Day 11: Who Thought a Birthday Cake in Ethiopia was a Good Idea?

So today was the reason I was here, I had a target to try and visit 50 countries by the time I was 30 years old. Ethiopia is my 50th country and today is my 30th birthday. Ta daaaaa.

I’d bought some of my birthday cards with me and a few very small lightweight presents I could open which I did while looking at the “wonderful” views outside of my posh luxurious hotel. Not so wonderful really though, but hey, I did have working aircon! After having an interesting breakfast, posh hotels in Africa just seem to serve Chinese noodles for breakfast these days! I went to see how much the Ghion hotel was. The man behind reception said it was 90 but I managed to get him down to 80 in the end although as usual it was more than the lonely planet guide but it is nearly always wrong these days anyway. Not because they got it wrong, it’s because Ethiopian exchange rates vary so quickly and dramatically these days information becomes outdated almost as soon as it’s printed. Leaving the posh hotel they tried to charge me the full rate without the reduction so I had a bit of an argument until they accepted what I’d been told. On the way out I saw the kid from the hotel tofurfist office who’d brought me there and decided to play a guilt trip on him for a change and said I was leaving as they had charged me the full price and not what he had promised. He said he would go in to sort it our….. So as he went in I just walked off to my new hotel. Small victories, and a good day to have one…..

The setting of the new hotel was worth it though, it’s much more quieter and in fact closer to the lake. The people in reception were painfully slow but this is a government run hotel so what can you say, it will be slow, but it will do it’s job… eventually… But here as no one gets my accent I’ve even taken to saying my room number in Amharic when I ask for my key but that doesn’t seem to help either, northerers! After a few hours rest I headed out in the hope of finding the Tana Pastry shop amd getting some sort of birthday cake, on the way out I bumped into the three Dutch guys again and they wished me a happy birthday which was sweet.

In town I just changed some money in the bank and send some postcards, which is always an absolute pain in the backside, bartering for postcards with crappy pictures on, finding a post office, then trying to find out the cost of sending to the UK, then writing something you know full well will never be read before being stuck to a fridge door at which point it will fall off and be put straight in the bin. I’m over thinking it, right? Either way, as soon as people start using emails are better….. Still, at least I found the pastry shop but no birthday cakes, I suppose it is Ethiopia, what did I expect, but I did get two ring doughnuts, I figured I could cut one in half and create the number 30 out of them! Yeah, you go a bit mad travelling on your own.

After little rest, after all I’m in my 30s now, I headed out for a little walk along the lake. However, after only just leaving the hotel a group of young children ran up to me and started to beg for money, pulling up my clothes, using a hand symbol I’d seen so many times now, using their fingers as if squeezing small amounts of food between fingers and thumb and bringing it up to their mouths. Then one of the older girls said that her mother and father had died and then broke into absolute hysterics, crying all over the place, using exaggerated hand movements to hit herself to show how distressed she was. I suppose a good story for today would be…. So I gave her my birthday cake and she was happy…. but there are no real fairytales in the real world, it was all clearly for a massive show to make me feel uncomfortable and give her money and it really did upset me but I’m sure not in the way she’d hoped. I just thought, I don’t need this today, turned around and walked back into the hotel. Her crying and hysterics stopped instantly, she put a handout to grab the other children and just walked off towards her next target as if nothing had happened. It is disappointing, I’m sure her family has real suffering, but I don’t know what to believe here any more. I decided to have my Birthday dinner in the hotel instead which was nice because along with no hassle from people asking for money, as it’s a government hotel they cater for tourists and during Lent they serve meat so I treated myself to a grilled steak, although it was like no steak I’ve ever had before. I was tempted to ask which breed of dog it had come from but for a birthday meal it was memorable and to be fair it did actually taste quite nice. Unfortunately though, as I have not eaten that much meat for the last two weeks, the richness didn’t half turn my stomach. As I sat and looked at the sun go down I had some good news, a little kid who I’d asked earlier to try to find me some tourist things to do on the lake here came up to me and said that he’d got me on a tour of the lake tomorrow which would take me to the “famous” church on the main island. Should be interesting mainly as I have no idea what he’s talking about! But this shows you how by helping people in a nice way will get you tips rather than just asking for money all of the time. The kid was so afraid that I did not trust him, as I gave him a bit of money upfront (about £2 worth!) that he gave me his ID, he really didn’t have to, but this is probably the true side of Ethiopia and the one I really haven’t seen much of, but it clearly exists, the honest helping side. Quite exhausted today, but a very nice way to finish.