Dispatches From Ethiopia: A First Encounter

I’m sitting in the lobby of the Jupiter Hotel in Addis Ababa, still within the first several hours of arriving in Ethiopia for the first time. A small combo is playing some jazz, Ethiopian style, with a big warm tenor sax breathing its soul into the atmosphere of the lobby bar.

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It was a 13-hour plane trip. It’s hard to get around that. But you can’t get to Ethiopia any quicker than on Ethiopian Airlines. It’s also a good airline for flying to Ethiopia’s East African neighbors: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, etc.

It’s one of a few airlines that can and does provide direct service from the U.S. to the African continent. If you fly a European carrier you have to change in Europe. If you fly one of the airlines of the Arabian Gulf states you change there. Only American carriers and African carriers can fly direct.

So there’s no quicker way to Ethiopia than via Ethiopian Airlines. The flight carrying the NTA group I am with left Washington D.C. at 11:15 a.m. and arrived in Addis Ababa at a little after midnight Eastern Standard time. With a seven-hour time difference, it was early morning in Ethiopia.

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I got to sit in the emergency exit row on the flight, which means you have all the legroom in the world, so I felt pretty lucky. But another thing I found out about the emergency row is that the seat didn’t recline at all. It was difficult to find a posture that was conducive to sleep. But it was daytime at my origin point anyway, so it wasn’t sleep time yet.

The airplane was comfortable and had a good menu of movies and music for entertainment, even some recorded books. And best of all was that it is an Ethiopian carrier with an Ethiopian staff, so it was like an instant immersion in the destination even before it left the ground in D.C.

The Ethiopian people are the main attraction on this trip. I know that already on my first day. In regard to history, archaeology, anthropology and paleontology, Ethiopia is a rich treasure trove yet to be discovered by most American tourists. But rising high above all of that is the quality of the Ethiopian people themselves.

Ethiopians are different from all other people. They have their own look that distinguishes them anywhere in the world that you may see them. They have an innate sense of their own proud heritage. While they are friendly and unaffected, they are regal in bearing. When I have seen them elsewhere in the world they shine brightly. They are radiant and golden. To be in the country of their origin and to be around so many Ethiopians is a rare pleasure.

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The other members of the NTA-sponsored trip and I met the Ethiopians who will be our hosts while we are here, and immediately we were comfortable and confident, knowing we were among friends and had competent guides to show us the best that we can see in a week and a half.

Our first day in Ethiopia was primarily a day to get settled in, rest from the trip, get oriented for a very full schedule to follow over the rest of the 10-day trip. But even this first taste is worth everything it took to get here, including the 13-hour plane ride.

So now one of the main projects is to get those circadian rhythms spun around to synch up with the clocks in Ethiopia. With that in mind I will be going to bed now. I have to leave the hotel tomorrow morning at 6 a.m.

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