalks are filled with street vendors with a variety of goods on blankets, including tents. There’s not too many restaurants, and a couple of dark places with hookas in them. I guess I’ll get up tomorrow and visit the National Mueum and hope I can find the Tourist Police and get a travel permit before I go to Socotra. Eric said I should have one so I can travel about on my own. Maybe I should back the truck up and go to Yesterday:
February 4th, 2009
I had breakfast with Yohann the journalism student from Belgium, Donnie the particle physics guy from Dublin, and Guy Chamberlain the book printer in Malta. I had to go get my money from Western Union, and Donnie and Yohann went up some mountain. Guy is still waiting for the Sudanese Embassy to open. It’s closed because some diplomat guy is staying there during the African Unity Conference. Did I mention that? Did I mention Moammar Khadafi is in Addis? Maybe not. But it’s true.
So I go to the Central Ethiopian Bank. Western Union is still down. The guy tells me I have to go to the head office of Western Union. I take another cab. The head office is in the same building as the Ethiopian Central Business Development Bank. So I get ther enad get my money 8,750 Birr. I walked back to Yemenia to pay for the Mumbai part of my flight. I walked back to the hotel and took a detour to take some snaps of a mosque under construction in Addis. There seems to be some concern here about the growing muslim population. Ethiopia is primarily a Christian country and has been since the days of Jesus. But this journal is all about me.
I had to change my Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis to Cairo to April something else. I can’t check what yet cause I lost the paper with my E-ticket on it. More about that later. I tried to change my money from Birr to dollars, but for the second time, I can’t buy dollars. I ran into Chany and the black market price is 13 Birr for a dollar. Everyone thinks this is a great price, but I’m selling Birr not buying them so it’s a big difference from the bank rate of 11. I found out from the Dashen bank I can buy dollars at the Sheraton. I take a cab. There’s a ton of security at the Sheraton because of the Africa Conference and about a hundred police motorcycles. Inside, I’m secretly hoping I run into Moamar Gadafi so I can get a picture of him and me, but he’s not there.
I ran into an orthopedic surgeon and his wife in the Dashen Bank. He’s setting up Orthopedic Surgery Hospitals in Africa. So I go to the window (finally) and they tell me to go to the window marked “Visa Only” to buy dollars. I lose my turn a couple of times for one reason or another, and ten when I do get to the window and tell the lady I wanna buy $400 US and she says I can only change $150 unless I have a receipt for my Birr and an airplane ticket out of the country. I’m bummed by that until I realize I have both (my Yemenia printout and Western Union receipt, but its getting late and I’m afraid I’ll run out of time (it’s 5pm). I fill out forms and stuff and the woman gets a bit antsy cause now I want $600US cause I found out I have like 7,200 Birr on me, and only 12 hours left in Ethiopia. But it’s like that saying I made up: “The more things don’t work out, the better they work out”. It seems that everything in Ethiopia is continually on the edge of not working out until the very last minute, and somehow, stuff gets done.
That happened to Carsten and Kristine when they got Esmerelda their baby. They heard due to a court ruling they might have to wait a month and had started making plans to stay in Ehtiopia, and they got a phone call and an hour and a half later they were on their way back to their hotel with a baby from the orphanage.
They stamped my passport to show that I had cashed in Birr. then photocopied my western Union receipt and airline ticket. I have my passport, but that was the last time I saw my receipt. Accoring to the theory of trans dimensional shift, the papers should show up in my bag soon, though there's still no sign of my camera. I saw a little one in a shop and think I might buy one soon. It was $159 but when I asked how much in Yr, the guy didn't seem to understan what I was asking. I think it may ahve been a mistake to change $300 into Yr. But as I am fond of saying,the more things don'y work out, the better they work out. There is actually a shop beside the hotel that is selling film cameras. I have a few (not on me), maybe one more wouldn't hurt. So, where was I? Sheraton. I go to the toilet in the Sheraton and there’s this general guy there. Very distinguished and well groomed in an immaculate uniform, flanked by two military attaches. I don’t remember his name, but he wasn’t happy and hotel staff were scurrying to appease him. But back to the toilet. Black marble. Flush toilet, towels rolled up in a basket. A hot water tap AND a cold water tap. A little pump thing for soap. After the hotels I had stayed in in Ethiopia, it was like I was in some kind of heaven. Culture shock. Like I’m in now. Leaving Ethiopia is more of a strange switch than coming into Ethiopia.
Anyway, I got back to the hotel. Alex, the Greek guy, one of the three Greeks I had supper with in Lalibela was at the Hotel Taitu. Athena had left the day before. He was sitting talking with Guy, Donnie and Yohann. So we had a drink, and Alex says he’s going to an Armenian restaurant at the Armenian Club. So Guy, Yohann and I invite ourselves along. Donnie has to meet a girl from his flight. Donnie, Yohann and I go to the Joe Business Internet shop, and check our email, email each other, and walk back to the Hotel Taitu.
The Armenian Club was excellent! The food was just amazing. I can’t remember everything I had, but the main course (for me) was cabbage rolls. They had a donut ball dipped in honey syrup that was delicious! A wonderful meal. I was distracted by an absolutely gorgeous German woman at another table, but managed to participate in the conversation nonetheless. It was a great evening. We walked back and stopped in the Hotel Taitu bar, which is where I stopped to chat with Eric. I first talked with him cause he had just arrived from Yemen, and I got some info from him (as told earlier), but more intriguing was the fact he was taking abreak from an expedition circumnavigating Africa in a replica of a Phoenician sailing ship! They had had some problems and he was taking a break while the bugs get worked out. So the expedition ( www.phoenicia.org.uk ) is starting up somewhere in the Red Sea in August. I’m thinking about joining up. Seeing as a big part of my novel takes place in a boat, what better way to really find out about sailing an ancient boat? Maybe I can go back to work, then take time off later next year. I’ll keep ya posted.
This hotel doesn’t have a restaurant (no bars her cause there’s no alcohol) and it sseems geared towrds Yemeni bsuiness guys, so I won’t have a chance to meet anyone here. Despite the conditions in the cheap part of the Hotel Taitu, it was great for meeting a whole pile of interesting people. Hopefully Socotra will yield a better people mix.