From Dubai to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The following is an excerpt from my journal written while visiting Ethiopia in December 2011.


Monday 5th December 2011: Dubai to Addis Ababa

The four hour flight from Dubai left over 30 minutes late, most of that time spent taxiing or the plane sitting on the tarmac not going anywhere. The airport is enormous with a ten minute bus ride from the terminal to the plane. I kept a good lookout for birds but the huge expanses of concrete are not bird friendly habitats. My Dubai bird list stands at 1 – a solitary Rock Dove. Corinne thought she saw a gull like bird but wasn’t sure.

The flight to Addis Ababa was very interesting with great views of the coast, the islands, the wide expanses of desert sands, several mountain ranges and the beautiful Gulf of Aden. The sunny conditions meant great views from Corinne’s window seat.

The approach to Addis Ababa airport is very interesting with rugged ranges, a patchwork of farming properties and on the final approach excellent views of the city and nearby countryside. The landing is one of the more challenging airports of the world because of its altitude at 2300 metres and the surrounding mountains which rise to about 3200 metres at Entoto. I was not surprised then that a group of passengers applauded as the plane touched down successfully. The only other place I’ve experienced that was at the world’s most dangerous airport, Lukla in the Himalayan nation of Nepal.

Slowing down on the runway and taxiing to the terminal I was immediately aware of being in a totally different culture. A large group of workers near the runway were on their knees cutting the grass with hand scythes. The large collection of rusting plane wrecks near the terminal gave me flashbacks to landing in Kathmandu in 2005.

The entry process through the terminal was quite rapid. I’d been warned by my daughter that sometimes the whole event can be quite complicated and drawn out, but we experienced none of that. Immigration took about 10 minutes of waiting in line and two minutes at the passport and visa check. Neither of us was required to show our health cards but we had no worries on that account. By the time I’d exchanged some US dollars into Ethiopian birr, our bags came around on the carousel. We hadn’t seen them since leaving Adelaide.

Our daughter Rose and Jacqui, the wife of the school’s director, were waving to us as we approached customs. All our bags were x-rayed but we didn’t need to open anything. The car trip back to the school where my daughter was teaching was the normal third world traffic chaos with many close encounters with other vehicles. As chaotic as it seems at first, it all seems to sort itself out with no major dramas. Near the airport we saw hundreds of armed soldiers and police because former President Bush was in town for a conference, hence the security. We kept our cameras switched off at that point. On the half hour journey to the school we saw sheep, goats and donkeys along the way, pedestrians everywhere and no drivers aware of the need to drive in a lane; lanes are marked but no one observes them.

Once at the school we unpacked the van and Rose collected our school lunches from the school kitchen, one of the benefits of living on campus. After lunch she took us on a tour of the school meeting many of the staff who made us to feel so welcome it was wonderful. Later in the afternoon Rose asked us to help her teaching the Horizon Boys some basic conversational English. These boys, mostly teenagers, are local boys wanting to improve their educational opportunities. Most of them are Muslims and they were all very polite, cooperative and friendly and certainly eager to learn.

Later in the afternoon we watched the school football (soccer) team play a team from another school and we talked to several teachers and parents while we watched. I also did some birding because the area around the oval and the school gardens has many birds. Without really trying I’ve added 6 “lifers” (birds I have never seen before) to my list. It was only the Black Kites which I’ve seen before – or so I thought. It turns out the local birds are a sub species called Yellow-billed Kites (click here for photos). Another one for the list.

After dinner Rose and Corinne went to the women’s Bible Study meeting while I had a shower and went to bed. The lack of sleep since leaving home was taking its toll. Corinne nodded off during the study, I believe. We both slept well but woke at 4am as our daughter had predicted. Then at 5am we could hear the call to prayer from the mosque nearby, something we were to get used to over the coming weeks.

Further reading:

Bingham Academy, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia



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