Everything That Went Wrong in Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I have a strong suspicion that Ethiopia wants to get rid of me.

Let’s start from the very beginning.

I arrived in Addis on a bright, sunny morning. My luggage, unfortunately, didn’t. In retrospect it turned out not to be a big deal since the airline recovered it and even delivered it to me the next day. But that very first day in this country, all alone in a city that didn’t feel too friendly, away from Jack for the first time in our 8 months of travel, I felt mighty sorry for myself. Add to the fact that my hotel room was dreary and smelled strongly of new paint.

Things got a lot better the next day. I moved to a better place (with wifi in the room, rarer than an honest taxi driver in Addis!), and I got my luggage.

But soon after it became apparent to me that Ethiopia and I just do not get along.

First, somehow I attract pickpockets

So far I’ve counted 5 attempts – and those are only the ones I caught. Sometimes I feel that I walk around with a sign on my back that says, ‘Please mug me.’ It would’ve been very frustrating except for the fact that these guys were so, so, so, pathetically bad at this that it’s actually kind of funny. Two occasions are quite notable:

Notable pickpocket attempt #1

Location: A shared Bajaj (tuk-tuk) in Makele

I got lost in Makele so I hailed a Bajaj to take me back. I noticed a guy already inside. Not thinking too much of it as sharing a Bajaj seems to be common, I got in.

As we got closer to my destination, my companion – who until that time never uttered a word – pointed outside, “Look, Boston café! Your destination! Over there!” Naturally I leaned forward and that was when I noticed a slight pressure on my back. I looked at my companion, but he kept gesticulating for me to look out the window. Because I can be a little slow at times, I did what he wanted me to do. Again, I felt a pressure on my back. Then it clicked!

I whirled around and noticed that my Bajaj companion had his arm behind me. I looked down and saw that the front pocket of my backpack was wide open.

When I realised what was going on my first reaction was disbelief, then rage. “How dare he?!! – How… RUDE!!”

Adrenaline surging through me, I grabbed my water bottle and started beating him, yelling all sorts of obscenities. I wish it had been a Nalgene bottle and not the flimsy plastic water bottle. It would’ve hurt more. The door of the Bajaj was on my side so he was stuck there with me until he jumped across me, opened the door, and bolted outside with me still screaming after him.

Afterwards I realised that he had also slashed my bag when trying to get to the main pocket. However, in his haste to access the main pocket he had completely missed the $300 worth of Birr on the front pocket. This just proved to me that he needed a new line of work.

Bag slasher, Ethiopia

Notable pickpocket attempt #2

Location: a minibus from the airport in Addis Ababa

A friend and I just arrived at the airport and we hailed the first minibus we could find. They seated me up front, next to a nice lady who tried to help me with my main pack. She kept fussing with it, trying to convince me to move the bag between us. Maybe that was what set off my suspicion. 2 minutes into the ride, I felt a little poke on my side close to where my wallet is.

Paranoid, I reached for my wallet and guess what I found?

Her hand! Nicely hidden behind a slung sweater.

I didn’t start beating anybody this time because I wasn’t convinced she was trying to mug me. But still, I had my hand wrapped tightly around my wallet after that.

But any doubt that it was a coincidence was erased when 30 seconds afterward they abruptly turned the minibus around and pulled over to the side. They unceremoniously handed back our money, shooed us off the minibus, and took off leaving us on the sidewalk with all of our belongings – thankfully intact – far from where we’re supposed to be.

My friend and I looked at each other, “Wtf? Did they just let us get on to rob us?!” It seems like it.

There are many other examples. From little kids who swarmed me and felt up my pants pocket. To the guy who walked past me multiple times in the crowd, each time he walked past he swiped my pant pocket zipper open bit by bit. I always had to have my guards up all the time. It was exhausting.

Fleas and Bed bugs

I must’ve picked these guys up during my trip to the Danakil because soon after, I was covered in red bites all over my body.

This is really, really annoying.

As soon as I got back to Addis, I spread out all of my clothes and backpack in the bathroom, doused them in bug spray, and closed the door for hours hoping that these hitchhikers would just die, die, die!!

Afterwards, I had them washed and dried out in the sun for two days. Hopefully that’s enough. I really do not want to have to get a new wardrobe.

But these bites are nothing compared that Ethiopia’s coup de grace in telling me that I was not wanted here.

I got bitten by a street dog!

This dog bit me
This dog!

BIG sigh.

Rabies is kind of a big thing here in Ethiopia.

As soon as I saw blood on the wound, I thought to myself, “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!!” – I spent the next day running around chasing after rabies vaccines. That was not fun at all.

The thing about rabies vaccines is that you need 5 shots over the course of 28 days. I had to kiss my trip to Omo Valley goodbye because I needed my 3rd shot during that time period. I was really bummed.

I was looking at my other options of what to do next:
Option 1: Continue with original plan to Djibouti and Somaliland.
These are not quite your stress-free destinations to begin with. Having an extra layer of stress of having possibly contracted rabies, I decided that I wouldn’t enjoy these countries under this circumstance. Besides, to have time to do this, I’d need to stay in Addis for at least another 10 days to complete the first 3 shots before I have time between shots to travel.

Option 2: Stay and travel within Ethiopia for the next 28 days.
The thought of staying in a country that seems to try its darnedest to get rid of me isn’t appealing either. Knowing my luck so far I’d probably get bitten as I attempt to feed a hyena in Harar or contract malaria in the south.

Option 3: Finish the vaccine in another country where I know they’re available.
Preferably somewhere cheap, comfortable, and easy to get around.

After half a day deliberation, I decided that I like Option #3 best.
So as soon as my parents confirmed that yes, they have the same brand of rabies vaccine in Jakarta, I booked my ticket to Indonesia.

I feel relieved.
I miss Asian food.
I miss cheap things.
I miss Sari, my family’s masseuse who comes and gives an hour of heavenly pummeling for a mere $5.
I miss my family.
I miss NOT standing out so much in the crowd and greeted with “Konichiwa, arigato! “ or “China, how are you, China?” all the freaking time.

I’ll arrive in Jakarta on Christmas Day at 11 at night, so technically, I’ll be home for Christmas. And this puts a smile on my face.

In terms of Ethiopia, I’m bummed that I didn’t get to see as much of it as I had hoped. But on the bright side, the parts of Ethiopia that I’d seen were BEYOND amazing, especially Danakil Depression.

Furthermore, I’m looking forward to the time when someone asks me, “So, which is the most exciting country you’ve visited on your trip?” I already know what the answer would be.

Say what you will, but there has not been a dull moment here in Ethiopia.

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26 Replies to “Everything That Went Wrong in Ethiopia”

  1. I stumbled across your blog somehow and I must say, as a single Asian female in Addis, your frustrations about sticking out here ring true. Out of curiosity, which places/cafes did you enjoy the most while you were here in the city?

  2. Oh my days Jill, you are one brave woman! I know this is an old post but I only just came across it.. I would probably have broken down and cried at this point. I've been pickpocketed several times and had my bag slashed and I felt so unbelievably awful about it all but you've definitely been through it all! Glad you've still got such a positive view on the country – it's wonderful to be able to put things into perspective. Safe travels!

  3. Sorry I'm just now responding, Angie. I've been abesnt from the blog, working on my dossier! My understanding of this I-600A is twofold: 1) the Ethiopian government changed its documentation requirements in the Spring in an effort to make sure everything was being done to ensure children were in fact eligible for adoption; and 2) the staff at the Embassy changed in July, and they were (rightly so) being more thorough about the documentation as well.I can understand the frustration of the parents, particularly those who were anxiously awaiting to bring their children home after their initial court approvals. But it also appears all parties are doing what they think is in the best interest of the children. Overall, I think the Ethiopia program is getting stronger. We just have to be patient in the meantime.

  4. Jill, as I read through this post, I felt like yours was a series of unfortunate events. Scary was the part where pickpockets were caught by you yourself. I had a funny experience of old people pickpocketing in Guilin, China. I was drinking coffee on sachet before strolling down to touristy shops in Guilin one night then the sachet, I replaced it on my back denim pocket. It is Nescafe so the sachet is red. as I walked, two old men were on both sides of me and then i felt a force behind me. I just , by instinct, reach out my backpocket and to be able to grab his hands and then reaching for the Nescafe sachet, I showed it to him and ask if he wants to drink coffee instead of robbing me. The vendors who knew what happened (i think they also saw it but do not care to alert me), laugh after seeing that I caught them and showed them not money but a nescafe sachet.

    I was scared bitten by a dog in Africa. Great you had managed to get the vaccine.

  5. Glad to hear you made it through all of that! As far as I know no one has ever tried to pick pocket me while traveling… I can only hope that when the day comes the thief will be as equally unskilled as the ones you encountered.

  6. Holy crapy…what a wild time. Sorry that you've had some very difficult moments there. I think your decision to go to Asia is a great one. Some places just don't work out. I totally get it.

    How long will you be in Indo for? Wish I were going there now so I could hang with you for a few days. Not going until May, however (if I'm going.)

    Have a wonderful time!

  7. Wow, sounds like quite the (mis)adventure. I'm impressed that after all those attempts, you managed to ditch the pickpocketing industry unscathed – kudos!
    I remember reading your post about parting ways to Jack to explore Ethiopia solo, and I'm glad to see that you're maintaining a (mostly) positive travel attitude despite all this mishaps. I wonder how Jack is faring in France!

  8. Wow, sounds like quite a time there.

    The worst pickpocket attempt I've seen was in Barcelona last year. A guy came up to me and started talking about soccer and if I wanted to watch a game in a local bar (even though the season had finished weeks earlier). He was talking about tackling and blocking and "jokingly" trying to block my way with his legs and arm (while his hand went directly to the pocket that held my wallet and phone). I was well ahead of him and obviously had my hand over the pocket so he failed but rather than change tactic or give up he just backed up 5-10 seconds in his speech and tried again. 7 times…

    As I kept walking he twice tripped himself and ended up falling over in the street but kept at it. Eventually someone else joined him and tried the exactly same thing on me two more times and then they both left. It was pretty pathetic really.

    Also, at the risk of going a bit off-topic – Does American English really have no past-tense version of the word 'bit'? Here in the UK we would say "bitten by a dog" (same rules as with "hid" vs. "hidden").

    I normally wouldn't mention it as it could sound like I'm just a grammar Nazi. But the fact that 4 different replies have used the same "bit by a dog" phrase makes me interested in whether it is a real language difference?

    1. I had to look it up (re:bit vs bitten) – and you're right… the correct way is to use 'bitten', as in 'I got bitten by a dog'- but the phrase rolls off weird on my tounge, so maybe it's one of those incorrect grammar things that becomes accepted in spoken English. Or maybe not, it could just be my grammar 🙂 I've fixed it on the post – thanks for pointing it out!

      And your pickpocket story is hilarious…. *shakes head* I can't believe that someone can suck that bad as a mugger.

  9. I'm sorry to hear Ethiopia wasn't treating you well. I was there a couple of years ago and thought that it was a hard country to travel solo. Not impossible, but definitely hard.

    1. Lol – I tried to think that they'd make for fun stories in the future. And they do – although when I was there, it was stressful to always have my wit with me all the time. Hope you guys are having a great holiday as well!!

  10. That's really unfortunate you had this horrible experience. When it comes to traveling in sub-Sahara Africa, I've had similar experiences myself, including some of the things you mentioned happened to me in Ethiopia too. To be honest, you didn't miss anything from not going to Djibouti. You probably did yourself a favor. The place you should have went to is Eritrea. Just about every seasoned tourist who has traveled there will tell you it's the best country to visit in Africa because it's the safest, cleanest, has the most hospitable people anywhere on the continent. It also doesn't hurt to have a beautiful capital city like Asmara either.

    This review below of Eritrea is pretty much why I went, hopefully it can encourage you to delete your bad experiences in that region by visiting Eritrea in the future. I know it did for me!



    1. Would love to go to Eritrea and wish that overlanding it from Ethiopia was possible. The only reason I wanted to go to Djibouti was to snorkel with whale sharks… owell 🙂
      Thanks for the info on Eritrea, one of these days I'll make it there.

  11. Never a dull moment indeed! Wow! Lucky that you were able to thwart the pickpockets. But that sucks that you got bit by a dog! I've heard that rabies shots are not the most pleasant things to deal with… hopefully being home with your family for the holidays will be just what you need!

    1. The current rabies shots, thankfully, is much, much better than the old, 17 shots on your stomach *shivers*. But as someone who hates shots, it's still something I consider as unpleasant as eating dirt, lol. 2 more shots to go!

  12. This is what you do if you think a dog is about to attack you –> crouch down like you're picking up a rock, stand up tall, cock your hand back, and watch the dog cower in fear. Works every time. Sorry Ethiopia didn't pan out!

  13. Dang, you got bit by a dog!! Sounds like it's time to move on. It will be great to be home for the holidays. Merry Christmas.

  14. I think I'm with you—Jakarta does sounds much better than Ethopia!!! Enjoy!!! Love following along with your stories. Hope Jack is still enjoying France.

  15. So sorry to hear about ur true mis-adventures in Ethiopia. Glad that your are relatively okay. Recharge those travel batteries and enjoy a nice massage!

  16. Wow, that just sucks! We've met a surprising number of people on the road who have been bit by dogs… Hope you make it safe and sound (and with all your stuff!) to Jakarta, and have a happy holiday!

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