April 25, 2005
We were all back at Axum airport at around 5.30am. This time, the first aircraft to arrive was an Ethiopian Airlines Fokker, carrying Meles Zenawi, the prime minister, and his family. He received the full red carpet treatment, alongside the Abuna (head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) and the Italian Ambassador, who were both already there. About 20 minutes after that, the silhouette of the Antonov aircraft was back on the horizon.
When it landed a huge crowd - much bigger than for the arrival of the first piece - surged forward to try and get photos. We hung around for about three hours until the third piece (the curved top section) was loaded on to a flat bed truck.
The most surreal thing that happened during that time was the arrival of a third plane - a gleaming white 737 which taxied in and totally dwarfed the prime minister's Fokker. The doors opened and out stepped Mohammed Al Amoudi , Ethiopia's richest man, dressed in casual T-shirt and jacket. He strode over to look at the newly-arrived piece with his entourage - then the other two, then off to wherever VIPs hang out.
He never gives interviews. So I was quite proud of my one quote - "Ethiopian property has returned to Ethiopia".
After that, the press pack headed out of the airport and towards a stage that had been set up on the outskirts of town. All the VIPs were gathered under an awning while various dance troops went through their paces and dignitaries made speeches.
Then everything went mad. The three lorries appeared over the horizon and started driving towards the town centre with their loads covered in Ethiopian flags. The soldiers had to swing their sticks around quite fiercely to keep the crowds back as the trucks passed. Women rushed on to the road to throw popcorn and ululate. Young men clambered onto a fourth truck carrying the obelisk's flat base. In the town itself, people hung off roofs and out of windows to get a look.
Eventually the procession wound its way through town to the northern obelisk field - where Mussolini's soldiers first took the obelisk almost 70 years ago. the engineers started maneuvering their trucks and cranes and started slowly lowering the three pieces on to the ground in front of the existing obelisks. the rain came pelting down but did very little to quell the enthusiasm of the crown which, by this stage, must have been more than 5,000 strong.
In all, an amazing day.
When the internet speeds up here a bit, I will add some photos. I have now put a selection up on Flickr. Check back tomorrow for more.
Posted by aheavens at April 25, 2005 12:31 PM