Flying not being one of my favourite pursuits I was pleased enough to find myself in a seat by the aisle thus happily preserved from gut wrenching 30,000 mile high views. But as we encroached into African skies on the afternoon of the 3rd of February 2013 for one of the first times in my life even I had to pluck up the courage to spy out the window to see- the River Nile! What a privilege.
The plane was one of those “double-breasted” ones as I like to call them with a middle aisle and rows on either side and it was full to the very brim. There were some Westerners like me aboard but mostly it was full of Ethiopian families on their way back home. The atmosphere on board was almost festive, like on a Sunday summer’s evening driving home from the beach in the car, overloaded with noisy children and various baggages. They were a gregarious bunch and I liked to think I might do well among them.
As well as being seated at the aisle, I also happened to be in the very last row of the plane, no. 46.
Now, understand, that ordinarily I would have devoted a sizeable chunk of the flight-time to debating whether or not this random seat allocation made my death in an aviation catastrophe more or less likely but…I was tired and emotional and I just couldn’t put myself through it this day. I sat back, tried to relax and think of Ireland.
The flight passed off fairly well, I hadn’t drawn blood from gripping the passenger beside me with my finger nails so I considered it a moderate success.
By my watch it was 11pm on the 3rd of February 2013 but in spite of the fact that neither Doc Brown nor Marty McFly were anywhere to be seen we had somehow touched down in Addis Ababa on the 26th of January 2005! 8 years younger- how bad!
(See here for further details http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopian_calendar )
It was dark, it was my very first time in Africa and with the big Irish head on me I stuck out like a sore thumb. So I was feeling pretty vulnerable when I peered around the corner in arrivals to see if anyone had come to collect me.
I was so grateful to see the little man holding the VSO sign that I nearly kissed him! It was a great relief and we set off for the hotel without much ado.
It was night time in Addis but there was nobody asleep in the place at all- it was alive! Everything along the short route from the airport to the hotel was an assault on my senses, a riotous and contradictory cacophony of sights sounds and smells- the smell of incense, of hot, sweet spiced tea and coffee, of human waste; donkeys, dogs, goats, minibuses, jeeps and pedestrians all vying for right of way on the unpaved roads, kids playing football on the street (which always makes me smile), neon coloured palm trees illuminating the main boulevard, buildings seemingly held up with matchsticks (which I later found out was scaffolding); competing calls to prayer both orthodox and muslim, traditional strains of ornamented music as well as the thud, thud, thud of distant nightclubs, poverty and modernity everywhere.
We arrived at the hotel and two men with kalashnikovs slung over their shoulder carried my bags up to my room. I later found out they were security guards but at the time I was a bit disorientated and I wasn’t a hundred per cent sure whether I should stay and fight them for my luggage or leave them to it!
The hotel, it was safe to say, was like no other I ever stayed at. But it was grand.
And after a very long day I was very glad to be able to close the door behind me and be on my own for a while.
And so that was how I spent my first night ever in Africa, safe and happy, just me and the friendly cockroach I found in the bathroom for company.