I have travelled over the past few weeks and those of us who have the privilege to travel abroad will share with me the excitement and anticipation when preparing to visit new places. It allows us to see and experience how things are done differently and learn from that exposure. It also allows us to appreciate some of the things we take for granted back home. Allow me to share some of my experiences and observations, in no particular order.
The journey began of course at Bole International Airport, the capacity of which is beginning to adjust to the increasing demand, because of the rapid expansion of the Ethiopian Airlines fleet and routes over the past few years. The new terminal will surely help ease the bottlenecks we experienced. I am not so sure yet about the parking lots though, especially the design of the exits, which cause major jams. The airports I visited on my journey had a more effective outflow of traffic, guiding vehicles in single one-way lanes, not allowing drivers to be in the way of others. I trust that the expansion of the Bole Airport parking lots will be designed in similar ways. Much of the jams we experience are also caused of course by the poor discipline of ourselves as drivers, cutting in and blocking each other in the process. On one occasion during my travels, an accident had happened on a busy freeway. Traffic was obstructed instantly. What impressed me was the discipline of all other road users, simply standing still and waiting in line, leaving the emergency lane open for police and ambulances. No honking, no overtaking, no turning around into the opposite direction. Doing any of these things would make other road users frown to say the least for violating such obvious rules.
I normally also enjoy services that work without interruption, including water supply, electricity and internet. Why can’t we get some of these services right? Upon my return this week, there was rain and instantly we lost electricity and with it, the access to internet services.
While our journey started in West Europe, where the weather was really bad, coming from thirteen months of sunshine, another country we visited was back on the African continent, where I booked a 10 days’ visit to different parts of that country. Upon arrival, we were to be met at the airport by the driver from the travel agency. After passing through immigration, muck like the procedures we are used to here, and collecting our bags, we entered the arrival hall where a number of drivers were waiting, holding up signs with the names of their guests. Not ours though. We spent the next half hour or so looking for our person but to no avail. We then finally decided to exit the terminal, ready to book a taxi in a city we did not know. Then there were more drivers with their signs up, including ours. A short communication explaining where we were to meet our driver would have prevented some anxiety and time, as it was already late in the evening. This often happens here as well. Many times, visitors arrive at Bole Airport, their hotel or organization’s transfer services are waiting outside, while others are inside the terminal. Pre-arrival information is not only helpful, it is essential.
Services from here on were immaculate. The car rental company delivered an excellent car on time and as promised, all hotels were expecting us and received us with a smile and excellent services, while mobile telephone services and internet were available throughout the country. In addition, the roads infrastructure was excellent with disciplined road use and a strong presence of traffic rule enforcers. I did not see any road traffic accidents or overturned trucks along the road, which is a common sight while travelling through Ethiopia.
What impressed me also was the strong expression of the traditions and culture in all hotels, restaurants and shops. Yes, modern and contemporary styles and structures are there also but the dominant outlook was typically local. The country has rich traditions in crafts, including carpets, textiles, baskets, pottery, essential oils and many people throughout the country make a living with it. There are many cooperatives, organizing the collections and sales of crafts, making sure all members equally benefit.
I also saw a rich agriculture production of high-quality fruits and vegetable and while the land looked much like our own countryside, much of the produce was grown by irrigation systems, instead of or in addition to being rain fed.
The local cuisine was a highlight indeed, prepared and served with pride, much like in our cultural restaurants here.
Now, why am I sharing all this with the reader? Well, because I expected the country to be at the same level as Ethiopia, in terms of standards and services and in many ways, it is. Much of what I observed was recognizable and comparable with our own situation. But I also observed that we still have a long way to go. We are progressing and learning indeed but we are not there yet. Services, communication, production of fruits, vegetables and crafts are areas where we must step up our game if we are to catch up with other countries on the continent, and it can be done.
It is also good to be back again. Back where the smile is at home, where we enjoy 13 months of sunshine, where we drink the best coffee and where we can support the efforts to make the country and its people prosper indeed.