Travel Report from Ethiopia (21 January 2004)

Hello from Ethiopia!

Everything is different in Ethiopia. We arrived in Ethiopia on the 16 April 1! 996 at roughly 12pm. In our calendar this corresponds to the 26 December 2003 at five in the afternoon. Ethiopia has its own thirteen-month calendar and still finds itself in the year 1996. Owing to the proximity to the equator, sunrise and sunset in Ethiopia seldom vary from 6:30 am and 6:30pm respectively. The Ethiopian clock starts, quite logically, at sunrise, (1 o’clock), and ends at sunset (12 o’clock). When making hotel reservations, a single room is a room with one double bed, and a double room is a room with two single beds. These unique differences made the country a lot of fun to explore.

After our beer splurge on the n ight we crossed into Ethiopia from Sudan, we were confirmed Dashen Beer fans. We made our way through the beautiful and winding highland roads toward Gondor. En route, we were struck by the appearance of the people. All the men are tall, with long thin legs. They wear green blankets around their shoulders and they all carry sticks which are used as walking sticks, a pole on which to hang a bag of goods over the shoulder with, to tie their Agili to (a leather-bound bread container), to herd cattle, sheep and goats with, or to rest over both shoulders with arms looped over it so as to relax the shoulders whilst walking. EVERY male has a stick. Even little toddlers have the toddler size sticks, with which they herd their chickens or smaller sheep (smaller children have smaller charges in their care)! . Women have long braided hair, wear pretty white dresses embroidered wi! th a coloured border, called Natala’s. The greeting for Faranji (foreigners) in Ethiopia is “you!’ This can be shouted out to you, sung to you, called out to you in chorus of little voices if you are passing a group of small children, and is always accompanied with a big smile and waving.

Gondor was a wealthy medieval city in its time and we were able to visit the castle which still remains as a reminder of this era. We also came into contact with Ethiopian food. The Injera, which looks and tastes like a grey sour pancake, accompanies every meal. Meals are all meat based; only on fasting days are vegetarian dishes on off er. ! We particularly enjoyed the Lamb Tibs and the Key Wat – both fri ed and stewed meats cooked with Berbere – the spice Ethiopia is famous for! Very hot, but delicious! Once In Gondor, we also made the discovery that we were in the home of the Dashen Brewery. Rodney, Janet, Christian and I met with the PR Manager, who agreed to organise a tour of the brewery for us. All equipment is state of the art, they produce one crate of beer per second, and our favourite department was the quality department, where we got to test all the fresh beer!

After celebrating our New Years Eve in Gondor with Rodney and Janet and some very good Ethiopian wine, Christian and I headed for Bahar Dar on Lake Tana. We spent two nights on the edge of the lake and used the day in between to take a boat out, past the col! onies of pelicans, to explore the Island Monastries. These are very old buildings on the islands and are habited by monks. At the centre of the buildings are paintings for which the monasteries are famous. They depict the Ethiopian saints, which share some of the known disciples and Jesus and Mary, but also illustrate many unique individuals who do not appear in the bible as we know it. Ethiopians are fiercely orthodox, and as one of the oldest seats of Christianity, the church traditions are ancient and have remained relatively unchanged. People thumb through scriptures, sing hymns and pray, indifferent to the modern world around them. The Ethiopians who live around Lake Tana make their own boats ou t of papyrus, called Tankwa’s. The boats resemble a small paper canoe, bu t are capable of transporting cattle across the lake!

From Bahar Dar we drove to Lalibela to visit the famous rock hewn churches of Ethiopia. Unbeknown to us, our visit (7th and 8th of January 2004) coincided with Ethiopian Christmas 1996. The roads were covered with pilgrims making their way from all over the country with herds of animals as offerings to the church. The churches were packed with people, crouched on the floor praying, ululating, being touched by and kissing the hands and crosses of priests. Priests showed us their crosses and ancient bibles all written on leather. Most of the churches, carved completely out of and now st! anding free of the rock they were once a part of, are connected to one another by tunnels, some so dark that you need a! torch to get through them. Spirits were high amongst the pilgrims who sang, danced, drummed and celebrated, and colourful ceremonial umbrellas were everywhere.

From Lalibela, we made the long, slow and torturous drive to Addis Ababa. The roads are sharp and stony; we suffered one rear puncture, and our two front tires were badly eaten away. The 800km trip took three days. This trip took us through lush green mountainous areas and we also passed a school which had just finished for the afternoon. As soon as the smaller chil! dren saw us, they all started dancing towards us, singing and waving.

Once in Addis, we took a few days break to repair ti res, I went to a local hairdresser and had my hair braided ‘Ethiopian Style’ – a good way of keeping your hair out of your eyes, tremendously painful, and provides an instant facelift and 24 hour long surprised expression on ones face owing to the forehead having being pulled up and braided into the hair. The hairdressers also curled my hair, and had some hair tongs ready for me, once my curls were set. I had seen them get the tongs ready and use them on other girls’ hair while my braids were still being put in. The tongs were made out of heavy metal and lay over a little fire on the table in front of the customers. The fire was regularly topped up with metholated spirits to keep the tongues burning. They would then be picked up and tongued through the relevant head of hair, smoke and steam being tangible by-products of the result. I politely refused.

We explored the Merkato Market of Addis, which has an amazing recycling section. Tiny stores are stuffed with scrap metal which is banged and reshaped into coffeepots, tins and the like. We also treated ourselves to a raw meat restaurant in Addis. Ethiopians eat raw meat which they call Kitfo. We were led to what appeared to the butcher street – every shop had a display of cow carcasses in the front. We placed our order for a quantity of meat, were led to the rest aurant on the side of the shop, sat down, and! served fresh draught beer and our plate of raw meat with Injera immed iately. Ethiopians are very fussy about their meat, so the quality is excellent, and it tasted good! Whilst eating, we were entertained by an Azari. These are wondering minstrels that go from village to village with a fiddle made out of skin, and which has only one string. They are very witty, and sing entertaining songs about their immediate surroundings, making the words up as they go along. The Azari asked us for our names, and then started singing about us, much to the amusement of the rest of the restaurant who could understand him – we could not!

From Addis, we spent two nights in Wondo Genet. ! This is another lush area, filled with banana, coffee and avocado plantations. It is also a great hiking area and we spent a day doing exactly that. Our guide pointed out birds as we went along – Ethiopia has the most endemic species of birds in Africa, and some are really spectacular. We saw the colobus monkeys which are black and have long white beards around their faces, their backs and at the tips of their tales. We were also taken to the source of the nearby hot springs which reach temperatures of 85 degrees celcius. The local people come to cook their potatoes, eggs and tea in the source. 10 minutes for perfect potatoes! We bathed in the hot spr! ings lower down the mountain, where the water has cooled off to a mana geable temperature.

FromWondo Genet, we drove to the border, which took us past the “singing wells of Borena’. The Borena are a tribe and the wells are unique to them. The wells are up to s 30 meters deep, a ladder stands against one wall, and 10 men stand one underneath each other on the ladder. Each pass a bucket full of water up to the man above him, and at the same time, pass an empty bucket back down again. This water is emptied into a pool, in which two more people stand passing buckets up to the next two people above them, who empty their water into a water trough. Cattle are herded through a tunnel to the water trough. All ! the passing of water is done in rhythm to a song that all men and women sing, which is a song of encouragement. Hence the name, ‘singing wells’.

Leaving Ethiopia took place as quickly as arriving in the country did. We were sad to leave such lovely people and such great beer. We are now in Kenya and will send the next update out shortly. We have sent the highlight pictures with this mail. More pictures will be posted on our website:

We hope you are all well and send our love,

Julianne and Christian.