Addis Ababa. January 18, 2012.

>The next day, we started out by taking a drive through the mercato, the largest open air market in Africa. Unlike the souks of Morocco, which offer a lot of tourist appeal, this market is geared more towards local commerce. 40% of the country’s GDP is related to the activity within this marketplace. The market goes on and on, and like-goods are all in the same area (like the shoe street, the carpet area, the dresses, etc.). Here are some representative photos….

The Ethiopians are great recyclers, and there was a whole area where you could buy empty containers, such as these (stored on the roof!)….

The market was very crowded, even though that doesn’t really show up in the above photos….the most crowded area of the market was where they were selling “chat”…a plant that is chewed, which is a mild narcotic…the street was wall to wall in that area…

….one of our group purchased some through the car window to see what it was like….(he later said he did not feel any effects from it :-).

We didn’t get out to walk through the market as it would be too difficult to do so in a group, without someone getting lost…it did go on forever and ever, and Ethiopia does not have good road signage…plus they seem to arbitrarily change street names often (so you can’t just say meet me on the corner of such and such). We would have also been subjected to jostling and apparently would have had trouble hanging onto cameras. Janet and I still wanted to do it, but understood the group dynamic. We did figure though that the best way to visit is with a local guide with just one to two people.

We then headed on to look at some historical sites, the first of which was the Trinity Chapel, the largest church in Addis Ababa.

The cornerstone for this church was laid by Haile Selassie (birth name: Ras Tafari), the final member of the Solomonic dynasty to rule in Ethiopia. His reign was from 1930 to 1974, with a five year interruption from 1936 to 1941, when he was in exile, while once again the Italians were attempting to colonize Ethiopia. But they once again failed, making Ethiopia the only African country that was not colonized.

Selassie did very little to move the country forward during his reign, especially with regard to the ordinary Ethiopian. Opposition started almost immediately after his return from exile, with many attempted coups during the remainder of his reign. He was finally arrested in 1974, and died in 1975, officially by heart attack, although he may have been murdered. His body was first buried next to a latrine, and then was moved to Menelik’s mausoleum, but then in 2001 his body was moved to the site of the Trinity Cathedral, above.

From 1974 to 1991, the country was under socialist rule, which proved to be worse than the preceding government When socialism collapsed in Europe in 1990, support went away for the socialist government in Ethiopia, and a transitional government ended up being put in place, with the first democratic elections held in 1995. The people are very proud that they are now a democracy. Everywhere we went, people chanted Obama. When I asked one of them why he liked Obama, he said that his being our president represented democracy to him, and that he wanted Ethiopia to be a true democracy.

We also went to the national museum, which houses an exhibit regarding archaeological finds within Ethiopia, including the bones of a hominid woman, “Lucy,” which have been dated back to 3.5 million years. (the bones here were replicas as the actual bones are housed in Houston, Texas). From the bones they collected, they have put together a replica of what the skeleton structure of this woman could have been. This raises the possibility that our ancestors have been on earth much longer than originally assumed. There are of course many skeptics.

After lunch at the museum cafe, we continued on to see Menelik’s mausoleum and one of Selassie’s palaces which houses a museum with many interesting ethnic artifacts.

Phew, jam packed historical/cultural day. Tomorrow, we are off to Lalibela for the Timkat Festival.

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Location:Addis Ababa

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