Relfections on Ethiopia

The Ethiopian landscape

Ethiopia feels unique amongst the other 11 African countries we’ve visited so far. The borders separating Ethiopia from its neighbours feel natural, whereas most borders in Africa were created for the convenience of the colonizers — mashing together or splitting apart a multitude of different tribes and religions under one flag. As soon as we crossed over from Kenya into Ethiopia, things were decidedly different. We started climbing. The scenery in Ethiopia is some of the best we’ve seen anywhere in the world. It rises to a plateau, spanning most of the country in a spectacular highland of mountains and valleys. No wonder Ethiopia produces some of the world’s top runners! There are endemic plants and animals found nowhere else, including the very cool gelada baboon, the mountain ibex and the Ethiopian wolf.

Kids and their hats

Ethiopia is harmoniously multicultural, but the overwhelming majority of people are Orthodox Christians — which is fairly unique to Africa. They also have their own language (Amharic), calendar, and 24-hour clock, which I mentioned previously. The people themselves are distinctive-looking too, with very delicate features. The women wear their hair in tight rows of braids, ending midway down the back of their skulls in a big, bouncy bush. Little boys often have shaved heads with little tufts of hair remaining at the front or back. There are so many little boys, and girls. Every time the truck or bus pulled over for a break, they’d come running from all directions shouting ‘you you you you you!’. They must have built-in faranji (whitey) radar for us. Love them, but when I really have to pee, I don’t exactly want them following. They are cute though.

Injera and sauces

When it comes to cuisine, there’s nothing like it. They grow their own grain, tef, which is used to make injera, a diet staple. Injera acts as a bread or rice, served with a variety of minced meats or fasting vegetables. Injera looks like a cross between a crumpet and a giant pancake. It tastes sour because the grain, after a good pounding, is fermented. It’s an acquired taste, one which I thankfully did acquire. Traditional beverages include tej, a tasty honey wine, and coffee. An Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a must for anyone traveling in the country. It takes a while, but it’s a worthy experience. Green beans are roasted over a small, incense-scented charcoal burner. Then they’re pounded and put into a special flask, with water, for brewing the coffee. The process is repeated three times. Each time, more grinds are added to the flask, making each cup successively stronger.

If it’s not your cup of tea, or coffee, many establishments also serve up delicious macchiatos. Beautiful old Italian espresso machines are found throughout the county, thanks to their former Italian occupiers. You’ll also find many Ethiopian takes on Italian food in restaurants, such as ‘spagetti tommato sace’ or ‘penny bogolnase’, and some even serve pizza! Other Italian influences can be seen on the streets, which are lined with kids playing foosball on crooked tables, protected by overhead tarps.

Getting the Crocs shined

It struck me how poor Ethiopia was, even compared to it’s neighbours. The poverty is most notable in outlying areas where many people don’t even have shoes. (They have AK47s and umbrellas, but no shoes). Many people ask for food as we walk or drive past. In the towns and cities, though, it seems the standard of living is reasonably high, perhaps because the cost of living seems low. A delicious macchiato from a coffee shop costs around 3 Birr, which is the equivalent of 35 cents. The restaurants and coffee shops are regularly full and so are the shops. They also take meticulous care of their shoes. In cities and small towns alike, there is no shortage of shoeshine boys ready to wipe your shoes down for 5-10 Birr. For kicks, Mark got his Crocs shined up in Addis.

We’ll fondly remember Ethiopia and look forward to coming back some day — in September, one year, when there are actually views to be had in the Simien Mountains!

Comments

    Hello Sweet Patooties,
    Do you know about the threatened extinction of the Cross-River Gorilla in the highlands in Cameroon – only around 200 left? The Anmore Alternative News is hosting an Arts in the Garden Event, with 50% of the proceeds going to this African Conservation Foundation project. One of the artists at the event will be UNEP honoured artist, Daniel Taylor, who is selling prints of a painting he made of the gorilla – quite incredible! If you get a chance, check out the story of the gorilla’s plight at http://www.anmorealternative.com.

    <3 AL

    Was Mark wearing socks and crocs?

    Yep. Busted. Hey, it was cold up there!

    your photos are incredible.
    where can i meet you?

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    You should come meet us in Jordan!

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