Ethiopian Birr

Bank counterGoing into Ethiopia for my couple of days holiday I searched the web for information about changing money. I found all sorts of useful information but not the vital fact that you can’t change your Birr back at the airport. It seems that foreign currency is in short supply across Ethiopia and everyone would love to be paid in dollars.  So, just bring dollars!

Foolishly I withdrew quite a lot of Birr from an ATM on arrival at the airport. What I had not factored in, because I was ill, is that because I was ill I would not be going anywhere. However, I had a lovely stay in the comfortable and friendly Jupiter Bole hotel – mostly sleeping and sipping bottled water.

It was when I was leaving that I realised that I could not exchange my Birr. It is not an internationally traded currency so it’s no use to anyone outside the country. I took the only sensible course of action left to me –  I shopped up a storm in one of the few shops in this terminal. You might remember that the other terminal has no shops at all – or any other way to offload money. Small troubles.

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Addicted to spending money

On this trip we transited through Addis Ababa. I have previously found this airport to be a challenging one in terms of there’s nothing there, the toilets are awful and there’s nowhere nice to wait. On this trip we muddled our way through the huge, colourful, crowds towards our gate. The gate is in the new building which is recently opened, or so it looks. Huge numbers people transit through Addis every day and the new terminal has lots of seating. It also has modern, western toilets which work. What is does not have is a single shop. There are a few vending machines for drinks and snacks and a water dispenser (yay for having keep-cup to get some of this water!).

My travelling companions and I agreed that our western, consumer minds were blown by the lack of opportunity to spend money. This terminal has focused on getting people on and off flights, not on taking their money. Shock. Horror. In the West the shops would be a priority and would probably be trading long before the departure gates were operational. Our sense of consumer starvation (not the best choice of word when thinking about Ethiopia, sorry) was startling to us all. We hadn’t realised how conditioned we are. So, I have no souvenirs of that short visit! I will be back for a couple of days, though, and hope to make up for it then.

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