DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
ONE striking thing on Ethiopian Airlines is the abundance of beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Passengers simply love the inflight treat.
I transited through Harare, Zimbabwe, using Ethiopian Airlines on my way from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I had gone to attend the 30th African Union (AU) heads of State summit.
It is a six-hour flight from Addis Ababa to Lusaka, certainly a relatively long flight. I did what good neighbours do, greet my neighbour and get to know where he was going.
His destination was Harare, where we were to make a stop-over before connecting to Lusaka. About half an hour of being air-borne, my neighbour decided to move seat to somewhere else he thought he would comfortable as the plane was not full.
When we reached Harare, where we stopped for about an hour, I did not see my neighbour. The only time I saw him was when we arrived at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (KKIA) in Lusaka.
He had also disembarked from the plane and was heading to the arrival terminal. I kept wondering whether it is the same man who had indicated that he was going to Harare.
As I walked to the immigration counter, I saw him coming and looking confused. He then asked whether we had stopped in Harare and I answered in the affirmative.
It dawned on him that he was in Lusaka. He then quickly rushed to the security personnel, who later took him to the Ethiopian Airlines office at KKIA.
He was lost.
I hope the alcoholic beverages had nothing to do with it.
At the AU summit, there were a lot of happenings and personalities such that if you tried to trail all of them, you would easily get lost.
Newly elected Liberian President George Weah, known for his exploits on the football pitch, was attending the AU summit for the first time, so were Angolan President Joao Lourenco and Zimbabwean leader Emmerson Mnagangwa, who has taken over as Zimbabwe President from long-serving Robert Mugabe, always a towering figure at such gatherings.
President Mnangagwa assured the summit that Mr Mugabe was well and safe.
“May I inform this august chamber that your brother, President Mugabe, is safe, secure and well,” he said amid applause. “The transition was very peaceful and we are happy that we faced challenges as a nation and managed to resolve the challenges as a nation. We wish to thank SADC and the whole continent.”
In the past, the AU’s forerunner, the Organisation for African Unity (OAU), referred to by some as “Old and Ugly”, was considered an old people’s club with long-serving African leaders who did not put people’s development at the centre of their engagements.
The AU has been trying to stay relevant to the challenges that the continent continually faces.
At the latest meeting, there was some enthusiasm with the new AU chairman Paul Kagame, driving the reform agenda for the organisation, which is often seen as inefficient and dysfunctional.
The most significant reform proposal is that member states contribute to the funding of the AU by levying 0.2 per cent on imports so that the continent would finance its budget.
There were many sideline issues, but the main theme centred round corruption.
It was a theme new comers like Weah welcomed.
“The declaration of 2018 as the anti-corruption year by this summit was set to increase national, regional and continental awareness of the menace and improve our chances to totally eradicate it,” President Weah noted.
I was at the summit at the invitation of the African Union Commission (AUC), Department of Infrastructure and Energy.
I was mainly invited to cover the launch of the Single African Air Transport Markets (SAATM), which will see the liberalisation of the African airspace.
Unlike the other assignments that I have covered outside the country, including the ones in Addis Ababa, where accommodation and all other logistics have been arranged prior to my travel, this one was not.
I had to do everything on my own, including airport transfers, accommodation and transport within Addis Ababa.
Luckily, Inutu Mwanza, the first secretary of press and tourism at the Zambian embassy in Addis Ababa, had arranged for the airport transfers and the local transport from the summit venue to the hotel.
The driver hired was amazing although, as expected, there was a bit of some language barrier.
His name is Biniyam Ayalew.
Biniyam is an Ethiopian name for Benjamin.
The only challenge I had was communication as the official language in Ethiopia is Amharic, a language spoken by over nine million people in that country.
Oh, there was another challenge, the food.
Everytime I go to Addis Ababa, I carry snacks to nibble like biscuits, nuts, raisins, sweets and crackers. I also carry my own tea and sugar.
But because of the last- minute arrangements for this trip, I did not have time to get around and ensure that my snack bag was stocked.
I was lost.
I had to eat whatever I could find edible.
It was a mini circus, in a manner of speaking.
I was bailed out when a friend from The Guardian in Tanzania, Angel Navuri introduced me to an African Cuisine restaurant within the AU premises.
Together, and at long last, we were able to indulge in roasted goat meat and vegetables served with nshima (Ugali in Swahili) and chapatti.
The walk to that African Cuisine restaurant was heavenly. It was stocked with a variety of foods although mainly from East Africa.
The traditional food is injera and rice.
Injera is made from brown or white teff flour. Injera is a sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture. Traditionally made out of fermented teff flour, injera is about 50 centimetres in diameter and originates from the national dish in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
It is served with spicy chicken or beef mince or vegetables.
Ethiopia, a political capital of Africa, is always a treat for the first timer visitor as well as those coming back.