The Internet in Addis Ababa is a bit of shit show. With a 3G local SIM card, you can pull down emails in real time on your phone but despite the abundance of Internet cafes everywhere, WiFi is hard to find.
Traveling on a budget does not mean that you should overlook the amenities the high-end hotels have to offer. Desperate for a WiFi connection to upload files, read important emails with links that I need to see before replying, I decided to go check out the Hilton Hotel in Addis.
Influenced by Aiden Hartly’s The Zanzibar Chest and his descriptions of journalists bunking down at Hiltons, Sheratons and such others through out East Africa as they chase the next set of disasters, I knew this Hilton lobby would not be like any others else where in the world. After making my way though the two tiers of security and metal detectors, I walk into the lobby and survey the scene. Even with its fading beauty, this Hilton is built to be a complete eco-system with everything you possibly need and want; a safe bubble of civility and reprieve from the dirt, poverty and choas just outside of its gates. Travel center, ATMs, business centers, beauty salon, pool, spa, meeting room, clothing stores…it is not unthinkable to never need to venture beyond the grounds of the hotel and have every need catered for. This is not the Ethiopia I’ve come to see but this reality is part of its actuality.
I look around the lobby and café de-coding the crowd. Foreign business men, diplomats, journalists, NGO donors and executives, an abundance of ex-pats with a sprinkling of tourists….perhaps a spy or two in the mix as well. I buy a 24-hour access card for the WiFi, find a spot near a power source and get to work. Every so often I look up from my screen to survey the crowd and glace at the television screen with CNN headlines cycling through. As daylight fades and cocktail hour approaches, the bar starts to fill with white men in khaki pants and polo shirts. With its 70’s decor, the international clientele here seeking their loot, the scene is set for James Bond’s entrance, dapper as all hell, walking up to the bar in a crisp Italian suit ordering a drinking and putting all the khaki pants boys to shame.
I’ve come to love the Hilton for its speedy WiFi connection and its relaxed staff that does not harass you for sitting at a table for 8 hours on end. Being here makes me understand the Africa of Hartley’s memory a little bit more; the seeming futility of what journalists risk their lives for, the greed of private interests as well as the international intrigue of my fantasy.
Stop in for the decent Internet, have a cup of coffee priced for the internationals and do a little people watching. This is Africa.