The appeal of ultra-portable computers is kinda self-explanatory: they’re ultra portable! Or that’s the idea, at least – the combination of light weight and low profile means you can take them just about anywhere. Anywhere? Well, let’s see. In conjunction with our friends at Samsung, we’ve equipped one of our intrepid editors – specifically, Music Editor and general man-about-Flavorpill Tom Hawking – with the new Samsung Series 9 laptop and sent him off on a trip likely to really put the machine through its paces: a journey through Africa for three weeks! He started in Cairo, and today we find him in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and also — unbeknownst to your correspondent — the 19th African Union Heads of State and Government Summit.
Like much of my generation, I suspect, for me the first images evoked by the word “Ethiopia” are those of the hideous famine of the mid-’80s: starving, swollen-bellied children without the energy to brush flies from their faces; Bob Geldof and Band-Aid; the dictator Mengitsu, whose name even sounded like that of a particularly nefarious Doctor Who villain. This was of course all many years ago, and Ethiopia is a very different country in 2012 to what it was in 1984 – but still, first impressions remain powerful, especially if those impressions are formed in childhood, staring starkly out of the TV into your living room.
So it’s probably a bigger surprise than it should be to fly into Addis Ababa and be greeted with a landscape that’s as verdant as any I’ve seen anywhere. In fairness, the city is on the highlands, hundreds of kilometers away from the famine regions – but even so, the immediate thought that comes to my head as I drive into town are that it’s criminal that a country so fertile ever starved, an indictment on the pseudo-Marxist Derg junta that ruled the country until 1987 (of whom more later).
Anyway, the point is: Addis is fertile, palpably so. If Cairo is dust, then Addis is mud – rich, loamy mud. The air is heavy and wet, the sky grey and always apparently ready to burst. The streets smell of soft earth. There’s a decent-sized thunderstorm every day at about 3pm, and the usual shoe-shine kids who pepper the main streets of pretty much Addis-esque city in the world also specialize in shoe-cleaning.
As the sun goes down, there’s a low haze over the city, like the earth itself is steaming. It imbues the landscape with a ghostly beauty that’s like nothing you see elsewhere. There’s something wild and primal about it. And the twilight goes on for hours.