Less than two weeks before our trip to Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Prime Minister died.
It’s hard to overstate what a big deal this was in Ethiopia.
That’s because Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had been a dictator for 21 years. As a result, the mourning period and funeral were a HUGE deal in the capital of Addis Ababa. (Obviously, even when a dictator dies, it’s important to show your support for him. You don’t want his political party to think you’re a critic.)
Needless to say, our trip to Ethiopia was thoroughly affected by his death.
Our hotel was located near a public square where mourners gathered to listen to speeches glorifying Meles’ reign. That meant that the roads were blocked off and we had to walk to our hotel. It wasn’t a big deal, although crowds make me nervous. Especially crowds that are memorializing a dead dictator in a country with a new power vacuum.
Because the police were monitoring the public squares, it meant that they weren’t monitoring the mercado (market), which is one of the largest in Africa. It wasn’t safe for us to walk through the market, so we drove through it instead. Again, no big deal. Apparently, the market isn’t very safe even when the police are present. Plus, my husband did not need to do any more souvenir shopping, as his extra suitcase was already full of Ethiopian treasures.
On Sunday, the day of the funeral, almost every business was shut down. It took us a while to find a restaurant that was open for lunch, and then we were the only people in it. The same thing happened at dinner. We might not have been able to do any people-watching over our meal, but the service was excellent.
We felt Meles Zenawi’s presence everywhere. Nearly every restaurant, museum, and hotel we went into had a tribute on display. Ethiopians lined up to sign the memorial books in each establishment. Every t.v. we encountered was turned on and broadcasting his funeral. Somehow Meles even snuck into half of our pictures.
The mourning period and funeral certainly affected our trip, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I felt like I learned more about Ethiopia by being in the country during such a critical time.
Now we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.