The main reason that I've chosen to visit Ethiopia at this stage in my travels was to take part in the Great Ethiopian Run, the largest race in Africa. Yesterday I made my way to the Hilton Hotel to pick up my race pack, only to be disappointed on a number of fronts. I knew before I came here that I would be expected to race in a teeshirt provided by the race organisers, and while I didn't expect the most high-tec sports garment, I didn't think that I would be given a medium men's sized bright yellow thick cotton tee-shirt with a tight neck, advertising coffee flavoured condoms. It's been getting warmer and warmer every day this week, and when I toe the starting line alongside 35,000 other 'fun runners' in the polluted city centre at 9am on Sunday morning, I'm pretty sure that all the Sure '24 hour protection' deodorant in the world won't stop me from having massive sweat patches. What I'll look like when I finish only time will tell.
After getting my head around the fact that I wasn't getting a tee-shirt that actually fits me, I proceeded to open my race pack to see what goodies were inside - a calender so small that I cannot see, a condom leaflet in a language that I cannot read, an advertisement for vehicles that I can neither afford nor drive, and an invitation to a prerace pasta party which, given its location, is not top of my list of things to do before I leave Ethiopia. Oh and no race number or timing device. Despite the £26 entry fee, if I actually care about how long it takes me to cover the course (as normal athletes do) and not just about how much I've raised for charity, in addition to the massive aforementioned tee-shirt I'll also have to wear a watch to time myself.
The Hilton hotel reminded me of everything that is wrong with the world. In the middle of a developing city, is a hotel of most epic superfluousness, where the guests, many of them aid workers and international dignitaries it seems, can be isolation from the poverty, and deprived of the culture, outside of the hotel compound. I'm not sure my ragged bottom tracksuit pants and torn trainers went down so well in this 5 Star hellhole, but I came to Africa to experience Africa. 'We can end poverty by 2015' the slogan on the back of the race tee-shirt reads. I'm all for a bit of optimism, but surely that's stretching things a little too far, especially when so many people live in complete ignorance of the growing gap between the rich and the poor, and when a hotel so disgustingly extravagant can exist in a city so poor.
Trying not to get too outraged, I did manage to smile at one thing in the hotel. Alongside the other sandwich boards and pull-up banners informing of events taking place was a sign for the 'Ambassadors and Heads of Mission Souses and Diplomatic Spouses' Diplomatic Bazaar 2010. Is that like W.A.Gs of the diplomatic world?
Before I get a barrage of hatemail, I do admire those who give their lives to helping others, and who do what, in their opinion, they can to help those in the developing world. After all I can't really speak. All I do is travel to these countries and spend a small few pennies on bananas, a fruit, which with or without my miserly investments will be extinct in a few years anyway.