What a contrast to Addis Ababa! The Ethiopian capital is a roiling, jammed metropolis with an “official” population of around 3.6 million (probably closer to 6 million in actuality). Mekelle, on the other hand, is a small city of about 250,000, of which about 30,000 are university students. Mekelle is known (at least locally) as the “City of Knowledge” due to the large university presence. Both Addis Ababa and Mekelle are situated at high altitudes. Mekelle sits at 6,800 feet (take that, Denver!) and you certainly notice the effects of altitude when you arrive. Mekelle is uncongested, pleasant, and unpolluted (at least as unpolluted as an African metropolis can be). When we left the States, St. Louis was being bludgeoned by a polar vortex, with early morning temperatures as low as -10 F. Today Helen and I have been sitting outside in our shirt sleeves, sipping exotic multi-layered beverages at a local juice bar under a clear, sunny sky.
The flight from Addis Ababa to Mekelle is a little over an hour by turboprop, (assuming that it leaves on time). The airport is small, but serviceable, and we were met on arrival by our old friend Eyoel Berhan, the “Vice-Dean for Everything” at the Mekelle College of Health Sciences. The airport is on the outskirts of town, just beyond the university proper and it is only a 15 minute drive into the heart of Mekelle.
For the time being we are staying at the Axum Hotel, Mekelle’s finest. It has an imposing external façade and it is clean and serviceable, but really no better on an absolute scale than a moderately priced “Best Western” back in the U.S. The food is pretty good and very moderately priced by our standards. The best part of it is eating outside under a palm tree when the mood suits us. We think of you often back in the bleak wintery landscape of St. Louis.