Friday, October 5, 2012: I would never have thought of visiting Ethiopia. As a matter of fact, I specifically said on my bucket list that I would go to Lebanon over Eid al Adha in 2012. However. With the refugees that are pouring into Lebanon from Syria now, the U.S. State Department advises travelers to stay away:
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: The current Department of State Travel Warning advises U.S. citizens against travel to Lebanon. U.S. citizens who visit or reside in Lebanon despite the Travel Warning should be aware that there are a number of serious security concerns, and should consult the Travel Warning for up-to-date information.
U.S. citizens traveling to Lebanon should also be aware that personnel from the U.S. Embassy are not able to travel in all areas of Lebanon. In the case of an emergency involving a U.S. citizen in areas where it is unsafe for Embassy personnel to travel, the Embassy may not be able to render assistance.
In the event that the security climate in the country worsens, U.S. citizens will be responsible for arranging their own travel out of Lebanon. U.S. citizens with special medical or other needs should be aware of the risks of remaining given their condition and should be prepared to seek treatment in Lebanon if they cannot arrange for travel out of the country.
SO. I was in a dilemma. I debated whether I should go to Prague, which would be expensive following on the heels of my recent trip to Greece, or to Zanzibar or Sri Lanka, the destination of choice for many of my colleagues here in Oman. Finally, my long-time friend, who works at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, suggested I come to Ethiopia.
That was that. I promptly bought my ticket, which will depart Muscat early the morning of October 25 (happy birthday to me!). I’ll stay in the country for 8 days and depart Addis late on Thursday, November 1, arriving back in Muscat early in the morning of Friday, November 2. This is the Eid Al-Adha holiday in Oman; the same holiday during which I went to Jordan last year.
Now, I am reading up on Ethiopia in Lonely Planet Ethiopia & Eritrea. The more I read, the more excited I am becoming. It’s amazing how little I knew about this country in the Horn of Africa. I am learning about the Kingdom of Aksun, the Queen of Sheba, the coming of Christianity and Islam, the Zagwe Dynasty and its rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the Ethiopian Middle Ages, the Muslim-Christian Wars, the rise and fall of Gonder, Emperor Tewodros, Emperor Yohannes, Emperor Menelik, Emperor Haile Selassie, and the Italian occupation. I still have more history to read, and I look forward to learning more about this country about which, I’m embarrassed to say, I’m generally clueless.
This is my first trip ever to Africa proper. I have been to Egypt, which is technically in Africa, but is considered to be more a part of the Middle East.
When I started to think about going to Ethiopia, I read on the State Department website that as a U.S. citizen, I could get a visa for $20 at Bole International Airport. After returning home from my vacation in the US and Greece, I checked the website again. This is what I found:
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: To avoid possible confusion or delays, travelers are strongly advised to obtain a valid Ethiopian visa at the nearest Ethiopian Embassy prior to arrival. This is a necessary step if you plan to enter Ethiopia by any land port-of-entry. For example: travelers wishing to enter Ethiopia from Kenya at the land border at Moyale must obtain an Ethiopian visa first. Ethiopian visas ARE NOT available at the border crossing point at Moyale or at any other land border in Ethiopia. Ethiopian tourist visas (one month or three month, single entry) may be available to U.S. citizens upon arrival at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa in some cases.NOTE: A Government of Ethiopia policy prevents travelers born in Eritrea, regardless of their current nationality, from receiving tourist visas at the airport. The on-arrival visa process is available only at Bole International Airport and is not available at any of the other airports in Ethiopia. The visa fee at Bole International Airport is payable in U.S. dollars. Business visas of up to three months validity can also be obtained at Bole International Airport upon arrival, but only if the traveler has a sponsoring organization in Ethiopia that has made prior arrangements for issuance through the Main Immigration Office in Addis Ababa. In some cases, U.S. tourist and business travelers have not been permitted to receive visas at Bole International Airport or have been significantly delayed.
As Oman does not have an Ethiopian Embassy, I went through much hand-wringing over this warning. Either I could take my chance and show up at the airport, or I could mail my passport to the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, in hopes that I would get my passport and the visa back in time for my trip. My friend eased my worries when he told me that it shouldn’t be a problem, since these delays usually occur only to people who have an Ethiopian Embassy in their country. In my case, since Oman doesn’t have an embassy, I should be okay.
Let’s hope he’s right. 🙂