CATHERINE MUMBA, Lusaka
MY FIRST trip out of the country was quite exciting, scary and adventurous.
I was travelling to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, alone. Therefore, I had to figure out much about my way to that country by myself.
My flight was scheduled for February 19, 2018 at 16:00 hours and so I had to be at the airport by 14:00 hours. But because I was full of anxiety, I made sure I was at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport by 13:00 hours.
Upon arrival, I started the process of checking in and I was shocked to realise that it was not as complicated as I had thought.
By 14:00 hours, I had already checked in and moved to the waiting room where I met a certain woman who was also headed to Addis Ababa, which was such a relief for me.
I did not pretend about being a first traveller and so we started a conversation and she gladly advised me on what I was supposed to do to avoid being stranded in Addis Ababa. That was actually one of my greatest fears.
She later asked what I was going to do in Addis Ababa and I showed her my letter of invitation by the United Nations (UN) Women to participate in a media workshop on gender-sensitive reporting.
It was after seeing the invitation letter that she assured me that I would not be stranded because a hotel shuttle service was included in my accommodation package.
That boosted my confidence and before I realised it, boarding time had come.
The Ethiopian Airlines plane, which I found very luxurious, took off at exactly 16:00 hours.
My flight was scheduled to take about three hours, 50 minutes but because of the time difference between Zambia (GMT +2) and Ethiopia (GMT +3), we were expected to be in Addis Ababa at about 21:00 hours local time.
The plane landed at Bole International Airport at 20:45 hours.
It was astonishing on my part to see such a big airport with beautiful infrastructure, though I found it not to be as clean as the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.
I then quickly stood in the queue to collect my visa which I managed to obtain within an hour.
Afterwards, I moved to the exit of Bole International Airport hoping to find the Water Falls shuttle readily waiting for me.
But even before I could reach the parking lot for hotel buses, a certain man followed me and offered to help me contact the Water Falls Hotel where the UN Women had booked my accommodation.
He told me the hotel shuttle was not yet at the airport but that he was willing to give me a seat where I could wait and at least be comfortable.
The man engaged me in conversation, mostly telling me nice things about Ethiopia. He claimed to have called the hotel for me and later advised that I go and wait for the bus outside but surprisingly, demanded that I pay him US$10 for his services.
I gave him the money only to walk to the parking lot to realise that I did not have to pay him anything because all I needed to do was wait outside for the bus.
So I strolled towards the packing section where I was amazed to find so many hotel buses waiting and picking people.
The hotel business in Addis Ababa is indeed quite competitive, advanced and impressive.
This prompted me to conduct a research on the city and I discovered that despite not having many tourist attractions, Addis Ababa has over 200 hotels compared to about 45 hotels that Lusaka has.
This made me realise that if Zambia had many hotels, we could develop our hospitality sector and make it competitive.
As for my movement from Bole International Airport to my hotel, the Water Falls Hotel shuttle service disappointed me because I was stranded at the airport for over two hours before they picked me up.
But I am glad I managed to get to the hotel and that marked the beginning of my stay in Addis Ababa.
The next morning, it was time for the training to begin. Driving around the city, I was astounded by the amount of infrastructure development going on in that country.
It is like everywhere you go in Addis Ababa, someone is constructing a new building and not on a huge piece of land, but on small spaces.
In Addis Ababa, architects have passed the phase of constructing single-storey buildings – all upcoming buildings are multi-storey.
Unlike Lusaka where most of the buildings in the central business district are low-rise, small entrepreneurs in Addis operate from skyscrapers.
In my view, that has helped in promoting orderliness in the manner people conduct business in the Ethiopian capital.
After visiting Ethiopia, I realised that we actually have plenty of land in Zambia, and if we plan well, we can use it for massive infrastructure development, including high-rise flats for household use.
If we happen to consider that route in future, having multi-storey buildings could help us free some land for future use.
I am glad that I had the opportunity to go to the African Union Headquarters where the Africa Ministerial Pre-Consultative Meeting on the Commission on the Status of Women Sixty-Two (CSW 62) was taking place.
I was privileged to have received a certificate during the CSW62 as the only Zambian journalist who attended the gender-sensitive reporting training under the UN Women’s “African Women, changing the narrative” project.
So, all is all, my four days stay in Addis Ababa was a worthwhile experience which I will live to remember.
But I must admit that there were times when I felt low and out of place because of the language barrier. Ethiopia has over 80 languages, with Amharic, the official language, and Oromo being the widely spoken languages. It was therefore difficult for me to find locals who could communicate in English.
Eating Ethiopian dishes was another struggle for me, so I was surviving on French fries throughout my stay.
But overall, Ethiopians are friendly people who I couldn’t mind visiting again.