First of all I want to say an enormous thank you for your fantastic guides, certainly the best of their kind for anyone wanting to create their own adventure rather than follow someone else’s.
Secondly, I want to say that I have fallen in love with Addis, so much so that I have barely seen the rest of Ethiopia in my eight months here. The only other capital city I know that feels as much like a huge family as Addis is La Paz, and I fell in love with there for years too.
There are two very, very common pick pocket techniques now circulating round Addis Ababa. One is where the thief turns and spits, ‘accidentally’ getting some spit on you. He then apologized profusely, pulls out tissues and wipes the spit off your leg. While doing so he grabs what he can from your pocket, under the cover and distraction of the hand wiping your trousers and profuse apologies. This has happened to me twice this week and several times before. The only thing you can do is force the spitter to give you the tissues rather than let him clean you. If there is a policeman about I’d also shout to him.
The second is particularly common among child tissue sellers. In short, if a child tries to sell you tissues from a tray, he is a pickpocket, and you must make sure he doesn’t get close to you. He will push the tray into your side, while reaching into your pockets underneath the tray. This technique is now commonly reinforced by operating in pairs. One tries to sell you the tissues using the aforementioned technique, while simultaneously one of his mates comes up to you on the other side of you and tries to distract you. One man a couple weeks ago did this by shouting “Ahh English football football!!” on my right side, while a boy tried to shove his tray into my left side. A boy last night did this by begging and clawing at me, again while a boy on my other side tried to shove his tray of tissues into my side. Once me and a friend had around 8 boys all crowd round each of us at once, although it was less pickpocketing and more just trying to shove their hands into our pockets blatantly. I have never felt remotely physically threatened, and firmly grabbing the boy with the tray round the shoulders and moving him to to the same side of you as his friend has always made them give up.
These techniques are tried on me about once a week in Piassa, Churchill Road, Meskal Square, and several locations on or around Bole Road. Pickpockets also apparently operate in the buses and shared taxis, and while I think I felt one once and moved seats, I have never caught them red-handed in these locations. Indeed when I have got buses, (as opposed to shared taxis), everyone has been unbelievably friendly, I guess because it is so rare to see faranji on the big buses.
Another thing I wanted to mention – the pharmacy 300m east of Hotel Taitu, on the steep north-south road between Piassa’s Ethiopian Airlines roundabout and routes downhill to Kazanchis etc, overcharges faranji by three or four hundred percent. It is not something you can appeal for sense on, as the proprietor is the guiltiest at this.
Another medical tip that might be good – if you start dating an Ethiopian, you can get “couple’s HIV tests” for around 50 Birr in about twenty minutes. The difference with couples tests is that both ‘testees’ are present for each other’s results. A friend is an HIV counsellor and very occasionally sees partners get positive results then tell their partner they’re negative.
Finally, next time you visit do stop by at Fekat Circus. These are the people guilty of making me fall in love with Addis, they are a social circus that does performances, as well as visiting every child in the Black Lion peadiatric ward dressed as doctor-clowns, and training vulnerable children in Addis’s orphanages and street children projects. To find them go to Tomoca Cafe, continue west about 200 metres, then there is a muddy track running southwards downhill. You go past the Marie Stopes Clinic on your left, then Fekat Circus is on your right – you can’t miss the colourful fencing. There are children being trained 6 afternoons a week, email firstname.lastname@example.org to see if they have any performances, (at their own compound, Alliance Ethio-Francais or Italian Cultural Centre, always free).