If a hell exists, then its counter-part on earth would be Jeddah International Airport. Our Saudi Arabian Airlines (sans alcohol) flight touched down after a lengthy stopover in Medina to drop off a few passengers, and we were hustled into the transit area where two Indians sat drowned in confusion. The line moved rather quickly and after flicking through 4 separate piles of food vouchers they both came to a decision and handed over free meals for us to enjoy on our nine hour layover.
Full of expectations of various duty free shops, perhaps a quiet cafe with wi-fi, comfortable chairs to catch a few winks during the night, we were met with one of the worlds worst airports. Literally throngs of pilgrims splayed out on the floor like roadkill, yawning, passing wind, spitting into cups, digging deep into their noses for particles, the stench of fermented feet proving too much for even a seasoned traveller, European hippies lying in formations on the carpets while charging iPads from mountains of cables and sockets, stressed parents guiding children like sheep through the massacre.
We managed to find a table by the cafe and went to order food. Unfortunately another Indian just threw a plastic container at us and handed us Pepsi’s. The contents of the meal are displayed below, words do not do it justice:
We managed somehow to survive 10 hours in transit (yes, the customary delay), then had to take a bus to the plane who suddenly thought he had gone to the wrong aircraft and we stood in the bus with the doors closed for 15 minutes before they realised it was the correct vessel and we boarded, and sat, and waited… and waited.. and one hour later 32 Ethiopian over-stayers were shoved onto the plane to face the shame of being returned to their country as “illegals”. They seemed nonplussed.
Seated next to the fattest man in Jeddah my heart sank, until I found out he worked for the airlines and ordered a bountiful spread of food from 1st class which he was more than happy to share. The man put away a tribes-worth in 10 minutes. The seatbelt sign came on and the excitement began to grow. It was almost 26 hours since we last slept and exhaustion can only really be overcome by true anticipation.
As the formalities of visas and entry stamps were attended to, money taken out, correct bags delivered to correct belt in correct continent, we breathed in deeply and walked out into the still streets of Bole. Everything was quiet, and clean. Hailed a cab, argued about the price, disregarded our friend Vemund’s advice and stayed at Taitu Hotel for 3 nights (Aka Satans Crotch). Fawlty Towers seems like the Ritz compared to this hovel.
The days set about us like thirsty mosquitos, draining the last droplets of blood from our dehydrated and constantly battered bodies. If Lebanon was party central, this was where dreams came to die. The streets were shoddy, the constant dust creeping into unseen places, a thousand “cool-guys” haranguing you at every corner (Yes, I know Vemund: Stay away from Piazza), the dire internet connection at Taitu that had not been fixed in months, the seemingly endless stream of odd, socially inept travellers that crowded the patio and wanted to “talk” (READ: brag about having been to one country that the rest of the group hadn’t. “Oh in Djibouti the taxis are red, Oh! in Rwanda the beer is so good”. Oh! Just shut the fekk up parrrrleeeeazzzeee.), the service staff at Taitu who took 45 minutes to fetch limes for our drinks, 1 hour for the bill, 30 minutes for a coffee and all seemed to just loaf around whilst below a hundred guests shuffled nervously in their chairs awaiting attention.
Avoiding most social encounters by wearing a Bathory shirt and dark sunglasses, we managed to whittle away 3 days in the capital walking around and checking the sporadic internet when the power was on.
Our mission: To see at least a few great jazz concerts before heading south to explore the countryside.
As our luck would have it, the very afternoon we found out that Ayele Mamo was playing, and all for the sum of 4 dollars. We shuffled in at the back of the Jazzamba club and managed to catch the second half of the set. The token tourists were there who had never heard of Ethiojazz, along with a couple of foreigners who watched every move and seemed mesmerised at being in Addis watching a living legend. The show was pretty decent, although the backing band dipped into some serious cheese once in a while, and it all got ruined when a random Swede got up on stage and sang for 2 songs with his dreadlocks and Bob Marley-wannabee attitude. Anyways…
We heard from a reliable source that Mulatu Astatke had started a jazz-club, at an old Soviet-style hotel near Meszcal Square. Willy and I jumped in a cab and hurtled through napalm-like surroundings chasing traffic lights to reach the hotel only to find out he wasn’t on for another hour, so we climbed the strange staircase and ate a miraculously mediocre club sandwich in a restaurant that resembled a 60s Russian dictators dream gone awry. Gaudy was an understatement.
Ushered into the room moments later, and with fernet in hand, the great Mulatu took to the stage to muted applause (there were only about 20 people there). Smiling like a man who knows something you don’t, he broke straight into “Yekermo Sew”, the crowd gasped. He played 4 songs, then kindly retired to the back of the room where 19 of the 20 pounced on him to have a word with the master. I luckily had bumped into him before the show and even proceeded to have a chin wag with the lovely man. He was delighted that two Norwegians had made it to his club and enjoyed his set, we retreated before the hawks set in. Splendid fellow.
He also informed me that Getatchews health was not the best so he was not performing during our stay in Addis. We thanked Mulatu, and promised to return after our journey to the south to catch him one more time before leaving. (You can read the Adventures of the Bole Bajaj here)
Upon returning to Addis Ababa we ran into some old acquaintances who we had shared a few drinks with 10 days before, and all decided to take a risk and go back to Jazzamba. I asked the doorman who was playing, “Alemayehu Eshete“. Holy shit. Tickets were purchased at rocket-speed, and in we ran to stand at the side and watch a true icon of the Ethiopian music scene playing in a club for 200 people. After a few minutes a table at the front became available and we sat watching him 2 meters away singing with soul. Amazing night.
The next couple of days passed in a blur, we found a tiny bar named FOLKLAND which played decent songs and had me requesting Michael Jackson for the first time in my life (beer soaked brain!), ate glorious Italian food at Grani Di Pepe in the garden sipping 3 bottles of White Wine before our flight, met Ken who turned out to be the only normal traveller in Ethiopia and wasn’t 40+ and wearing fanny packs and stupid safari hats. We chatted, spent nights together on the patio away from the crowd talking about food and music, ended up mortally offending a chubby American who was really into horoscopes and tarot cards: she avoided us at breakfast, but she was only in Ethiopia to shag the local Rastafaris so it wasn’t a grave loss. Ate more local food than we desired to and swore it off forever, not that it’s baaaad it’s just not good. The taste of Injera coating our mouths in that fermented, sticky residue that would last longer than the meal itself (I secretly prayed for India every mealtime). We found other small bars, drove around the town in cabs stalked by beggars, realised that most African cities are not worthy of our time, Africa is for the nature, and the nature alone. And music, of course, we had come for the music, and managed to find it.