Monthly Archives: July 2011


lorry loaded with recycling materieals, Addis Ababa

Mercato is apparently Africa’s biggest outdoor market. But if that gives the impression of acres of canvas covered stalls it is not like that all. It is more a vast area dedicated to trading. Yes there are pitches on the streets but there are also wooden shacks, corrugated iron shacks, mud wall buildings and indoor arcades. And you can buy just about anything – including apparently camels though we did not see any. A few words to sum up my thoughts about Mercato would include chaotic, muddy, noisy, confusing, and bewildering. The guide books all issue dire warnings about crime in this market and I guess they have some justification but I wish I had risked bringing my camera. We picked up a ‘guide’ as soon as we arrived – this time a middle aged guy. Actually I will go back a bit and talk about the taxi ride first.

Taxis in Addis are all blue painted Ladas. Old Ladas and the odd Datsun. Those Datsuns from the 70s that are shaped a bit like Ford Capris. Sara Mac used to call them greaseball cars. The paint jobs are hand done – I mean painted by hand rather than sprayed. These cars are small and decidedly tatty and smoky and many don’t have lights. They all have a piece of material – like chenille or sometimes fake fur – draped over the space between the dashboard and the screen. You get a cab by finding one and negotiating a price. We are a big group so we always need two. Rebecca does the bargaining as we don’t speak Amharic. This can take some time and it is tempting to not argue over another 50p but that is just not the way it is done. Anyway eventually we are all aboard and we cast off into the river of traffic like flotsam bobbing about in a stream. Driving in Addis is completely bonkers but it is not at all aggressive – very little horn blowing – but then they probably don’t work.  Somehow every vehicle plus a few donkeys, goats, camels (though we are yet to see one) and pedestrians just about manage to avoid collisions. The fumes are horrendous and add that to the lack of oxygen and it can be very unpleasant. There are buses too – big ones and mini-buses but we haven’t braved them yet. They are seriously overcrowded though everyone is inside – they don’t seem to allow hanging off the outside or climbing on the roof. They don’t have any indication of where they are going and I wonder how you get off if you are at the back and your stop comes up.


Anyway we get to the market and the first thing you notice is that everyone is staring at you – with nothing more than fascination for the most part – I am sure most of these people, except  perhaps some of the children have seen white people before but maybe not often. The market does attract traders from miles around though so I suppose there will be some who might not have seen many white people. Many, many people want to practice however much English they have and smile away at us –some just say Lampard or Beckham or Manchester and grin. But there are also the children with little trays of bubblegum or fruit or strange twiggy things  that I have not got a clue (perhaps toothbrushes) about and you are a definite target for them. The approach ranges from plaintive pleas to buy something to what they call ferenje fever – foreigner fever – where half a dozen or more of these children surround you chanting  ‘You You YOU!’  thrusting their wares in your face. Somewhat unnerving but our self-appointed guide shouts at them and they go way.  There are a couple of moments when you feel people are deliberately blocking your path and you are getting sort of bundled but with a little determination we rapidly extricate ourselves. Obviously you do not have bags open and you try to stick in a little group.

Thing is, it is so easy to get distracted. I feel like I am in one of those documentaries they used to show at tea-time on a Sunday afternoon – the World About Us or something. It is all very colourful – huge sacks of spices and incense and bundles of charcoal, and coffee roasters and twig burners fashioned from old tin cans. And huge drums of cooking oil pierced by hand pumps for dispensing into anything from cups to 5 litre cartons. The people are almost as varied as the goods on offer with dozens of different tribal garments, ancient women squatting on sacks of turmeric, younger women with babies slung on their backs, pitiful beggars with leprosy, other who just crawl along the roads with twisted or missing limbs. The smells change every few yards too – one minute it is roasting coffee, then chilli spices (don’t sniff them we are warned), then incense, then something disgusting, then goats. The whole place assaults your every sense. Many stalls seem to sell just one thing but maybe in different sizes – so it might be baskets , or aluminium pans or incense. It is incredibly colourful and fascinating to look at. Another thing I did not expect are the roads – the main ones are tarmac but many of the twisty side streets and alleys are just huge chunks of stone and mud. You have to watch your step all the time – you could easily fall and that would not be much fun on those rocks. There is constant activity here – lorries reversing, donkeys – some of them seemingly on their own running down the streets, a man with a pile of green and yellow mattresses twice as tall as he is on his head, people cooking and roasting over charcoal.

Soon it is starting to get dark and we decide it is time to find taxis again. I did grab a few shots on my phone but I would love to go back with the big camera – and maybe a couple of minders.

Having difficulty with uploading at the moment. Also we are both poorly and under the doctor… should survive . But maybe no update for a while

incense in sacks, mercato, addis ababa, ethiopia
Sacks of incense for sale
Posted in Ethiopia Tagged , , |



Fruit and vegetable shop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Arrived in Addis late Thursday. Not too crazy at airport. Queued for visa (very pretty). Went to bag reclaim and found the zip on pack from my big pack missing and all straps undone. Resigned myself to buying new socks and pants and could not remember what else was in there. Then it turned up. Hard to believe it detached itself…

Rebecca & Johnny at airport. Weather warm but very humid. Took shuttle to hotel through endless streets lined with green and yellow striped corrugated iron and dozens of shack shops with shelves piled high with everything imaginable. Modern 4x4s alongside put-puts and old crates with no lights.

Hotel slightly quirky version of Hilton. Bar mainly white people. Big wall plaque with bas relief of Selassie who opened the hotel in the sixties. Staff very friendly and helpful and polite. Drank late whilst waiting for Greville. Eventually get message that his luggage is lost & he is going to be a while  – so we go to bed.


Wake late. Very humid and misty outside. Huge shanty town opposite us with plethora of satellite dishes. Mountain in the distance. Breakfast. Very good with full English, Ethiopian and continental on offer.Shanty town and modern tower block, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Greville is here. But his luggage is not. Not changed in fifteen years. Beautiful gardens and dozens of shops in corridors under hotel. Getting hotter.

Jonny & Menelek arrive and we all go for a walk. Now I know what they mean by culture shock. Immediately gather a gaggle of young boys offering advice, tours, historical info – all in very good English and very polite. We politely rebuff them but two persist and walk with us. Abraham and Abe. They teach us bits of Amharic and warn us about when we can and should not take photos – govt buildings absolutely not. There are signs affirming this. Also when we come to the big church – with chanting emanating – we all start to take pictures. Local older beggars start to shout at our ‘guides’ and they tell us no photos. They say these men are aggressive and if we persist they will take our cameras and beat up our guides. Whether this is true or not we don’t know but we stop taking photos. Photo opportunities are everywhere but reticence stops me from taking many shots. Grab a few  though. The people are beautiful and many very well dressed – though many are obviously destitute too with missing limbs. It is very humid and the lack of oxygen makes walking difficult. Amazed by the friendly smiles and greetings we get – even from the soldiers with their Kalshnikovs.
Blue and white bus in Addis Ababa Ethiopia

In the midst of this bustling city with its four lane highways there are people herding goats and sheep. Surprisingly most cars stop at zebras (crossings not the stripy equines) and even when they are not at zebras. At one point a beaten up old Lada holds up several lanes of traffic just so we can cross. A kind act but a bit scary for us. Buses are ancient and colourful and rammed. Shack shops abound and wherever there is a bit of space people are selling beautiful looking fruit and vegetables. A boy walks by pushing a barrow of prickly pear and two men with barrows full of tomatoes. We stop in a Greek Orthodox Church shop to look at the religious icons and 3d Jesus pictures. Then back to the hotel for a beer and a swim. The ‘guides’ are suitably rewarded – I think we are over generous but they don’t complain. Some people say that this is misplaced generosity and we ruin it for subsequent tourists. I say bollocks put your hand in your pocket – we are talking a couple of beers here.


Surrounded by colourful and bold birds in hotel garden. Then discover something really annoying. What sort of bird obsessive goes on the trip of a lifetime to a place over provisioned with birds and leaves his binoculars at home? Me.

Afternoon we go to Mercato = the largest market in Africa. We are warned not to take cameras. Advice I bitterly regret that I did not ignore. But true it is very edgy at times. I will talk more about this in the next blog  but being the only white people in a mass of thousands does make you  realise a few things about the multi-cultural society we live in. And I would stress that we are treated with kindness and fascination by nearly everyone we meet there. But if I thought our brief walk this morning was culture shock I did not realise it was the tip of the iceberg. If I can work out how to get the pics of my phone on to the laptop tomorrow  I will post some.

In the evening we ate traditional Ethiopian food and our first experience of Injeera. Which I liked enough. But first I will try to get on line and post this – not easy or cheap in Addis Ababa.

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Time to stop tinkering

Chicken shed on wheels, Barham

Chicken shed on wheels, Barham


OK I have got to stop tinkering with this website.

For the moment anyway.

I feel strangely nervous about going public though most of my good friends already know my stuff. But there are those that only know the IT side of me. I should have been a gemini – if I believed in all that stuff. Anyway one of the reasons for updating my website was because I want to be able to blog from Ethiopia. A difficult time to be going to that country as a relatively affluent western tourist – feeling a bit nervous about that too but cancelling now is not going to help anyone.

In the future I want to add archive stuff from my time as a photographer in the 80s but that will have to wait a while. Then maybe a glasto archive and the dance stuff I did with Extemporary Dance in the late seventies.

I welcome your comments and suggestions. Or commissions. And everything is for sale of course.

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Post Glastonbury 2011

Leftfield tent beyond a sea of mudSeems like an age since we got back from Glastonbury. It was fun as ever but I confess it gets more exhausting as I get older – especially when there is mud and there was plenty this year. The car parks seem to get further away each year – must have been two miles with a double trolley load to get Marianne’s extensive wardrobe to the tent. Who thought it was fair to let all the chattering classes with their single decker bus sized Winnebagos and all mod con caravans park nearer the entrance than the poor punters carrying everything on their backs?

Anyway it was good to meet up with old mates, eat lots of good food and shelter from the rain in the excellent Tadpole Stage tent. Heard some damn fine music too despite – or maybe because – I rarely ventured near the Pyramid or Other stage. I am putting together some of the photos which you can find under the Galleries menu at the top of the page.

I am looking forward to a year off in 2012 though….

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At long last technical problems with my webpages seem to be over. Very soon everything should be back up and running with additional content too.

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