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Horizons: Ethiopia 2011


Ethiopia, lionEating Ethiopia!

The photograph on the website’s introductory page is of Lucy. Lucy resides in the National Museum in Addis Ababa, where this statue, the symbol of Ethiopia can also be found. I think it’s bronze but it does call to mind the lyrics “I gonna be iron, like a lion, in Zion.”

One of Bob Marley’s worst lyrical constructs does touch on the history of this ancient nation and its independence over the last 3,000 years. Ethiopia became the second Christian country, after Armenia, in the C4th AD and through the periods of Islamic Empire became isolated from the strands of Mediterranean Christianity, thus developing its own idiosyncratic religion. Prior to the development of Christianity it is likely that the Ethiopians had contact with the Jewish states, from the early first millennium BC, the story of the Queen of Sheba and Solomon almost certainly represent this contact, and they had probably adopted monotheism from an early date, in contrast to the sub-Saharan countries.


Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, streets, peopleIt is quite clear from simply looking at the Ethiopians that it was not just religion that infiltrated the country; the people are quite beautiful and are clearly the result of breeding between the southern Africans and the peoples of the Middle East. I was quite astonished to see stunning women everywhere I looked and, whilst I spent considerably less time looking at the men, handsome would not be too strong a word for the majority. It’s interesting, but Vietnam, another country with a long history and a reputation for shrugging off wannabe colonisers, probably has the most attractive people in south-east Asia; there’s a lot to be said for mixing up the gene pools!

For very obvious reasons I didn’t go around snapping photos of attractive females; I’ve learned in the past that this sort of activity can have unwanted side effects, such as a clout from Andrea, or an offer or rebuttal from the subject of the photograph, so you’ll just have to believe me!

Jon Lane, Addis Ababa, EthiopiaOne of our greatest disappointments was that we were unable to meet up with Jon and Özlem Lane, who have been living in Addis Ababa for five years. We arrived on the 4th July and they left, permanently for Bangkok, three days before.  Jon was able to give us a few tips, which proved very helpful, but he also added that Addis Ababa in July was not really the place to be. After two days in Addis we did have to strike out and find something else to do; as Jon had said, it’s not the most interesting place in the world. I wish I’d had a photo of Özlem to include here, but sadly I do not, and this infamous picture of Jon in Suzhou will have to suffice.

plough, National Museum, Ethiopia, Addis AbabaWe had a good walk around the centre of Addis, we did visit the National Museum and Entoto, the Emperor’s summer palace overlooking the city, and we sampled the (mainly) expat nightlife at the German Bier Garden and the Black Rose Bar. Our hotel was adequate and we ate reasonably well, but it was strange tucking into large plates of food in Ethiopia, its more recent history and the present crisis to the east made one feel guilty immediately.

Another museum exhibit was this plough. I thought nothing of it to start with, simply n ancient piece of equipment. It was only when we drove out of Addis that we found the very same plough was in use in field after field. It seemed the overnight rain had encouraged the farmers to bring out their oxen to prepare for sowing their crops; we saw no other type of plough.

Except for those areas where there were an excess of stones and boulders in the fields much of the farmland appeared fertile and well watered, plough, field, Ethiopiaalthough some showed signs of rapid erosion. There was little evidence of any intensive cultivation and you had this nagging feeling that Ethiopia should not be languishing behind Haiti as one of the poorest countries in the world. Quite obviously our own trips took us only to the south and south-west of Addis and I accept that the peephole view we were allowed is insufficient for my comment to carry any weight, suburb, Addis Ababa, Ethiopiabut it is clear, when you look at the poorest countries in the world, that armed disputes and internal displacement are by far the biggest factor in their position on that list, not food production alone. Of course the recent drought and famine in the Horn of Africa are set to make things significantly worse.

Dehab Hotel, Addis Ababa, EthiopiaPoverty is very evident in Addis Ababa, but of course this is exacerbated by the number of people who have moved from rural areas to avoid the grinding poverty there. The city as a whole has the appearance of a large shanty town, although appearances can be misleading, the shot above is of a relatively affluent area.

I particularly liked the look of the “Dehab Hotel” although we didn’t venture in. It was particularly close to St. George’s Cathedral, which is apparently a place of pilgrimage for giant tortoise, St George Cathedral, Addis Ababa, EthiopiaRastafarians. It’s a modest octagonal building, housing the coronation throne of Haile Selassie, but of greater interest were the giant tortoises in the garden. These things were huge, I’d guess a metre in length, and must be of significant age; it’s surprising that someone hasn’t chosen to eat them over the years.

Images of St. George and the dragon could be found wherever we went. I believe it is because the Ethiopian Army carried supposed relics of St George into battle against the pilgrims, St George Cathedral, Addis Ababa, EthiopiaItalians in the late C19th, a major battle that the Ethiopians won, one of the few times an African army defeated a European one.

Visitors to the church behaved slightly unusually in that they kissed the railings and the walls of the church as they approached and offered up prayers. Males used one door and females another; with all the headscarves, the compulsory removal of footwear and the unusual shape of the structure you would be forgiven for thinking it was a mosque from the outside, rather than a church, another sign that the Ethiopian Orthodox church has been around for a long time.

It would appear that the two religions growing fastest in Ethiopia are Islam and, more surprisingly Christian Protestantism. The latter is inexplicable to me, but I’m sure there must be some reason for it. Ethiopia has quite a mixed bag of religions, but is mainly split two thirds / one third Christians to Muslims.

When we were travelling, and crossed the Awash River, we came across a group of women meeting at the river side. Gazahie, our driver, advised us that they were Christians praying to the river god, so quite what form of Christianity they followed was obscure!

Gazahie was a really nice guy and keen that we should see Ethiopia in the best light. When I was critical of Chinese drivers he took this as my being critical of China as a whole and obviously thought I was seriously out of order for dissing a country I’d visited or lived in. I suspect if he were to read this piece he would be similarly disappointed with me; I guess he believes that a guest to a country should respond with glowing praise rather than any criticism. I can only apologise for doing what I do, but I would say that almost without exception, the people of Ethiopia we met were kindly, polite and helpful; the key exception was “Ras” David.