I grew up learning about Ethiopia, previously known as Abyssinia, as it is a neighbour to Kenya. We learnt of how Ethiopians had managed to defend their borders from being colonized during the Scramble for Africa, how it was ruled by Emperors with one of the popular ones being Haile Selassie, that it has over 80 ethnic groups and how deeply cultural they are. It is for these reasons and more that led to my actual arrival into Ethiopia years later, with my first stop being Addis Ababa, the capital city.
Highlights of my trip:
1) Witnessing a Coffee Ceremony:
Whenever Ethiopians have a guest, they are honoured by sharing the “Coffee Ceremony”. They prepare a cup of coffee from scratch, the traditional way. The coffee beans which already have their husks removed are sorted and washed thoroughly. I didn’t know they are almost cream in colour yet we grow coffee in Kenya.They are then roasted until they turn brown/black and then ground into powder form. Water is then made to boil in a traditional kettle called a jebena, the coffee powder is then added and then allowed to boil. Fresh coffee is now ready to drink.
It was interesting to hear that this happens in every home and I felt honored and privileged to have my friends actually share this with me.
2) Sampling their meals
Anket and her brother David went out of their way to ensure they prepared various local delicacies for me like Tibs, which is offered on special occasions or to special guests and Shiro Wat, to ensure I sampled authentic 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 the place of Injeera in Ethiopian lives, as any time is injeera time. They eat it for breakfast, lunch, tea break and even supper as an accompaniment for everything. It is the national dish in Ethiopia and is made of teff flour traditionally or sour dough. The teff flour is mixed with water and allowed to ferment to give it a sour taste. It is then baked on a large pan as one would flat pancakes. It is quite soft to the touch and has an interesting sieve like shape at the top. I sampled as many dishes as possible.
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. The hawkers also have some great stuff, their shoes are new, and their prices friendly with the only challenge being you have to “stalk them” as they disappear whenever the city council appear. Arat Kilo is great if you are looking for Ethiopian outfits and souvenirs as well as several other places.
3)”Red Terror” Martyrs Memorial Museum
This is the only private run Museum in Ethiopia and it has a wealth of knowledge. Please make sure you visit, even if for a little bit. You will learn the history of Ethiopia , in an in depth manner.You will hear of the motto “Shoot to kill”, you will see pictures, you will see torture structures and you will see remains of the dead, all brought about by previous regimes. You will sample the atrocities that human beings have meted against each other, their own country men, women and children. It is a very sad place and your emotions will be tested. Let’s Pray for Africa and the world at large, that this or something similar should never happen anywhere in the world. Ever.
6) Riding the Electric train:
This is currently the only one of its kind in Africa so far and is a joy to ride in. It is used to move within the main towns of Addis Ababa and is efficient, timely and very clean. Take some time to ride on it, preferably during off peak hours otherwise you will have to “nudge” your way through human traffic to not only get in, but to get a seat.
7) Visiting Ethiopia 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 from across Ethiopia. The platter below is shared among several people and is layered with Injeera at the bottom and various select dishes at the top like kitfo(raw minced meat), cooked meat, vegetables, fresh cheese, spices among others.
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 and shoulders for the women. The Southern tribes are more vigorous, intense and involve all parts of the body. I have to take up Ethiopian dance 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 World Champion and he was gracious enough to grant me a picture with him…Scream……..
8)Riding the taxi or the lada Taxi:
Their taxis are the cheapest I have ever experienced. 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 English reservoir. They are normally full to capacity and thus you will find mobile seats placed on the walkway as well as right behind the driver.
The smaller taxis known more commonly as lada taxis are more pricy than the public taxis but also great to use especially at night. They are all painted blue with a white roof and would normally be referred to as a private taxi. Ensure you agree on your final destination and the associated cost before you get in.
9) Drinking lots of Coffee :
Coffee is the staple drink in Ethiopia, any time is coffee time, any weather is coffee weather. At the homes, coffee ceremony occurs on a daily and even at the restaurants, coffee is normally brewed fresh as you wait. If you have the time, they will showcase the whole coffee ceremony which is the coffee preparation as you watch as described above. Take time to enjoy coffee everywhere and any time, as it seems to bring people together.
10) Visiting the National Museum of Ethiopia
If History is your fancy like me, this is a must visit. You will learn lots about the previous rulers, their culture, get a glimpse of their artifacts like regalia and assets whilst also getting a glimpse of part skeleton remains of “Lucy”, which are the oldest remains ever found of Austrolopithecus Ferensis.
Ethiopia is indeed an amazing place to be. It turned out to be better than I had even visualized and a place I would return. A big thank you to Anket and her brother David, for being my family away from home. I first met Anket years prior as I was on transit through Ethiopia and was stranded. Years later, she and her brother not only hosted me but took the time to share their amazing country and culture with me…Thank you very much.
For more on my Ethiopi escapades, check out:
Ethiopia 101: http://wangechigitahi.co.ke/ethiopia-101/