Abyssinia-the enticing name should tempt everyone to make a visit. I have no idea why they chose to now call this hidden gem of a country Ethiopia.(OK, even that name sounds cool).My first encounter with Ethiopia is when I made a stop over in 2014 and made friends with an amazing lady called Anket who offered her home to me whenever I chose to visit. First-forward to Jan 2016 and it was going to happen as I planned to traverse Abyssinia.
Things to do:
1: Witness a Coffee Ceremony:
Whenever Ethiopians have a guest, they are honoured by sharing the “Coffee Ceremony”.They prepare coffee from scratch.The coffee beans which already have their husks removed are sorted and washed thoroughly.(I didnt even know they are almost cream in colour).
They are then roasted until they turn brown/black and then ground.
Traditionally, they would pound them physically but with the advent of technology, we used a blender. Next, water is boiled in a traditional earthen jug called a “Jebena “and the powder is added to make the final product-a cup of coffee.
It was interesting to hear that this happens in every home and I felt honored and privileged.
2) Sample their meals
Anket and her brother David went out of their way to ensure they prepared various meals like Tibs- which is offered on special occassions or to special guests and Shiro wat to ensure I sampled real Ethiopian meals. To prepare Tibs, meat is diced and then cooked in a pan. It is then topped with onions,tomatoes and any other seasoning one prefers.It is then served with Injeera which is their main dish.
You need to understand Injeera-they love it.The eat it daily, for breakfast, for lunch, for tea break, for supper-any time is Injeera time. Tibs with Injeera, Injeera with stew, Injeera with soup, Injeera with Spagetti-everything.
3 .Attend a Religious festival:
I attended Timkat:
Timkat means Baptism and is a celebration of the baptism of Jesus at the river Jordan. It is the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. The priests carry the Ark/Tabot which is replicas of Tablets of the Law on which the Ten Commandments were written. These are found in all Orthodox churches and are covered in bright linen and carried on the head of one of the priests.
Now, I will try to be as vivid as possible, but seeing is believing. This is held on 19th January or 20th in a leap year. Thus both 19th and 20th are National holidays. The streets were covered with mini flags of yellow, red and green-the Ethiopian flag colours. People dressed up and when I say dress up, I mean- dress up. Every one is decked in their best clothing dominated by Ethiopian fashion. After a specific time, all roads leading to Jamena are closed. No vehicles are allowed in or out. Foot traffic is high with people literally lining the streets.
Carpets are laid out and people sweep it in anticipation of a very important guest. Kindly note, people are not in their tens, not hundreds but thousands. Colour, flair and singing fills the air. Different church groups sing and dance -I was in awe.
Finally the climax occured when we saw the open, bright umbrellas signifying the arrival of the ark.The songs got louder, the dancers more euphoric and you could see and almost touch the feeling of awe, jubilation and reverence on the people’s faces. As the priests passed on the carpet, some people would kneel and kiss the floor acknowledging that the Ark referred to as the Tabot is Holy and thus the area is holy.
The reverence of the people as they watch the priest carry the Ark is mind boggling and priceless. The Tabot is then led to a pool of water and dipped as Jesus was during Baptism and then returned to the Churches the next Day. This is truly a remarkable ceremony to attend and I highly advice everyone to attend. Being in the midst of it all, watching the people, watching their reverence and devotion, listening and joining in in their singing is one memory I will remember forever.It also mademe question my devotion and reverence to my Faith, to my God. I however advise that you arrive early so as to get a prime spot to enable you to see all.
*Disclaimer, I apologize to Ethiopia and all Orthodox for not dressing appropriately. I had been so intent on attending, I forgot to do my homework on dressing-women cover their heads with a white scarf and dress in their best preferably long flowing outfits.
Shop anywhere and everywhere. Everyone spoke of Merkato being crazy, noisy, and scary and lots of begging children. I didn’t walk all of it but my experience was to the contrary. It is orderly-different streets selling different items, tall shopping buildings and construction ongoing everywhere. No I didn’t feel insecure but as always keep your property safe. The hawkers also have some great stuff, their shoes are new, and their prices friendly only challenge is you have to “stalk them” as they disappear whenever the police appear. Let’s just say, my shoe collection has expanded. Arat Kilo is great if you are looking for Ethiopian outfits-ok also other several places and souvenirs. When you go shopping, buy immediately. I attempted to window shop and buy at a later date, let’s just say…I was crunched for time and the public holidays didn’t help because most shops were closed.
5)”Red Terror” Martyrs Memorial Museum
This is the only private run Museum in Ethiopia. Please make sure you visit, even if for a little bit. You will learn the History of Ethiopia -which your History teacher never told you about .You will hear of the motto “Shoot to kill”. The number of lives, innocent lives lost to various regimes. The torture, the senseless killings all for the sake of “Power” They even have a mini-cupboard cemetery, pictures of some of those who lost their lives, the talesand the horror, but not in a horror movie kind of way. What shocked me the most was that No, the perpetrators were not colonialists (Ethiopia was never colonized), it was by Ethiopians themselves. It shows how: evil “humans” can be to their people. It’s like Rwanda and the Genocide. Let’s Pray for Africa, this should never happen Again. Ever. Let’s pray for Burundi where currently people are dying for what looks like what I call a “Burundi Genocide”. When will the AU and UN intervene, what body count is acceptable before anyone intervenes and saves the innocent lives being lost?
6) Ride the Electric train:
This is currently the only one of its kind in Africa-just take a ride and be counted as the few who have. It is clean, comfortable and a great way to somewhat see the city. It is also not expensive just do not ride it at peak times as it gets crazy full.
7) Abyssinia Cultural Ambassador
One of the reasons of having Ethiopia as my destination is because they still hold dear to most of their culture and I wanted to experience it. This place offers all versions of their culture from food, clothing, music and dance. It is a bit pricy and you need to book a reservation early but well worth every penny. They offer local dishes and a variety of music from across the various tribes in Ethiopia. I could hardly contain myself and kept trying to copy their dance moves and learning some of the words to the songs. Their dancing is so diverse yet super entertaining you just want to join in. I noted most of the tribes from the north e.g. Tigre have very graceful movements that mainly involve the neck for the women. The Southern tribes are more vigorous, intense and involve all parts of the body. I have to take up Ethiopian Dancing classes-can someone point me in the right direction? It is quite a popular place and you may get a chance to meet a celebrity-I got the chance to meet Mo Farah, the Olympic Champion……Scream……..
8)Ride the taxi(known as Matatu in Kenya ) or the lada Taxi:
The taxis have the cheapest costs ever. Imagine paying less than 2 Birr for most distances. Make sure you know your destination and always ask the conductor known as redat/ woyala if in doubt-they will assist even if it means they have to dig deep into their Englich reservoir. They are really cool people. The smaller taxis known as more commonly as Lada taxis are more pricy but also great to use especially at night.
9) Coffee Coffee Coffee:
Take time to enjoy coffee everywhere and any time. It costs on average 2 Birr.
A big Thank You to Anket and David. You took your time, resources and opened your home to a stranger. David, I am not sure you have ever covered that many kilometers in a few days. Thank you for your flexibility, taking me everywhere I wanted even window shopping-This guy is just the coolest. Anket-my Ethiopian Sister, I do not know how to ever thank you-from the first day you met me on the road many years ago, to hosting me superbly, to just being awesome. May God Bless the two of you immensely. Welcome to Kenya.
So, as you read in my intro https://wangechigitahi.co.ke/2016/02/09/my-sanity-challenged/ ,this trip just had hiccups from day one. I was behaving like an amateur traveler-drat -I think I am becoming rusty. So, ticket booked, flight boarded and then I remembered-I hadn’t informed Anket I would be arriving in a few hours. No worry, I would call her upon arrival. When they say when it rains it pours-be sure, hailstorms even hailstones will follow. When we arrived, I put my phone on-Dead-no power. Arrgggg. No worries, their magazine Selamta said there would be wifi,I can contact her–Nope .THERE IS NO WI-FI AT ARRIVALS as at January 2016-I asked the airport staff . Seriously, what is this now Ohh, (Nigerian accent.). So I stand to try develop plan. A young lady walked up to me and informed me she was marketing a hotel. I told her my predicament and she told me I could use her phone to call my friend. Lo and behold the phone was off. I want to faint even more. So I ask her about her hotel -lets just say it falls under luxury hotels. She then offered that I could hang out with her for the night shift and in the morning I could go rest at her home before deciding on next plan. Like really is this lady amazing or what. I eventually got over my cheapskate backpackers tendencies, negotiated for a rate and was off to the hotel. Thank you Rachel, I enjoyed my stay at Oasis Hotel.
(Interesting thought govt.of Kenya,how come we do not do this in Kenya ,yet we grow coffee.This would be an assured source of income for the farmers instead of always selling the raw berries and then buying coffee powder ,imported ,at a higher price.(Food or should I say-drink for thought).