Coming from London to a much more impoverished place is pretty humbling as it is, but on Monday morning we visited an Orphanage in the middle of Addis to drop off some donations we had all bought and meet some of the children and volunteers. The orphanage houses children from birth up to 18 including a few with physical and mental severe learning difficulties who had been abandoned by their parents because of their disabilities. Very sad. The volunteers, many of them European particularly Austrian had their hands full with all the remarkably bright, happy and intelligent children. No more so than those looking after the pre-toddlers who were just learning to crawl and were off like a shot given half a chance! We spent most of our time with a group for 5-8 year olds during their lunch hour in one of the playgrounds, the girls were fascinated by Suzanne, partly down to her hair and partly down to her camera which they all got great joy out of having a go! Clearly young boys (no matter their situation) are the same in Ethiopia as in probably any other country of the world; a football was soon brought out and the boys, including myself and the other men in our group, were haring round after it. I’d love to say it was at least a score draw but anyone who has seen me play football probably wouldn’t believe it..
At the end of their break we left the orphanage, back to our tourist lives, which reinforced the view of how lucky we all were. The afternoon was spent by a swimming pool filled with water provided by natural hot springs, at the Hilton Hotel (I guess they get everywhere?!) Its fortunate that the pools were heated as, although it’s relatively warm, 20-25 degrees Celsius, the altitude means its not quite hot enough to warrant at dip in a cold pool. After a much needed few hours of R&R we headed from the pools down to Meskel Square in the heart of Addis. As well as heaving with people, traffic and train (think Trafalgar Square plus the Champs-Elysees on speed) its home to a huge set of steps about 200 metres wide. Hundreds of the Addis population come here to train, I guess there is no abundance of commercial gyms in this part of the world (none with Lucozade machines at least) so the stairway was filled with people of all shapes and sizes doing a huge number of different work outs: jogging, inverted press ups, jumps and bounds, stair sprints and so many different complicated and sometimes baffling stretches and drills it was tiring just standing there watching. I wont even try to imagine how hard it might actually be with the combination of altitude and smog that hung over the place.
The next morning was our turn to raise our heart rates with a hill sessions with the large group of runners that train in the area. Specifically 20 mins warm up followed by 10 times 200m hill sprints. It was hard, although the locals didn’t seem to be finding it as tough as the rest of us. It was easy to find a little bit more motivation when you stand at the bottom and watch one of the fastest 800m runners of all time, Mohammed Aman, cruise his way up and down the hill. If he can do it I can, right? 10 reps done for both me and Zan, with her knee holding up well to get through the session! Back to the hotel for a dip in the ice bath (swimming pool) to try and recover.
After being here for a few days we decided it was time to do a bit of shopping, and where better else to head than Africa’s largest market! Mental. Incredible, but mental. Apparently you can get anything, hub caps, spices, iron poles of any length, plastic containers, football shirts. But it was impossible to do any shopping, you couldn’t stand still for any period of time for fear of being taken out by a sheet of corrugated metal or a bag of oranges! Walking through for an hour left you feeling like you’d been hit by a whirlwind. We did manage to compose ourselves near the edge where it was a bit quieter (still much busier than Walthamstow market) to buy a few bits and bobs. Time for a well deserved lunch: we had a lovely buffet at Ethiopia’s oldest hotel (1880’s) which was really nicely decked out with old wooden furniture and decorations. The food was pretty good too and thankfully more modern than the hotel!
This morning we headed out early to do our morning run up in the high hills above Addis (3,000 meters above sea level) talking while running was especially difficult but the views of the city were just about worth it. We meandered through a forrest up to the summit, luckily our guide had a good idea of where we were because I was well lost after 3 minutes and has promised he delivered us back to the meeting point after 70 minutes where we were encouraged to do some strides. Taking on the mules laden with straw and logs over 50 meters is much easier than the Ethiopian athletes, even if they do chase you hoping for a bit of food! On the way down from the hill tops we stopped off at another market specialising in local cloths and outfits. Some of the garments on display were clearly made by skilled people and looked to be warm for he cold mountain nights, I probably would have invested if we weren’t heading to warmer, lower ground in a few days!
That brings us up to now, where we have just enjoyed lunch in the garden of the hotel after being introduced to Haile Gebrselassie (not the emperor discussed previously, but arguably the greatest distance runner of all time) he owns this hotel and was very friendly and chatty and his famous smile is bigger in real life than on the TV. As is he, perhaps even taller than Darren so not to tiny after all..