A Clash of Cultures in Addis Ababa

Departing Dubai

As my flight departs from Dubai I observe the changing landscape below me. Sand, mud, and seawater are swirling through my eyes like a kaleidoscope of marble paint on a fresh palate. Vast channels are carved out by the machines of man leaving deep blue rifts in their wake.

The shining contrast of the hot white sand reflects through my window and the world outside lives in a seemingly perpetual haze. Areas of development are boldly met by the smoothest, faultless stretch of sand you could ever imagine. Artistic perfection and a portrait of earth and mans coexistence.

Channels are carved for miles to feed water to the arid landscape; branching spidery veins into oblivion. Then, this is the most barren landscape I’ve ever laid eyes on. For thousands and thousands of miles, nothing.

A stray house lost on the face of earth, a stray road that isn’t even straight despite dead flatness. Were they blinded by the desert sand?

Arriving in Addis

Instead of sand and definitive clusters of houses, buildings dot the landscape like pock marks. What could only have been tin roofs reflect back at me, like acne on the face of Africa; shining diamonds miles below.

Deep wide valleys split the land and expose its insides like a raw wound, and rivers run quick after the great rains. Not the landscape of lions and safari animals like I had envisioned, but of rich greens, gushing waterfalls, and an imagination of crowds of migratory birds. The source of the Nile bubbles here, and it’s no wonder they call it the true Garden of Eden.

On the ground reality is somewhat different. Man has troubled the landscape, and skeletons of buildings and rubble are the new existence. The air smells like vehicle pollution and dirt, and it breaks your heart to look away as people bang on your windows for money.

Addis Ababa Cinema Streets of Addis Ababa Dodgy Scaffolding Ethiopia Rubble Addis Ababa And then through all of this, you’re whisked away to your little retreat on the outskirts of the city, a 5 * oasis where you could be in almost any country in the world. The experience is the same, the food is the same, and you wake up to your ten pillows and room service. It felt somewhat inhumane.

In my other life as a conference programmer, day-to-day existence means developing the platform for international hoteliers to do business and expand in places like Africa. It’s a rags versus riches story and you wonder what impact your small pebble of input will have on places like Addis Ababa, and Ethiopia.

Haile Gebreselassie at AHIFTraditional 5 Star

Do you approach life with the glass half full mentality where foreign direct investment equals more jobs for the locals and eventually a better quality of life? Who knows… it just feels dirty…

But back to the story.

One thing this combination of traditional culture and westernization does develop is incredible dance, theatre, music and performance art. Performances that make your heart smile, your eyes glitter and your hips shake. Spirit lifting African rhythms combined with a modern dance twists to make you hope and desire that one day you could wake up and be able to move like that.

And boy, did we try. And if you know me, you know not by my own choice. White honkeys with illiterate bodies stamping, clapping and hollering as the coloured flesh around us shook and vibrated and gyrated. Lives got so entangled you couldn’t tell who was performing for who. I’ve never felt so embarrassed and limited by my own body in my 25 years, but it’s an experience I will NEVER forget.

Key things to do while you’re in Addis Ababa

  1. Visit the Ethiopian National Museum

By Western standards you may not even bat an eyelid at the exhibitions, but this museum hosts one of the most important collections in Sub-Saharan Africa and will teach you about the true evolution of mankind. You’ll met Lucy, a 3.2 million year old human skeleton that proves how tiny we once were, and how we’ve evolved into the massive beasts we are today.

Ethiopian National Museum National Museum of Ethiopia Lucy, Ethiopia Lucy Evolution Ethiopia

2. Go to the Gaslight Nightclub

This nightclub is renowned for being the absolute best club in Ethiopia. With an exclusive members area and incredible selection of both local and international drinks [try Tez, or St. George local beer] this club is not to be missed. Once even Beyoncé performed there. We hired it for a private function but I’m sure it’s more rocking than appears in these images. Surely less middle-aged men in suits…

Gaslight Addis Ababa Gaslight Jazz Ethiopia Gaslight Dance Performance3. Last but not least – Jazzamba Lounge at Taitu Hotel

This is an absolute MUST DO, above all else. This venue offers live Ethiopian and International Jazz and seeks to provide a TRUE representation of local music. The highlight of my trip, and apologies for the lack of images – fearful of mixing local spirits and my camera kit.



  1. Laura

    The Jazz Lounge looks amazing!! Very jealous!! 😀 Glad you had fun though, can’t wait to hear all about it!! 😀

    1. ange

      Somewhere completely out of your/our comfort zone is always good to make us reflect on life,the universe and all that. We are indeed lucky.

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