Hanging in Addis Ababa

“It’s Christmas 1984. There are seven million people starving in one country. Doesn’t that make you think?”

That was the intro on the B-side of Band Aid’s “Feed the World” single. Together with Bob Geldof, the reporters of the world first introduced me to Ethiopia in the early eighties. Images of stick thin children with bellies swollen with malnutrition, flies squatting their eyes, and desperate mothers staring into the cameras, begging to please help! Please let my child live.

Little did I know that 26 years later I would find myself in Addis Ababa. The humidity and lushness of the rainy season makes it difficult to believe that there can be severe droughts in this country. And while you see plenty of beggars on the streets, Addis has a certain Cairo-like flair with its Parisian cafes and bakeries, high-end hotels and shopping centers along the muddy roads.

It has a relaxed vibe, for sure. It also feels totally safe to walk down a dark alley at night without a single doubt about arriving safely.

But if you glance just a tiny bit behind the facade, the real face of Addis shines through. Children with ankles shaped like a Z because a broken leg was not tended to. Tin-roofed shacks just steps away from gold and jewelery stores. Malnourished, flea-bitten dogs lying on the roads. Construction sites with scaffolding as stable as a house of cards. Ancient Soviet-made cars gushing out black fumes, making the air almost unbreathable. And a clinic so dirty that Eduardo told me not to touch anything, lest I catch some virus.

I like Addis Ababa, I really do. But would I live here? Never.

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