Arrival in Addis Ababa
The arrival into Addis Ababa was an assault to the senses - there was so much to take in all at once, and for those of us still coming round after the overnight flight there was almost too much to process. After the obligatory luggage collection and passport-stamping we set off on the city roads. The first thing that hits you about Addis is that it seems unfinished. In every direction there are buildings going up, shrouded with makeshift bamboo scaffolding. In recent years the Chinese have had a big influence on the infrastructure in the area, with a new monorail racing through the city, and a motorway heading south out of Addis. All around there is a constant hustle and bustle, with cars dodging donkeys on the road, and tuk tuks navigating their way through pedestrians pausing for a chat.
The Rape Crisis Centre
Our first stop in the city was at the Rape Crisis Centre. Not one of the first places you would generally think of visiting when arriving in a new country, but for our little team this visit was important. This particular centre is the only one of its kind in the whole of Ethiopia - taking into account that the country's population currently sits at around 91 million, it is clear that this one centre alone cannot possibly deal with the volume of rape cases that occur. Nevertheless, the centre and the staff working there were quite remarkable. Around 1500 people go to the centre each year, with ages ranges from 0-80. Yes, from babies up to great grandparents. This put into sharp focus just how amazing the staff there must be. The centre had one room for people to stay in - a room with two beds made-up with pretty bed sheets, with a bookcase containing toys and dolls for younger occupants. The reality that children stay there and use the services was hard to face, but to see the effort that had gone into making the room as warm and welcoming as possible was touching. The centre is, as it says, a crisis centre, and people can stay for a maximum of 24 hours before moving on elsewhere. During their time there they are tested for HIV amongst other things, and the staff were keen to show us the facilities and equipment they have available there.
Traveling South from Addis to Awasa
Leaving the centre a little more subdued than we had entered, we were greeted by our drivers who would be with us for the remainder of our trip. Due to the nature of the roads, we had two 4X4s - one for our bags and our lovely Ethiopian Midwifery partner, Debrework, and one for the six of us (because, honestly, if you were a man in your early thirties, would you want to spend several hours a day stuck in a car with six gossiping women? Probably not... I think Debrework had a lucky escape there!). Thus began our seven hour journey south on the Trans-African highway down to Awasa, with one of us in the front seat, three in the middle, and two unfortunate people on the back bench - an interesting arrangement whereby the person at the very rear would periodically sustain a head injury due to the bumpy nature of the roads.
Shortly into our journey we made a pit-stop for food. For some of us this was our first adventure into Ethiopian cuisine- we were gently broken-in with a late breakfast of omelette. Little were we to know that, in fact, eggs of various varieties would be a breakfast staple for the next week, sometimes made all the more exciting by unexpected chillis! We left Addis on the new motorway, which, after a few miles stopped without warning, and continued as a mix of road, tracks and bits-of-earth-between-craters. With so much to take-in outside the windows our conversations went in fits and starts as we watched the lush greenery gradually change to a browner, dustier landscape travelling south. It seems there are little in the way of highway rules, with regular stops being needed to avoid animals crossing or pedestrians trying to sell their wares. We watched as people relaxed by the sides of the roads, shaded from the afternoon sun by the trees. Colourful street stalls line the sides of the road, often manned by young children wearing threadbare clothes and enormous smiles. A mix of cultures was apparent, with communities sporting a mix of traditional and Western clothing, emerging from rural mud huts with iPhones in hand.
We were all glad to be let out of our vehicle when we reached Awasa, in anxious anticipation of a shower before dinner. We soon realised that our hotel hosted some unexpected guests - monkeys with rather luminous coloured 'equipment' proved to be good entertainment during our stay, though they were clearly a nuisance to the staff, who were regularly seen shooing them from the premises. As we headed out for food in a couple of tuk tuks, passing through the vibrant streets of Awasa, thoughts once again wandered to the week ahead and all it held in store for us. With another few hours travelling the next day we were all grateful to have a comfortable bed to sleep in, already having seen right in front of us that this is a luxury so many do not have.