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Return to Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa        The little blue and white taxi        Addis from the workshop room

On Sunday I left Cape Town to travel to Addis Ababa – a soul journey back to a place of my youth – and to engage with other artists.  I was last in Addis in January 1981 when we left to return to Uganda.  As I boarded the Ethiopian Airlines plane in Johannesburg I realised that the last time I boarded a plane to Addis things were very different.  The air hostesses walked around the plane with a plate of sweets before take off and landing, to give you something to suck so your ears would not block.  In those days we were still able to go and visit the cockpit to see how the pilots fly the planes.  Smoking was still allowed in airplanes, and there was a smoking and a non-smoking area.  We still got little packs with socks, eye pads and toothbrushes on airlines.  And in the toilets, in the airplanes, there was soap and lotion.  And if you went on a long transatlantic flight, chances are you would have your toilet bag with you in the plane. It was a very different time.

There was a buzz in the plane – passengers talking to each other, laughing…  it was not like some of the flights I have been on where everyone seems to mind their own business and everything feels so impersonal in the plane.  I think many people on the flight knew each other, or got to know each other, and the Ethiopian Airlines staff created an atmosphere that was just pleasant.  I kept feeling as if I was in someone’s lounge.

We arrived in Addis at about 9 pm local time.  As we taxied down the runway, I remembered how Daddy used to wait to hear the plane flying over our house before he got into the car to come to the airport.  We lived in Bole, very close to the airport.  I thought I might be able to see where we lived as we drove out of the airport.  I noticed, as we got out of the bus that the airport building was bigger than it had been.  And as we drove out of the airport the empty spaciousness that I remembered along Bole Road was filled with buildings, cars and people – tall buildings with multiple storeys.  The road had also grown – it was much wider than it had been.  I think that the houses in the area, or many of them, were broken down to make way for the new buildings.  Our hosts said that all this development happened in the last 6 to 7 years.  Addis is growing very fast.

But somethings don’t change – at least not totally.  The little blue and white taxis that drove up and down the streets in 1977 are still there – a crucial mode of public transport.  They have changed just a little. In 1977 most of them were Fiats but now they are Datsuns or Toyotas.  Then there is the  quirkyness of Addis – with its upmarket housing next to low-cost housing.  In this city people live side by side – they always have.  I remember when we first came here we were surprised at the shacks that were so close to the Palace.  The suburbs don’t really exist.    It’s a conscious plan to enable even development, and to ensure that the rich and poor are integrated.  The discomfort that people from the suburbs have when they go to the poorer parts of town in other countries does not exist – and I like that.


View from the window of the course room                  the primary school below the workshop room, Addis Ababa, April 2013








About Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa

I am a facilitator, coach and storyteller/storyfacilitator, and use story, song, art and dialogue to facilitate change and development in individuals and organisations. Over the years I have become aware of how I have used stories to make sense of my life - and of the ways in which we all use story, consciously and unconsciously. Stories - myths, folktales and personal stories - are used to teach, to bind, to questions, to hold ambiguities, to explore, to hold up a different picture, to bring together and also to hold back, to suppress, divide and destroy. With this understanding I have built story into my work. I use it to make conscious the stories people and organisations tell themselves that either support or hinder their growth. I use them as an opening, an invitation to begin to speak about the difficult things - to name 'the elephant' in the room. I use them as an invitation to people to dream of possibilities - and I also teach people to tell and to listen to stories because without a listener there is no story. I was born in Uganda and lived there until I was in my early teens. Since then have lived in various parts of East and Southern Africa - and have been involved in development work in Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and the UK. I have also coached clients in South Africa, Namibia, the UK, Belgium, Israel and USA.

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