Driving vs Walking
Both are a bit frightening for newcomers.
The tour books suggest using taxis while in Addis, rather than renting a car. It did not take long to figure out why! Most roads have no dividing lines, but even when they do, it is just regarded as a suggestion. In 3 weeks I’ve lost count of the number of times I thought my taxi was going to get crushed between 2 buses. Based on how beat-up the taxis are, it looks like they have been playing bumper cars. People seem to drive every which way they want to. Some intersections look like a patchwork quilt and I still haven’t figured out how they decide who has the right of way. I haven’t gotten any pictures that truly show what it is like, but there are videos on YouTube if you want to see. There is almost constant honking, but the beeps are short and seem to be a form of communication between the drivers.
My sense of direction is lacking, so I found a ‘map’ shortly after arriving. I have found a few problems with this map: it is only showing a small percentage of the actual roads; many roads have multiple names (in theory); even if a road has a name, it is kept secret by not posting street signs; everyone I have asked for directions and shown my map to has made it quite obvious that it was a novelty. Basically directions are based on notable landmarks and the locals just get close to their destination, and then start asking other people to help them finish navigating wherever they are going.
Crossing the roads as a pedestrian is like playing a real life version of Frogger (remember that 80s video game?). I have mostly gotten used to it, but still very much prefer to cross the larger roads with a local (or five) between me and the oncoming traffic. Addis has “winter” rain storms almost every afternoon. The roads do not have very good drainage, so the rain turns all of the unpaved areas into mud pits. The positive side is that it creates booming shoe polishing and car washing businesses for the young entrepreneurs.
Most of my walk from work to my apartment has sidewalks. Unfortunately, they are laying down very nice looking bricks on the sidewalks that become VERY slippery when wet causing many people to opt to just walk in the street. There is also a lot of underground utility work being done through access holes in the sidewalks.
Essentially my walk home is an obstacle course from beginning to end with me just trying to stay upright. The challenges: avoid the cars and buses with crazy rivers, , try to walk on the least muddy areas, don’t fall in a hole, don’t slip and fall on the pretty bricks, avoid the construction materials on the sidewalks, weave between all of the other people walking, don’t let people follow me home, and politely tell all of the people trying to sell me stuff that I am not interested.
While avoiding the obstacles, I am still able to observe the fruit and veggie stands; little clothing, shoe, and phone stores; homeless people; small children begging for money or selling gum and tissue; men peeing wherever they happen to be; an old lady stealing newly-poured concrete from a sidewalk; women grilling corn cobs and making traditional Ethiopian coffee; small restaurants with only a few seats; old shacks being torn down to make room for new construction; furniture stores, and high-end home improvement stores (does anyone want a 8 foot glass chandelier?).
Behind the bustling street-side shops are corrugated metal shacks that people live in, while a few roads away there are mansions and luxury hotels. The wide disparity between people is much more noticeable in Addis than in any other cities I have visited.