October 2, 2006
Ethiopia's mean streets: A survival guide
Ethiopia is easily one of the safest countries in Africa (as long as you steer clear of random bomb blasts and anything that looks like a political rally).
People walk home after dark without incident – try doing that in Nairobbery or Johannesburg. Bigger houses do have guards – but only to have someone to open the gate for visitors. I once accidentally dropped 200 birr on the street in Kazanchis and had a middle-aged woman chase after me to give it back.
Having said all that, I have now notched up my third encounter with Ethiopia's not-so-hardened criminal classes, four years after first arriving in the country as a tourist.
Here is what happened, with some tips on what to do if anything similar happens to you.
You are standing on a corner of Piazza, a couple of days off the plane with a lost look on your face, a half-open bag on your shoulder and a visible wallet in your pocket (a classic example of the asking-for-it posture). A man comes up and says the friends you are waiting for are with his friends round the corner. You follow blindly. Two other men suddenly crowd around you. One grabs you by the arm and tries to spin you in a clockwise direction to throw you off your balance. The other tries to grab your bag.
What to do
Turn your shoulders gently in a counter-clockwise direction while saying ‘No' in your sternest voice. Your attackers will fly off in all directions then run away looking vaguely embarrassed. Five minutes later, the armed guard outside the branch of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia about ten yards away will walk up to you full of sympathy, shrug and tell you that this sort of thing never happens in Ethiopia.
You are walking down Bole towards the junction with the Chinese friendship road, lost in thought. You have the same bag over your shoulder but this time you have learned and the wallet is zipped inside. A young man walks up behind you and shows you a sheet of Amharic newspaper. While you are distracted, another young man runs up to you from the front. He dives at your ankles with the aim of knocking you on to your back, leaving you defenseless while his partner grabs your bag.
What to do
Stand still. Look down at your assailant who is still sheepishly hugging your ankles. Give him a kick (as much as the hug will allow). Watch as the two men run off looking a little embarrassed. Shout the first vaguely appropriate Amharic phrase that comes into your mind – mine was ‘Shifta!' the equivalent of ‘Brigand, highwayman!' Appeal for help from the two armed federal policemen standing across the road. They will look at you oddly.
You are standing in a crowd in Adwa, minutes after the Prime Minister has cast his vote in the general election. You feel a hand inside your trouser pocket, grabbing a 100 birr note. The crowd is so packed that you can't move or even turn round to take a look at the thief.
What to do
Nothing. If you are a journalist, try and fail to claim the money back on expenses a few days later. Do not even think of approaching the two Land Cruisers packed with prime-ministerial body guards armed to the teeth. They will have other things on their minds.
Posted by aheavens at October 2, 2006 6:10 AM