We arrived well after dark, thankful that all of our luggage made it (there was some uncertainty that it would be checked all the way through to our final destination since we were changing airlines for the third leg; during that transition in Dubai, from United to Ethiopian Air, we were informed that our bags were over the Ethiopian Air weight limits (they weren't over the United limits) and we were charged baggage fees, and we had to gate check a few essential carry-ons due to limited cabin storage.
Our sponsor met us and guided us to the embassy vehicle that took us through unfamiliar neighborhoods to the strange building that would be our house. Disappointment set in as we entered the house and encountered the bizarre floor plan: an entry foyer dominated by the first flight of marble stairs (plus doors to either side and a corridor straight back that we would explore later); a second floor with the kitchen, dining room, 1/2 bath, one potential bedroom with its own full bath, and a strange small room we believe is intended to be a den; the master suite up another half flight of stairs, consisting of a large bedroom, a walk-in closet with horribly inefficient wardrobe units, a room with just a shower and a sink, and a larger room with the toilet, bidet, two-sink vanity, and a whirlpool tub; a final half-flight up held two bedrooms and a bathroom (and access to the rooftop patio).
We unpacked some things and all crashed for the night, exhausted after more than 26 hours of travel.
After being awakened at 0500 by the call to prayer from the mosque we can see from our upper floors, D-What reported to the embassy to begin the check-in process.
Further exploration of our new home revealed the largest room in the house (a living room/reception hall on the ground floor, near no other useful living space), another two bathrooms (one 3/4, one 1/2), an attached garage, and a strange bar room inexplicably separated from the other areas. Outside we found the guard booth, backup generator, servants' quarters, laundry, and storage.
Met our day guard, nanny, and cook, and began settling in.
I took the boys to the embassy for a quick visit to the Health Unit (nothing serious) and had a first real look at Addis Ababa. Once called Abyssinia, now known (by me) as Corrugated City. I have never seen more corrugated metal walls and roofs - shops, dwellings, other structures anywhere and everywhere throughout the city.
I also got my first dose of traffic. Crowded and chaotic, with few signs or signals, but fewer cars than what we were used to in Beijing. Definitely dangerous on the road (2nd worst post for accidents according to the U.S. State Department) but most drive slow and cautious, and even bad snarls worked themselves out eventually.
Picked up a sim card for the cell phone I bought in Beijing, and finally I could communicate with D-What (telephone line at the house not operational).
Saturday! No rest for the jet-lagged, though - off to a brunch hosted by our sponsor, to meet some other embassy people. It was very nice, though we were instantly jealous of the house (the only other embassy house we've seen) and began to wonder if the house we got is generally intended for first-tour officers.
After the brunch came the naps (for all of us) and a relaxed afternoon and evening.
Rented a car (for a month!) since we learned that it will be upwards of 3-4 months before the car we shipped from Beijing might show up. Still feeling the effects of the altitude - poor/light sleep, breathlessness from even mild exertion (i.e., stairs, which our house has lots of) -- and probably will continue to have similar symptoms for several weeks.
This day is a near-total blur. Seriously, I can't remember anything but getting our (hopefully temporary) EVDO internet set up. It's a USB device that uses the cellular network to access the web, and is rather expensive for the limited bandwidth you get each month. I've got my fingers crossed that the response to our inquiry on ADSL service comes back with a "can do."
Back in to the embassy for the mandatory security briefing, which included such points as "No Blue Donkeys" (the local blue & white minivan taxis whose drivers are often unlicensed and high on qat) and "No Mercato" (the huge open air market rife with pickpockets), and to get my embassy ID badge (now the escortED becomes the escortEE).
Another day of getting to know the household staff (read: aligning their practices with our quirks), and an afternoon visit from Facilities Management to answer questions about the house. I learned how to operate the generator (although it's usually automatic) and how to clean the water distiller (potable water in the house is a good thing!).
Getting my bearings through our driver, who has taken various routes to the embassy, mostly because of the unusual traffic jams on main roads near ceremonies related to the recent death of Ethiopia's Prime Minister. Off to the embassy once again (30-40 minutes each way) for the driving safety class (mandatory if you want to get an Ethiopian driver's license). Mostly more stuff about going slowly and carefully, especially around those Blue Donkeys and pedestrians - who are not only everywhere and walk out suddenly without looking, but also are always in the right according to Ethiopian law.
Fridays are half days at the embassy, so I go in for a while to take advantage of the free high-speed wireless set up in a historic building on the grounds called the Tukul, since Steam (the computer game store/platform) is stupid and won't let you play your games offline unless they are fully updated. 15 gigs of download is a bit too much for my 4gig/month bandwidth at home.
After D-What's half day is done, we hit the "market day" in the embassy parking lot to see what can be gotten there (jewelry, art, food) and then off to lunch where we introduce our driver to Chinese food. The place was pretty authentic, and our driver liked what we chose.
Now that we've got a basic handle on things (at least between our house and the embassy), we all head there to check out the playground, and continue more downloading. Back home after lunch, and just relax at home.
So, ten days on the ground in Addis Ababa. General thoughts:
- House seems below average, but we only have one other to compare so it may very well be "nice" for this city.
- Will definitely have to rely on the staff more than I thought, for shopping, cleaning produce, etc.
- Driving (or walking, if you risk that) will definitely be the most dangerous aspect of this assignment.
- Internet access is not as bad as I thought it would be, but is more expensive than I thought I would be.
- There is a huge sales/value-added tax, 15%. If only they would put more of that revenue back into road maintenance, that would be something.