I lived in Addis, from August 2014 to June 2016. For me it was a tough place to live because it lacked certain comforts and didn’t live up to my bougie standards. During my time there I learned a lot about Ethiopian history and culture. When I tell people to visit, their initial response is but you didn’t like living there. While this is true, I think that Ethiopia is still one of the countries that should be on your list if you love history and adventure.
At first glance Ethiopia can seem as if it’s behind the times yet infrastructure in Addis is growing at a rapid rate. At the time there were still some major challenges like only one internet provider, cell phone provider, electric company and this made for companies where the service is not the best. Daily electricity outages and sometimes water shortages happened 😐. Yet, while I was there they built a light railway system in Addis which allowed people to get places faster than the buses so progress was being made. There is a huge expat community in Addis due to the many NGO’s located there, the African Union headquarters and many companies whose employees work in near by war affected countries and places families in Addis for safety. Addis is a very safe city, but due to the altitude it had cooler temps and at night and early morning it can get down to the 40’s. It rarely gets hotter than high 70’s during the day and the temps drop at night after the sun sets by about 10 – 15 degrees.
Ethiopians are a proud, deeply religious people with a rich culture and history who have never been colonized, they beat the Italians in a war after an occupation and celebrate this battle on a holiday. Ethiopians say that Abyssinia is the previous name of Ethiopia and its people are mentioned in the Bible. Orthodox Christianity existed in Ethiopia long before the western world. As a result of the Italian influence, pizza, lasagna and pasta can be found almost everywhere in Ethiopia. The traditional dish in Ethiopia is injera, a dough like substance that is made from gluten free teff flour. It is eaten with your right hand by grabbing the vegetables such as string beans, carrots, beets, lentils, potatoes or meat with a piece of injera (see above) it can be eaten for all three meals in some variety. Tibs is a meat dish (that I never tried because I don’t eat meat) that can either be cooked or eaten raw. Shiro is a reddish sauce made out of chickpeas that can be eaten with injera or other types of bread. I didn’t love Ethiopian food but it is a cultural delicacy that I ate every once in a while. When you visit you should try it at least once. Visit at least one of the traditional Ethiopian restaurants – one of the most famous is Yod Abyssinian- where you can enjoy the local cuisine, drink tej the local honey wine and experience the beauty of the traditional dancing. There’s truly nothing that compares to the shoulder shifting and head spinning that is done by the women; it’s fascinating and mesmerizing.
The country has it’s own calendar which is 13 months and the year is 7 years behind the Western calendar so when you go to Addis you are immediately younger 😉😉. Through my visit to the Ethnological museum I learned that in Ethiopia there are a variety of crosses used in the Orthodox Christian religion. The angels are a sign of symbolism and pride with their little afros and brown faces, even pictures of the virgin Mary and baby Jesus have been drawn with brown faces and afros 🤗🤗. Orthodox Christianity is more conservative than Western Christianity and fasting is a regular occurrence.
I found it interesting that Muslims and Orthodox Ethiopians live together peacefully despite some some instances of tension. Coffee is King in Ethiopia, it is grown and made there and exported all over the world. The culture is to sit in a coffee shop and drink it with friends instead of taking it to go. The coffee ceremony is a regular tradition in households where they burn the coffee beans first and then make the coffee from it. It can be served with popcorn or sometimes a pastry.
Some of the challenges that happened while I lived there were police clashes with protestors over land rights. The internet was turned off intermittently so that news could be contained. The Rasta community was given land by Emperor Haile Selassie in 60’s and the government according to reports has been constantly trying to take this land back since the death of the Emperor.
There’s a new President who is looking to make some important changes to end the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea the neighboring country. Work has been completed on another railway system to Djibouti the main port which can change the region.
Must see places in Ethiopia
National Ethiopian museum where you can find Lucy a replica of the oldest human bones, artifacts, paintings, clothing, traditional weapons and jewelry
Ethnological museum which is located in the Emperor Haile Selassie’s former palace housed at the Addis Ababa university. Here you can find the original clothing, bed, bathroom, changing room of the Emperor, a lion of Judah, there’s also the variety of crosses that I mentioned before along with scrolls and other religious artifacts.
Merkato – a local market and a maze of wonder and items but be careful it is not for the faint of heart many people get pickpocketed here because it is simply organized chaos
Lalibela – a UNESCO world heritage site – the holy city with 12 amazing churches chiseled from rock called cave churches and painted ceilings of brown angels with little afros, some of the original structures have been standing for over 900 hundred years. Be sure to visit the roof top of the Ben Abeba restaurant for an amazing view at sunset
Gonder -a UNESCO world heritage site – this city which was once the capital is home to castles that were built for different emperors, there’s also a bath of Fasilidas where residents are baptized during pilgrimage. Four Sisters Restaurant is pretty popular.
I didn’t travel as much to other areas in Ethiopia due to protests but here are some other places colleagues visited and loved
Aksum -a UNESCO world heritage site- ancient city where the arc of the covenant is located and site of the largest obelisk, tombs and ruins
Harar – a UNESCO world heritage site – the walled holy Islamic city known for its maze like alleys has over 80 mosques and over 100 shrines. Emperor Haile Selassie’s home is here named after his pre Emperor name Ras Tafari (get it contains one of the most important groupings of paleontological site)
Simien Mountains National Park – a UNESCO world heritage site – is great for hiking and you will see monkeys, mountain goats, maybe baboons
Lower Omo Valley – a UNESCO world heritage site- home to 16 different ethnic groups – most notable the Mursi men with distinct body art and women with lip plates. You will find sedimentary deposits it is renowned for the discovery of its hominid fossils
Lower Awash Valley – a UNESCO world heritage site – contains one of the most important groupings of paleontological site where the skeletal remains of the infamous Lucy were found
Danakil depression where the volcanoes are bubbling, with its lava lakes, salt pans, mineral and sulfaur deposits is listed as one of the driest, hottest, lowest places on earth. It does not get much rain, and the images are beautiful but you have to take a long hike there
Ethiopian airlines flies from a variety of places in the world making it pretty easy to get to Addis and has dubbed itself the airline of Africa. While EA doesn’t have the best customer service or food, the planes are well maintained, some of them are newer and you may get a treat of being on an all female flight🤗🤗. The airport the last time I was there was basic, run down and not the most efficient place but you can get visas on arrival and you have 4 different options. Ethiopia is a country that should be visited despite its lack of beaches 😝 it has beautiful landscapes, lots of national parks for hiking, volcanoes, and has done a great job of documenting its history.
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So if you are up for an adventure, go and experience Ethiopia for yourself you won’t regret it