Showing posts from June, 2011

The world is salt

There were six crew and twenty divers on yesterday's expedition: two Frenchmen who owned the boat; two South African women who were the divemasters; two Djiboutian crew; nineteen members of the US military, ranging from career desk jockeys to some Special Forces dudes, all using their Sunday off to go diving - and one random Canadian tourist. Although at first everyone just assumed I was a new contractor or something, and I wasn't actually outed until just before the second dive. It wasn't until then that the Special Forces dudes started talking to me. It seems the military has implicit but clear social hierarchies. They seemed to approve that I had randomly come to Djibouti, and they seemed pretty plugged-in, too; when I mentioned I had originally planned to visit a friend in South Sudan, they started joking that it was Joseph Kony, a name none of the regular military recognized. Alas, I think they started watching what they talked about, then, too; the best semi-overheard

At the edges of the world

I'm always amazed by how quickly the alien becomes familiar. On my first day in Mombasa it seemed strange and surreal to be the only guest in a 100-room Indian Ocean beach resort at the very end of a long, winding road; two days later it seemed perfectly normal. Two weeks ago I flew into Addis Ababa and made my way through and from the airport dazed and confused, uncertain and nervous lest something go wrong; two days ago I did the same thing and cruised through impatiently without even really bothering to think about the process. I do not think that will happen if I ever return to Djibouti, though, as the airport process is so comically chaotic. After dancing back and forth and back and forth between three different locations in the arrival hall to get my visa, I emerged into the suffocating heat only to find that the only bureau de change had closed for the next few hours. Fortunately my enterprising taxi driver took US dollars. Fortunate and unsurprising; we passed a vast US Ai

Transport, landscapes, books

Let us consider, then, the various modes of transport here in Ethiopa. First, of course, there is one's feet; very popular, if largely due to necessity. A few people go barefoot, though most wear sandals. Earlier today I followed an elderly man with one foot sandalled and one bare for some time; we moved at the same pace, across gravel-dusted tarmac, though I was booted. Well-dressed women wear heels. And in Addis (though not here, so far as I can tell) running shoes are also very popular. Running is the national sport. At 6AM joggers rove all about Addis Ababa. Some are portly office-warrior types. Some are good. Some are really, really good . The best of the best - Haile Gerbreselassie (sic? Internet too slow to Google), the world marathon champion and record-holder - is Ethiopian. Here in Axum, the bicycle is also very popular. This surprised me. The Chinese influence again, perhaps? It's not exactly Shanghai 1997 and its river of bicycles, but I don't think I've bee

Notes from the Ancient North

* It is official: Sub-Saharan Africa is freaking booming . I mean, I know the numbers have been saying that for some time; Addis Ababa certainly feels like a boomtown, cranes and construction sites everywhere, and even so the people I talked to there lamented about how Kenya is leaving them behind; but here I am in faraway Axum, an ancient city of some 40,000 near the Eritrean border - and when all construction projects underway here have finished, they will have, at a conservative estimate, quintupled the number of multi-story buildings in town. Not to mention all the roadwork underway. Of course, who knows how long some of these projects may have languished half-complete? And yet even so their very existence says something, and I heard hammering coming from the couple that I passed... * The boom definitely has something to do with massive Chinese investment. The blanket in my current hotel is a "Jin Quo Han" (sic?) blanket. My internet connection in Lalibela was establishe