Four hours to kill in Addis Adaba and I’m seated in a smoke-filled cafe at the airport. It’s strange, nearly everyone’s smoking. It took me a while to click: it’s not just that you can’t smoke in any airports in the UK, few people smoke in Uganda. I was surprised when a Ugandan friend asked me if I smoke. “I thought most mzungus smoke?,” he said.
He has since said I am “quite a unique mzungu.” But that’s another story.
PHOTO: fragrant rich Ethiopian coffee is served in tiny cups, fresh from the charcoal stove at one of the cafes in Addis airport
To get the cheapest fare I’m flying home with Ethiopian Airlines. The seats are tiny and there’s a large man from Burundi in a pale gold pinstripe suit shoehorned into the seat next to me. Gerald seems like a very gentle guy, a refugee from the war in Burundi in the late 1990s, travelling back to his home in Canada from work in Zimbabwe. He’s a fellow vegetarian but says he was forced to eat meat in Zimbabwe as it’s impossible to find vegetables.
He asks me if I’m going home to meet my husband and I reply no, my boyfriend’s in Uganda. “My boyfriend’s in Uganda.” The words still sound strange to me!
The first leg of the journey from Uganda is only two hours and I do at least have the windowseat. And I have the most spectacular view: the shimmering reflection of a meandering river, unexpected high peaks below us and a grey treeless landscape that looks beautiful in its bleakness.
I arrived in East Africa for the first time 15 months ago as the sun rose above the Indian Ocean and flooded the plane with orange light. It was magical. Today I left East Africa to a spectacular and unusual sunset, a bold yellow and bright blue night sky, the golden disk of the sun a faint haze behind wispy cloud.
As we gently touch down, Gerald looks out of the window and says “thankyou for the safe landing.” Ten minutes before we took off, he heard that another Ethiopian Airlines flight had crashed in Libya killing everyone on board, except for a child. “I was praying to God as we landed” he said. I’m just praying that mother hasn’t heard the news and is having the vapours! (I’ve since heard that it was another airline, not Ethiopian, whose plane crashed).
Addis is a modern airport, substantially bigger than Entebbe but we’re still quite (in)visibly in Africa as the power goes off while we’re staring up at the screens for details of the connecting flight. The toilets are clean and modern but the roach crawling round the mirror is an unavoidable part of the fittings, de rigeur at every African airport I’ve visited so far.