Monday, October 3, 2011

Ethiopia Part I

Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. I landed in the morning after an overnight flight from Cairo. First of what would turn out to be many stereotype-shattering experiences, it was actually COLD in Addis. As in sweatshirt required...
After getting through a simple visa-on-arrival process, I was greeted by my parents who are volunteering in Ethiopia, accompanied by my sister who had landed earlier that morning from Korea. The next day we were set to embark on a week-long tour of the major religious, architectural and natural sites of Ethiopia - but the first order of the day was lunch!

The "Special Foul"
 You can see here normal bread, which they tend to serve to "ferenji" (the term for foreigners) as well as the traditional injera bread (top right).
Edit : thanks to my sister who looked into it, the normal bread is actually served with the "foul" dish to everyone, not just to ferenji!

Basically everyone eats from the same dish by tearing off pieces of injera and using them to scoop from the main dish. Awesome.
I was amused by the name of the restaurant.

Addis was a lot more developed than I had expected. Tall buildings, asphalt roads, cars in good condition, signs and menus in English... However there were definitely signs that this was still a developing country. Particularly striking to me was the scaffolding used for construction. All made of eucalyptus wood, hand assembled! Incredible...

We set off early the next day for Bahir Dar, city on lake Tana, one of the largest lakes in Africa. This is a vacation resort of sorts, as relatively wealthy families from Addis come here to enjoy the lake shore. There are also many monasteries around the lake and on small islands, of which we visited three. It may be a surprise to you to learn that Ethiopia is 63% christian with the main persuasion being Ethiopian Orthodox. In fact, Ethiopia was the second officially christian country (4th century!) after Armenia! Muslims make up about 30% while the rest is mostly animist.

Inside one of the monasteries. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and explained each painting...

This is wild coffee! Coffee drinking originated in Ethiopia, and the tradition is quite strong as we will see later.

This monk is showing off a 13th century icon from the church.

A fisherman on lake Tana - he is holding the fishing line with bare hands.
After the monastery visits, of course lunch was in order. Again, I was completely amazed by the diversity, quality and quantity of food available. Ethiopia is by no means a starving country at the moment. I did see some evidence of malnutrition in some of the remote tribes (for another post) but for the vast majority of the country there are no food shortages. In fact their culinary tradition is rich and unspoiled, as Ethiopia is the only African country to never have been truly colonized by Europeans. Save for a 5 year period of Italian occupation in the 40s (with billiardly legacies I shall get to later) the country has had a continuous, homogenous history dating back over 3000 years.

Fish Dulet

Here you can see the injera bread very clearly

The coffee ceremony
After lunch, we treated ourselves to the obligatory coffee ceremony. Ethipians do not mess around with coffee. The beans are roasted right in front of you on a coal fire, it is unfiltered, and always served with burning frankincense. At first, the scent reminded me of the French catholic church we went to as kids which abused the stuff. Now, church will remind me of Ethiopian coffee :)
You would think the ceremony would be some traditional thing that is only done on special occasions, or worse yet just for tourists - not the case. Everyone we asked said they did the coffee ceremony at home at least once a day!

For the next post, we will travel to the Blue Nile falls and the Simien Mountains. Now I'm off to watch a Muay Thai boxing match!

Please comment and ask questions about Ethiopia!

1 comment:

  1. I was also surprised by the abundance of food. Even malnutrition didn't seem to be the major problem (although I wasn't in very remote areas). Poverty, poor hygiene, and lack of education would be on the top of my list way before starvation as far as issues to deal with in this country.