We landed after midnight. Our first welcome back to Africa was negotiating down an exorbitant taxi fee to our hotel, which as it turned out was not our hotel. But we didn’t find that our until morning. Travel delirious, we slept almost until noon on our first day in Addis.
I forgot flip flops. And tissue, and a flashlight. In the past few years I’ve become so cavalier about packing, I often tend to be missing things. But, I usually never really need them anyway. This time, as I starred down the communal shower (which, retrospectively should have tipped me off we were at the backpacker version of our guesthouse, a mere block away). But I was too tired to think, I just really wanted flip flops and a shower but realized the later, without the former was a risk. The afternoon revolved around our attempts to procure said flip flops (unsuccessful), a SIM card (initially unsuccessful) and gain wifi (successful), since we didn’t print anything out and hadn’t downloaded necessary confirmations at that point.
Our first day was just about as uninteresting as is imaginable, at least until after dinner. We ate a few kilometers from our hotel, which was absolutely delicious local fare (Habesha).Given its’ location in the expat region, ample cars, and people we decided to walk home. As we turned onto Cape Verde, the street became more deserted, save the few cars slowly puttering by past lines of prostitutes. The scene had decidedly changed since our morning walk. It still felt safe, just odd. Of course Addis would have prostitution, as most major cities do, especially those where people struggle to sustain themselves, but given the general modesty of most women it was indeed a strange sight. Across the street from our hotel, a group of kids approached us selling various things, as they often do anytime we go anywhere. Normally kids approach me, I assume because they think women will be more kind or likely to take pity on them. But this time, they ignored me and went for Alex. Aggressively too. They grabbed his arm and hassled him relentlessly, until he freed his arm from their grip and they bolted away. Minutes later he realized they had snatched his wallet. It was impressive, he didn’t notice them unzip and grab the wallet from his chest pocket. There was some money, enough to be irritated, but not enough to impact the trip (very much), and his cards which we promptly cancelled and had been prepared with backups.
We knew this would happen eventually, whether at home in Dublin where a few of our friends have been mugged, or abroad. I’m actually surprised it hadn’t happened before. We were lucky they didn’t take his phone, or go for my purse which had our passports from the SIM card excursion. We had just transferred a few hundred euro out of his wallet, it could have, for various reasons, been so much worse. Mostly, of course, it’s the sense of vulnerability and violation that stings. That, and feeling like you should have been able to stop it. Feelings stupid, or having people tell you to “stay safe” as if implying you had no travel savvy in the first place. But, as one of my friends (who lived in Africa) noted, “At least you got one of the customary “welcome back’s. I have to say that losing $50 is better than the other typical Africa welcomes. And by that I mean amoebic dysentery.” Which, let’s be honest, a lot worse can go wrong whilst traveling than having some cash snatched. We chalk it up to paying the travel gods, a who have thus far looked after us quite well.
Things turned around, as they usually do, pretty much immediately. The proprietor of our hotel (where we were supposed to be staying) came and found us and brought us to the correct location, which, did not have communal showers or the need for flip flops. Which was good, because I was still missing them, and now without cash. In the morning, our next guesthouse picked us up. The extremely amicable woman we would learn had spent 30 years in the US, 15 of which mere blocks from where Alex grew up. So here we were, driving in Addis with a Woman we likely passed on the streets of Marin or San Francisco! How bizarre? As it turns out, staying at this particular guesthouse would more than makeup for the previous evenings unfortunate events.