The saying ‘home is where the heart is‘ could not be any truer. Although I was born in London, England, my heart has always belonged to Ethiopia.
Addis has certainly changed since I last left it (the summer of 2010). The drive from Bole Airport to Lege Tafo, Oromia, gave me the chance to really take in its transformation. Sat in the front seat of my brother-in-law’s car, I close my eyes for a moment, inhale the heavy smell of burning smoke and embrace the warmth of the sun caressing my skin. Whilst queing at the petrol station (we waited for a good 30 minutes), a salesmen approaches the car with Teddy Afro CD’s, an offer we could not resist.
Teddy Afro stole my heart at the tender age of about 7 years old, so it was only fitting that my reunion with the country I love, be accompanied by the music I had grown to love also. After all, in a few years time, the sound of Teddy Afro’s 2017 album, titled Ethiopia, will fill me with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, reminding me of my favourite place on earth, home.
I didn’t spend much time in Addis Ababa, due to the fact that most of my trip was spent travelling to other parts of the country. Seeing as I have so much to say, there will be a series of blog posts covering my trip to Ethiopia. That way, I can go into more detail and upload more photos 🙂
I thought I’d start off by listing a couple of the places I visited in Addis, and briefly go through some random thoughts I had jotted down in my notebook.
Kaldi’s Coffee – STILL POPPING. The trendy coffee shop/cafe is still as popular as it was in 2010. I’m not a huge fan of straight coffee (I’m more of a white mocha or chai tea latte gal myself), but I must admit, I did form a slight addiction to Macciatos whilst in Ethiopia. The macciatos there are truly something else – your local Starbucks/Costa could never.
Addis Ababa University Museum – I literally ran out of time, so I had to squeeze this into my last day in Ethiopia. Lovely museum, had a couple floors, each dedicated to different collections. I finally got to see Lucy (Dink’inesh). Lucy is one of the main reasons my blog used to be called ‘the horn of humanity‘, as she really was the cradle of civilisation. There was a vast array of royal possessions, belonging to great leaders the likes of Empress Taitu, and Aste Tewodros. The same floor held various artefacts dating back to the Axumite/Sabean period. The top floor was most probably my favourite – contemporary Ethiopian art. I was obsessed with the variety of works produced by Ethiopian artists, and even bought poster versions of a couple from the museum shop. Here in the UK I’ve grown up going on museum trips with my dad, a tradition I would have loved to continued in Ethiopia. But due to the lack of time (our flight was literally that same evening), I didn’t get the chance to explore the other museums and exhibitions on offer in Addis.
Merkato – Exploring the busy streets of the large open-air market is an experience in itself. Although my main goal was to go gift shopping, I was never very far from a roadside food market, young men shouting sale prices, or the beautiful array of cultural clothing and ornaments. Notorious for its pickpocketing thieves I couldn’t even risk having my hair down, let alone taking my camera out.
Addis Ababa Light Rail Transit (LRT) – I’ve always felt that the blue and white mini-bus taxis were an iconic piece of Ethiopian daily life, but I was pleasantly surprised by the new LRT. Partly funded by China, LRT is a key development in the expansion of infrastructure in Ethiopia. Travelling to a variety of destinations, it has proven a real asset to transport options in Addis. As the population of the capital expands, the demand for taxis outweighs their supply. This has led to long, self-made lines on street corners, queuing for the next taxi to appear. Given this, I think the LRT will play a crucial part in not only the lives of locals, but also prove useful for tourists – then again, catching a taxi in Addis is quite an experience in itself. As well as its overground system, it also (partially) travels underground. I say partially because the underground was built as a means to avoid the demolition of key monuments such as St George’s Church and the statue of Abune Petros, a martyred Bishop during the Italian occupation. Aside from rush hour madness, my experience using the LRT was lovely.
CHINA – kind of hard to miss. The Chinese are everywhere in Ethiopia. I’m yet to form my opinion on this… neo-colonialism in Africa or genuine/friendly investment?
Random Thoughts –
Given that I study History and Development Studies at University, I couldn’t help but observe Ethiopia from a Development student’s eye. Although I had read lots about Africa’s growing youth population, seeing it for myself really got me thinking. The streets are filled with young men sat in coffee shops or chilling by the curb. Alongside the obvious issue of youth unemployment, an equally concerning problem is that of the informal employment sector. Whether you are sat outside a cafe, waiting for a taxi, or stuck in traffic, you will find that there are of hundreds young men and children on standby waiting to sell you their goods. Chewing gum, music CD’s, sim cards, biscuits, even windscreen wipers, there is nothing these men aren’t selling to make a living.Should such informal jobs be included in the country’s GDP and GNP? Of course, this is not unique to Ethiopia, but is a common theme throughout the so called ‘Developing World’.
On a positive note, I also noticed certain areas in which young people were able to find employment. It is almost impossible to drive past a road in Addis without seeing construction work. Whether it be a new hotel, office, shopping mall, or condominiums, it is clear that this is helping young men and women find work. Perhaps one improvement I would love to see is more focus on health and safety… I know these minor details only really mean something in the western world, but seeing so many young people work in dangerous conditions, hanging from heights without helmets, dressed only in casual clothing and congo chama (rubber sandals), got me rather worried. Nonetheless, it’s a good start.
Another major issue I picked up on was – rubbish. Littering is one thing, but leaving heaps of rubbish to decompose on the side road, or even in the patch of land used to separate the driving lanes is unhealthy – not only for the environment, but also for the people. It’s not like I was expecting high levels of hygiene from Ethiopia, but after a tragedy like the rubbish landslide in March which killed at least 65, it became a growing concern of mine. Although it will take time, I honestly believe that educating the people of Ethiopia, and Africa as a whole, on the importance of keeping our environment clean, will have huge benefits. Again, I did see some positive signs, as there are teams of cleaners who go round picking up rubbish, a kind of community service work perhaps. Even still, Ethiopia certainly has a long way to go.
DEBRE MARKOS, GOJJAM
Debre Markos, the birthplace of my parents, is a town located in Eastern Gojjam. The six hour drive from Addis to Markos was a tiresome journey. I was pleasantly surprised by how green Gojjam was. It was as if I had internalised the western world’s portrayal of Ethiopia, almost expecting it to be dryland. The road to Markos was an amazing experience. I was able to witness its endless green fields, cross the famous Abay (Nile) bridge, all whilst enjoying the sound of Teddy Afro’s Fikir Eske Mekabir (Love until the Grave), a song, based on a book, set in Gojjam. When in Debre Marqos, I stayed at my Grandma’s house, where I spent time with friends and family. Although my stay in Markos was mainly spent visiting relatives, I found some time to explore the thriving town, a place I had not seen since I was 6 years old. I got the chance to see the schools my parents used to attend, the statue of Haddis Alemayehu (Author of the book I mentioned previously: Fikre Eske Mekabir), and also the famous Gate of Tekle Haymanot Square. I also visited Chemoga, a place they called Ye Markos Tis Abay (The Blue Nile Falls of Debre Marqos). Like Tis Abay, I will never forget the sound of the crashing currents and gushing waterfalls. It was a nice, smaller, version of what I had seen in Bahir Dar.
BAHIR DAR, GOJJAM
Bahir Dar, located in Western Gojjam, is famous for its Lake Tana and Tis Abay (Blue Nile Falls). I took a boat across Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake, home to several islands. I took a tour of some of the islands, where I visited a number of monastic churches dating back to the 14th Century. Tis Abbay was another tiresome yet incredible experience. There will be a separate blog post where I go into a little more detail about my experiences here – accompanied by photos! Being the Capital of the Amhara reigon, Bahir Dar is definitely a growing city. Before leaving for Bahir Dar, I was told I had to taste their fish, as it was said to be famous for it. I can now confirm that it is indeed, delicious !! I also tried something else – Tegabino. If you are Ethiopian or Eritrean you will be very familiar with Shiro. Tegabino is basically a very very thick version of Shiro. It definitely isn’t the most physically appealing, but honestly, it tastes amazing. I fell in love with Bahir Dar’s aesthetics – wide roads lined with beautiful flowers and palm trees, the vibrant blue bajaj (mini 3 wheeled taxi service) whizzing past you, the view of Lake Tana, drifting endlessly, as if it were to go on forever.
Lalibela was a very special experience for me. I’ve dedicated a separate blog post to my time in Lalibela. This way I’ll be able to go into more detail, and again – provide plenty of photos!
Having returned back to Addis, I took a flight to Dire Dawa, a region in the Eastern part of Ethiopia. I had heard many things about Dire Dawa, mainly that it was a cultural melting pot, home to an array of languages, ethnic groups, cultural attire and foods. The plane journey only lasted 45 minutes, which was very bearable compared to the long haul flight from London to Addis. I spent some the time reading a book which had been gifted to me (Tower in the Sky by Hiwot Teferra). I actually got gifted quite a few books whilst in Ethiopia – definitely a highlight of my trip. But for the most part, I sat back and enjoyed the view from the window seat, relaxing to the sound of Tizita music. Ethiopian airlines’ music collection was very impressive. I was only in Dire Dawa for 2 days, so I didn’t get to explore as much as I wanted to. Of course, I could not leave Dire Dawa without trying its Baklava, for which it seemed to have quite a reputation for. I can tell you now that I was not disappointed.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Dire Dawa, the main reason I decided to fly there in the first place was so that I could visit Harar. Harar, Jugol in particular, is a region of Ethiopia rich in culture and history. Famous for being the fourth holiest city in the Islamic world, its 16th century vibrant coloured walls filled the air with a sense of timelessness. As a history student, but also as an Ethiopian, I have a keen interest in the events which took place in the horn of Africa during Medieval period. In particular, the Adal-Abyssinian War of the 16th Century was a period I had chosen to study at University, and so visiting Harar was a must for me. I’m not going to explain the significance of Harar to this war because I will end up rambling, but if you are from the Horn, or generally interested in medieval African history, I recommend that you look into it! I visited the National museum of Harar, once the house of Ras Mekonnen, which held a variety of historic collections. One which caught my eye was the weaponry of Ahmed Gragn himself! (Those familiar with the Adal-Abysinian war will know who this is). I then visited a traditional Adari home, in which the owner explained to me the different meanings behind the interior design. For example, above the entrance/door is a large wooden shelf which holds rolled up rugs. Each rug is said to symbolise an unmarried daughter. This way, when men enter the home, it is visible how many women in the house are still looking to be married.
My time in Harar was amazing. Aside from my studies, Teddy Afro (surprise surprise), had also influenced my image of Harar growing up. In his song ‘Shemendefer’, he declares his love for a muslim girl from Harar. The narrative of the song illustrates Harar as a place of religious coexistence, as the singer describes the harmonious sound of Qidase and Athaan, the Christian and Islamic call to prayer. As you can tell, Teddy Afro has had a huge impact on me (he might as well sponsor this blogpost), but I wont go on for too long. Instead, here’s a short translation of a verse from the song, which I think beautifully describes the feeling I experienced when in Harar.
Does Raguel Church not face Anwar Masjid?
Though parted by a mere mortal fence;
In concert to the skies their prayers rise, and hence;
Both the church’s Qidassie and the mosque’s Azaan,
The Creator hears them – in symphony – as one.