The Piazza - Addis Ababa
May 14, 2005
Everyone thinks of Ethiopia as "Starving babies". But, I'll always
remember Ethiopia rather differently -- "Beautiful girls; great Italian
Most streets in Ethiopia don't have a name. Even if they have a name, it's rarely used. The street where I lived for 3 months may have been called "Taito Street", but I'm not sure. Whatever it was called, it sits right in the middle of the Piazza; an old neighborhood with more recent Italian influences. The street where I lived reminded me of Broadway in San Francisco. Not the new, yuppie Broadway, but Broadway in the good old days when it was dirty and sleazy; full of strip clubs, neon signs, beggars, and drug dealers.
Taito Street has hookers in the bars rather than strippers. The
discos are lit up by neon, but nothing as provocative as Carol
Doda's nipples. The pace of life is slower in Ethiopia, and Taito
Street is just a small one lane, one-way street. But, just like San
Francisco, Addis has its share of homeless beggars. Unfortunately,
a disproportionate number of them are kids. Kids as young as 5,
wander from bar to bar in the evenings selling gum, peanuts, and
cigarettes. Police patrol the street in pairs; one carries a stick, the
other carries an AK47. The big guns were initially intimidating, but
slowly I realized that the police only carry AK47s because they are
the cheapest gun available - handguns are damn expensive. As for
the drug dealers, some of the annoying tour guides doubled as drug
dealers and sold weed. But, if I ever had an urge for
'chat', which is the local drug of choice, I could just send one of
the young hookers out to buy me some at local prices. You can't quite
do that in San Francisco.
Every hotel that I've stayed in in Ethiopia has included a bar, a brothel, and a disco, but the National Hotel in Addis had the most character by far. (note: National Hotel in the Piazza, not the expensive one downtown.)
Downstairs, there is a new extension and the rooms are small depressing cells, intended to be rented out by the hour. But, the hotel is old, and upstairs the rooms are nice with high ceilings and hardwood floors. I got the best room in the place with a private 15- foot wide balcony overlooking the street.
The bar itself was apparently last redecorated in the early 1960s. Palm trees and beach scenes were painted on the walls. Colored beaded lamps hung down from the ceiling, and everything else was done in shades of pastel.
During the day, the National bar served mostly coffee, tea and juice. Business was often slow, and so I quickly made friends with the pretty young waitresses who worked there. Half of them would flirt with me constantly. My wealth, relatively speaking, and my ability to possibly get them an American visa was undoubtedly attractive, but it was more than that. Pale white skin and big noses, are both considered very sexy in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, I'm hot!
At 6pm, the relaxed, quiet atmosphere of the bar would change dramatically. The nice girls would head home, and the hookers would come in for their shift. But, these weren't your standard hookers. The biggest girl in the place was the most popular with the customers. She was huge, with pale skin, and overly curled black hair. The rest of the girls, with an exception or two, just had really, huge asses. It would seem that Ethiopian men are into that type of figure since the bar was full every night.
The National Bar was sometimes a pretty wild scene, but fortunately, it closed at 11pm every night. I say "fortunately" because my room was directly above the bar, and my bed would shake from the music until the bar closed. But, a dozen other bars and discos surrounded the National, and they would play loud music until 3am or later. I'd often sit on my balcony before heading to bed and watch all the action. I can't recommend the hotel to other tourists because all the noise might bother them, but I slept like a baby. After months of living in dormitories in Kampala and Nairobi, I can sleep right through almost anything.
And that was my home for three months. Seedy and loud as hell.
But that suits me. In the mornings, I'd find condoms floating in the
shared toilet, which wasn't pleasant. But, with a cheap, nice room in
the center of the Piazza, a huge balcony overlooking the street, and
draft beer for only $0.20 a glass in the hotel's bar, I wasn't going to
There were dozens of bars within two blocks of my hotel. But, I never managed to count the exact number because some random unmarked doors were actually bars. A few of them would only open up late Saturday nights and you'd never know that they were bars unless you poked your head in.
My favorite bar on the street wasn't much bigger than a closet. I'd stop by every evening for the daily coffee ceremony. The bar actually had three coffee ceremonies every day, but I'd only come by for the last of them. The owner, Abret, couldn't speak a word of English, but she made me feel very welcome. I'd hang out every evening for an hour studying Amharic and drinking soda while waiting for the coffee to be prepared. Then, I'd often come back later for some beer.
Hanging out in the bar ever day, I quickly befriended some of the prostitutes. This was a bit difficult for me. It's sad and scary when pushy, violent men are hitting on your friends and taking them home. The other extreme is also sad, when there aren't any customers. When the bar is empty, the girls sit around looking bored and annoyed. I often hoped that some customers would come in to take them home, because honestly they're here to make money.
The question that kept running through my mind, and for which I never came up with an answer is - "How do you help a prostitute?" I considered giving them money, but I learned that they all get their hair done twice a month, and they spend a fortune on it. What's the point of giving money to help a prostitute if all she's going to do with it is spend it on her hair? I suppose you can't help a prostitute. I'd learned this lesson before and wrote about it in the [ Back in Cambodia ] journal entry, but it still apparently hasn't sunk in. The life of a hooker is sad, but life in the 3rd world, in general, is often sad. As bad a being as hooker in a bar is, there are no other job opportunities for them, and it is in many ways better than the lives that many Ethiopians lead; subsistence farming and risking starvation.
Enough of this depressing talk. I hung out at the bar because I liked the owner and the girls who worked there. Sometimes it was sad, but other times it was just damn good fun. One night, I took a couple of other tourists over to my favorite bar. We walked in and found a great scene, with everyone dancing. One guy was dancing with a bottle of beer balanced on top of his head. It was an amazing, almost, but not quite, Cirque de Soleil level act with him twirling around and jumping up and down, with the bottle seemingly glued to his head.
Dancing in Ethiopia takes some getting used to. In America, we dance too much with our arms and hands. In South America, dancing is all about shaking your hips. But, here it's all about how you shake your shoulders. I never got used to it. Listening to the music, I'd first start tapping my foot - but then I'd remember that's not how people dance here. Then, I'd do a little head bobbing, but that's not right either. Finally, I'd start shaking my shoulders, and all the girls in the bar would give me an eye - wow, there's a guy who knows how to dance.
I obviously didn't like the aggressive men who made me fear for my friend's safety. But, some of the guys in the bar were interesting and almost all of them would buy me lots of beer. Their insistence on buying me drinks seemed to be a combination of a culture of hospitality to guests, and an immature desire to show off the money that they had. But, my worst nightmare was the drunk guys who thought that they could speak English, but couldn't. Over loud music, they'd keep shouting at me. And, I'd have to keep repeating over and over, "I don't understand!" "What are you saying?" It was utterly exhausting, and there never seemed to be any escape other than leaving the bar.
After all the time of being sick in East Africa, I'd forgotten how great it
is to drink just for drinking's sake.
So far, I've talked about sleazy bars and prostitutes, but the Piazza is more than that. Unlike most of Africa, Ethiopia almost completely escaped colonization by the Western Powers, which gives it a very unique and independent culture. Italy managed to subdue Ethiopia for only 10 years. During those years, the Italians were evil bastards, but they did leave behind stylish blue taxis, a passion for fantastic food, and a fetish for the best espresso machines. I think that you can get a better Macchiato in Addis Ababa then you can get in San Francisco.
My favorite restaurant in the Piazza was a Persian restaurant named Omar Khayam. It was authentic and stylish; one section had tables and chairs, the other section had couches and cushions where you could relax while you ate. The mixed grill was 3 types of lamb (lamb kebabs, lamb chops and lamb sausage) plus soup, rice, vegetables, french fries, and bread - all of this for only $1. Draft beer was $0.20 a glass, shots of Araki were $0.30, and half bottles of drinkable local red wine were $1. It was hard to find a reason not to eat there almost every night.
I also ate regularly at my hotel. The restaurant was surprisingly nice. On occasion, I'd order Ethiopia's National dish which is Kitfo; raw beef, ground up, and mixed with lots of butter, and a served with a very spicy berbere powder. But, most of the times that I ate at the hotel, I'd go vegetarian and order the very tasty and artistic, mixed salad with decoratively cut beets and potatoes.
Another favorite place was a rooftop Italian restaurant where I'd go for lunch - the bread was fresh and delicious, and the soup was spectacular. The pasta was good too, but I always showed up for the soup. The soup was world-class; almost as good as anything that you'd find in San Francisco. The difference is that here a two- course lunch of pasta and soup costs only $1.25.
Raizel was by far the trendiest cafe in the Piazza. The furniture was made of polished glass and aluminum. Faux pillars lined the walls. And an upper gallery had a view down upon the ground floor. The crowd consisted of the hip, the hipper, and the runway models. But, as there is in most of Africa, a double standard exists. White equates with money, so tourists like me are always welcome, no matter how sloppily they are dressed.
Enrico's was the first patisserie in Addis Ababa, and it definitely has
the best cake. The owner is an Italian woman who hasn't learned to
speak Amharic despite living in the country for 30 years. It is a
striking contrast to Raizel. There was no decoration at all. One
counter served the cake, one counter served the coffee, and the half-
dozen basic tables were always full. Every morning it was a
madhouse, the tables would be full and every bit of counter space
would be taken by standing crowds. Their specialty was small
custard cakes - balls filled with custard, yellow cake with custard
layers, and my favorite white cake with delicate flaky crust layers,
custard layers, cake layers, and a powdered sugar top - all done
perfectly. My only complaint about Enrico's is they were too popular
and far too often, when I wanted cake, they'd be sold out of
3 months in Addis
I spent 6 weeks in Addis waiting for my laptop to arrive. I'd start most mornings at Enrico's for an espresso and cake. I'd then waste away the days hanging out at The Baro, a tourist hotel, around the corner from my hotel. I'd usually have tea or juice at my hotel, and hang out with the pretty girls (my friends) there. Then, later I'd have another mixed juice at a little shop around the corner. And before I knew it, the day would be over, and I would head over to my favorite bar for the evening coffee ceremony. After coffee and then after dinner, it would be time to start drinking.
I probably would have traveled around Ethiopia while waiting for my laptop to be fixed, but I had no idea how long it would take. I truly expected to send it off and have it back in two weeks (but I'll talk more about that in a later journal entry). Then I got stuck in Addis again struggling to get a visa to enter Sudan. Amazingly, that took another 6 weeks. (Again, I'll tell this story in another journal entry).
And so, I spent 3 months in Addis. It started to feel very much like home. I had lots of local friends, and I knew all the best places to eat. Again, the double standard showed up. Because I was white, I was offered a job teaching Computer Science at the University. Beautiful girls, fantastic food, and incredible coffee - I was tempted to stay. But, I couldn't do it; I'm not ready to stop anywhere. I still have traveling to do, and places to see.
Leave a comment! I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading.
Ahh, at last. I was suffering Adam withdrawal with so much time between postings. I look forward to your next edition.
barce - Aug 01, 2005
Great stuff. The only thing I found unbelievable was that the machiatos are better in Addis Ababa than in San Francisco. ;-)
San Franciscans take their coffee seriously. But in Ethiopia, coffee is a religion.
Carmel - Aug 02, 2005
I can't believe I forgot to check in here for so long. Keep it coming, Adam! I always enjoy your travelogues so much!
red+leaf+clover - Aug 17, 2005
Gee, how do you help a prostitute? The son of a hippie and a civil rights activist poses the question as if it's rhetorical. He's been thinking about it since Cambodia afterall. Oh wait, I know, I could give her money. Naw, he reasons, she'll just spend it on her hair. Out of ideas he returns to his beer..
ron - Sept 21, 2005
HI, I am from Michigan, single, white 50, and I am going to ethiopia next week fro 3 months just goofing off nothing serious and wonder if you know a hotel that is near the piazza but maybe a bit quieter than yours was? And without bed bugs. Thank you for writng your stuff, it really tells me what a place is like rather than all this sugar frosted shit on line which tells me nothing.
olivier - Sept 29, 2005
It was a pleasure to read your story.
I'm more or less like you as I travel a lot around Africa and I do enjoy such places you mentioned in your msg.
So far, I've been in Congo-Brazza, DRC (West to East), Cameroon, Kampala, Nairobi, Angola, Mozambic, South Africa. Before the end of the year, I'll go to Addis and Asmara (DRC and Angola again).
Next year, I'll go to Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar, and again back to some of these a/m countries.
If you know good places there, tell me ! I'd be interested in visiting such places as you described in your story.
And if you are still around Africa, May be we can be travelling in the country/city at the same time...
KOMBA - Dec 17, 2005
i wiil go to addis ababa in thr first week of 2006
how much is a hotel with a shower room isnside cost?thanks
Rooms with attached shower start around 70 birr (US$8)
Harold Barracks - Dec 26, 2005
I real with great interest your story about Ethiopia. I plan to travel there in February 2006. Where exactly in Piazza is the Persian restaurant Omar Khayam located? If you give me more detailed directions that will indeed be a great help. Since you had made friends with some of the prostitutes hanging around the bars, have you by any chance inquired as to their reasons for being in this trade? The obvious answer would be poverty but there may also be additional situation that is forcing girls to join this trade. How much do the prostitutes charge? Isn't AIDS a concern to them?
I just published a guide for Addis Ababa.
Poverty is of course a huge factor in driving women into prostitutions. But also I also believe that sometimes women who are abandoned by their husbands may be also shunned by their families and unable to find any other way to make a living.
Of course AIDs is a concern to them. As for the prices, it varies. But I think that the price for a tourist in the Piazza is about $20.
Blastoff - Mar 23, 2006
Thanks again for shedding some light on this situation and expressing your excellent report. I will put this country on my list for this year. Just a question, as everything is so cheap, how much are the prostitutes asking for sex for all night from a tourist? Also if a tourist doesn't speak their language and is not a Muslim, is it easy to communicate with most people and is the no religious racism against Christians in this country?
> is it easy to communicate with most people and is the no religious racism against Christians in this country?
People speak varying degrees of English from good to none. It largely depends on where you are. In any touristy areas you'll always find people who speak English.
Ethiopia is about 50% Coptic Christian, so you won't find any religious racism against Christians there. The Christianity in Ethiopia is very old and very interesting.
David Dylan - Apr 03, 2006
I do not know what to think of your articles. They are confusing me; I do not know if they are objective, subjective or mad confusion.
Come out of it - say openly that you love Asia. End of story and Ethiopia due to some sex maybe?
Some countries you dissed was unwarranted. But that is your confusion - a word of advice - I would not buy your articles with my shekels.
Some times they are objective. Other times they are subjective.
I think that traveling the world is sometimes mad confusion.
I'm not sure which countries I dissed, but if you don't like my writing you are welcome not to read it.
shiva - Apr 25, 2006
hi friends ,im male 28/india/bangalore
im looking for cute N sexy african girl for date
kindly if any body intrested pl send me your pic to my email email@example.com OK i assure u ,you wil have very nice time with me OK take care byeeee
timbo - May 07, 2006
hay , i am from ethiopia.But i donot live there now.Most of the things you said are true.i knew
piazza and the women.THE LAST time i was in ethiopia was 18 yrs ago and i am 38.But i grew up
around piazza and it is my dream to go back and see.I used to love the girls you described when i was there but that time i didnot have money.I am
taking money from usa and try to have fun this time.As the prostitution issue i donot see anything wrong with it as long as there is mutal respect.i have no problem being friend to prostitutes.most of my friends in usa were prostitutes and very nice people. i love prostitutes from all countries and try to treat them with respect.
i enjoyed your article because it was honest and
i cannot wait to see my old place after 18 yrs.
AS GIRLS WITH HUGE ASSES , WE LOVE THEM.ETHIOPIAN
ARAB,SPANISH AND INDIAN GIRLS WITH HUGE ASSES DRIVE ME INSANE !!!!!!! HAVE FUN
WE LOVE ASSES !
> i enjoyed your article because it was honest and 90% accurate.
Thanks. 90% is a lot better than average for writers and journalists. :-)
Chris - Jun 20, 2006
The Hipster photos looks as if you have taken them with your camera hanging from your hand, mid-thigh. Did you do this because it was risky to take photos in the street or just to get the candid shots?
You're right. Some of the Addis photos were shot discretely with the camera at my hip.
There wasn't any single reason for this.
Those is no real risk, but people sometimes might be annoyed if you take their photos without permission.
I like real street scenes instead of posed photos.
And stylistically, I like the extreme and interesting angles that come from shooting at the hip.
k. - Jun 30, 2006
you think AK47 is more cheaper than pistols? i don't know about that. But i am sure AK47 is automatic and you would be able to more civilian than with pistols. Anyways the ones carry AK47s are not "the Police ";
mikeadu - Jul 14, 2006
I love every picture except about a poor street girls who try to survive pooverty , not for them for thir kids with out father ,that the sad photo ,
Gary - Jul 20, 2006
Love the way you write ....its so detailed yet to the point. I am visiting Addis soon. Are there any massage parlours, russian prostitutes and Indian women for sex.Please reply.
Tiger - Aug 13, 2006
i like your web site a lot, good work.
i may go to Addis Ababa this year, do you think i can rent a small, one bedroom apartment for $70/month?
your mentioned National Hotel, is it a Bar/Hotel or a house?
how much did Lydia change you per hour/night?
(is it a full service, everything goes?)
any place /street you can pick up a girl?
are water / power supply ok there?
(24 hours everyday?)
where did you stay and how much did you pay per night?
any internet cafe there?
is there a black market for US Dollar?
(1 USD = 10-12 Br?)
have a nice day
Suraj Radhakrishnan - Dec 29, 2006
Quite an interesting read! The only problem is that my wife doesn't fancy the idea of going to Ethiopia and I am not a white American. :)
Hallie - Mar 14, 2007
You are just another sad white man trying to get some sex from black woman,All you horney racist bastered just want use are poor black woman for sex. White men these woman think you guy's are very very ugly. They cringe when they look at your ugly asses. They love beautiful brown and black skin. All they want is green dead white president's.
arnie - Jun 13, 2007
yes, its great the way things have been noticed and explained. i was in addis over a year ago and i must say the travelouge above says it all.
keep them coming....lovely reading really adam!!
Fuck head - Aug 22, 2007
Fuck You Whoever wrote this!!!
Ethio Dude - Aug 24, 2007
A thing on the Italian occupation: We were never colonised. And there were only FIVE not TEN years of war while they were here. They never had FULL control of the whole city let alone the whole country. It was an OCCUPATION not a COLONIZATION.
And ... I DOUBT you were good at the dancing thing ... there's a saying: "White men can't dance!" LEt alone do the Ethiopian Iskista. Sorry, dude !
mario - Sept 04, 2007
good! i have liked it. i'm going in october and i' have got a real taste about what could be stayng there.something warm not cold as in guidebooks or wherever else. thank's bye mario
any anger left for italians?
- Nov 05, 2007
I Can't understand you guys coming for a couple of months and writing stuffs as if you've been here forever. Get accurate information first please!
* Pale skin and big nose??!! Geez! Get over yourself! Most people like brown "chocolate" skin and i don't even know where you got the "big nose" idea.
* "White equates with money, so tourists like me are always welcome, no matter how sloppily they are dressed." Kind of true about white = money but i don't know why most tourists wear very dirty clothes..so dirty tht sometimes you can see the stains..disgusting! Especially in Addis where people are crazy about fashion...
To Mario, there is no anger towards Italians, acutaly there are still many people who speak italian, many love Italian Food and FootBAll! VIVA AZZURRI!! Ma cerca di trovare tanti informazioni quanto possibile prima di venire..nn credere tutto quello che e' scritto nel siti smili come questo. A volte non sanno quello che scrivono. NOn dico che non e' vero ..ma non tutto!
Raoul - Nov 19, 2007
I am going to Addis for a year to work. How much would a decent house(two to three bedrooms, all with bathrooms and toilets, a kitchen, a garage) cost me? And of course, in a very safe and clean area.
I would love also to live in a place not reserved not reserved to expatriate only as I noticed some african countries have them.
Could you have any idea about furnitures?
Thanks my dear for helping.
P.S. Just in case you are notinformed, would you, please pass me an email adress of some one who is there?
Thanks a lot
vincent - Jan 23, 2008
I read your article,
its very interesting and usefull to the travellers.