On my first day in Ethiopia I wanted to be proactive and get visas for upcoming countries.
First I went to the Djibouti Embassy. It took a while to find it. I knew the general area it was in, but I had to ask many, many random people on the street who all guided me a few steps closer to where I wanted to be. All were friendly and helpful.
In the end, they had a “shortage” of short-term visas (one month) and only the more expensive long-term (3 month) visas were available. In hindsight, maybe I still should have gone, but paying $130 for a visa to stay just a couple of days seemed too illogical.
Next I headed off to the Somaliland Embassy. I knew exactly where it was from this article. It said go to the Awraris Hotel, walk 200m along the dirt road, then turn right and walk 200 more meters. As I walked the 200m down the dirt road I encountered a white foreigner who was maybe 50 years old. I stopped to ask him if the embassy was down the street he just came from.
Then weird stuff happened.
He was French and he asked if I was French. I said no, I’m American. He told me people wearing blue shirts (I had a blue shirt on) from France were following him. He said he was an architect and under the Sarkozy administration he helped organize some kind of huge project in Ethiopia. Because of that (I don’t know if the project went badly or what) people were out to kill him.
It was a very weird interaction to have, not to mention the fact that I was running on one hour of sleep and had walked a few hours in the heat/sun by that point. I don’t actually remember if he gave me any useful advice for getting to the embassy, though he said his mom was Somali and of course he knew where the embassy was. If his mom was Somali, he must have gotten all his dad’s genes. He was very white.
I went to the Awraris Hotel and they gave me some directions to get me started in the right direction. Go down three streets, turn right, then turn left and keep walking and I’d find it. After those three streets I turned right. At the first intersection where I could turn left, a girl approached. She was maybe 25 years old and I figured she’d speak English, even though until this point pretty much everyone I’ve asked for directions on the street spoke English.
I asked her if she knew where the Somaliland Embassy was. She thought for a minute and said she has definitely seen it before and it’s not far, but she wasn’t exactly sure where it was. Nevertheless, she said to come with her. We walked one more block on the dirt road and she knocked on a door. A guy opened and they spoke in Amharic. I only understood the word Somaliland. He made a phone call and we waited. While we waited, I asked what her name is. She replied that it was Layla and we commenced a normal introduction a bit late 🙂
When we walked up that dirt road she offered to hold the umbrella she was using so I could enjoy some of the shade. At this house there was a small awning and I stood in the sunshine. Normally I’d seek shade too, but after freezing my butt off in Turkey I was genuinely appreciating the warm sun. Still, she kept showing concern for me, which was so nice.
After his phone call he gave her some directions and she said it was very close. We walked and made a few turns here and there. We made small talk. She is a university student studying accounting. I let her know how much I dislike accounting and she said she hears that all the time.
We arrived at the embassy, but immediately I knew it wasn’t where I needed to be. There was a sign noting that this was the ambassador’s residence, not the embassy. We knocked on the door and the guard told her in Amharic that the ambassador lived there. He also told her where the embassy is.
She told me it’s very close to the Japanese embassy, but it was too late to go there now. It was 3pm and the office was already closed due to some meeting in the afternoon. She told me not to worry, that she’d take me to the embassy tomorrow morning. It’s too bad because I was in that area in the morning while looking for the Djibouti Embassy.
I couldn’t believe how nice she was. In fact, alarm bells started going off that she was being too nice. This is the sad part of the story, maybe. Although I had no reason not to trust her, I’ve heard too many stories of things starting like this and there being bad results afterward.
Still, she asked for my name and number and I gave it to her. I told her I could find the embassy on my own and I already felt so guilty for taking 30 minutes of her day, not to mention however long it would take her to get home after this diversion. She told me she’d call me later that day and let me know if she’d have time to take me. It was a compromise I could live with.She never did call, but I did find the embassy the following day and got the visa the day after.
I guess she had no ulterior motive. She was just fantastically nice and probably curious about a foreigner in her land, just as I’m curious about Ethiopia and Ethiopians. My gut has probably saved me from many problems on this journey, but sometimes I guess it’s wrong.
I hope this shows how nice and lovely the Ethiopian people are. Such wonderful experiences are the wind in my sails after over two years of continuous travel. The niceness and generosity of people never gets old and never ceases to amaze me.