Adrift in Addis

Normally I would’ve done much more research on my own to prepare for navigating a new city on my own, but there were so many variables at play this time—I wasn’t sure I could even get the yellow fever vaccine which would make me more comfortable about leaving the airport; it was a stopover of only a few hours anyway; I didn’t know in what hotel or area of the city the airline would place me, etc—that I admittedly hadn’t done enough homework. Addis is a place where you really need to do your homework and brace yourself, especially if you are traveling alone, foreign, not Black, or female. I was all four. Continue reading


O Bag, Where Art Thou? (A guide to surviving Ethiopian Airlines, Part 2)

I realized that the last post’s title is a little misleading; it is not really so much a “guide” as it offers no practical advice. I suppose it is a guide in the sense that, if you enter into a situation with Ethiopian Air knowing those 5 things, you are possibly less likely to pop a blood vessel over the experience.

So to make sure I include it this time, here’s my one piece of practical advice when Ethiopian Air loses your luggage in Tanzania: Have someone who speaks Swahili call and deal with it for you.
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A guide to surviving Ethiopian Airlines, Part 1

I’d heard mixed things about Ethiopian Airlines before this trip, and now that I have flown with them, my overall assessment is that the food is pretty good and the on-plane service is fine, but basically everything else about this company is kind of a mess. The fact that, according to their in-flight magazine, they keep winning all these awards for African businesses says more about the state of other African businesses than it does about the quality of Ethiopian Air. Then again, Turkish Airlines, which has violently screwed over multiple colleagues of mine, also recently won the title of “Europe’s Best Airline” at the World Airline Awards (who knew such a thing existed), topping Swiss Air and Lufthansa, so obviously things like customer experience do not really factor into these decisions.

Admittedly, not all of the debacle I experienced on the way to Tanzania is attributable directly to Ethiopian Air. Some of it was just general industry dysfunction and a very different understanding of customer service. Everyone I met in the service and tourism industry in Africa was unfailingly kind and friendly, but the people who work at the airports and for the airlines clearly don’t have the same approach to their work.

In the current vein of sharing practical travel information (someday, I will actually get around to talking about my Tanzania safari), here are some things I wish I’d known about Ethiopian before flying with them:
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Occasionally, I am a stupid American

When my ex-pat colleagues and I travel, we pride ourselves on not being the typical American tourists: the loud, ignorant, intolerant ones who need to be handled with kid gloves or else they will explode from all the Otherness going on around them, even while they feel the need to comment constantly on all the Otherness (“Oh, look, Frank, it says YOO-bahn. I wonder if that’s like the subway? But then what’s the ESS-bahn? Oh, this is so confusing”). However, I’m embarrassed to say that I’m about to embark on a trip where I may have made a stupid American mistake.
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