Friday, September 3, 2010

Re: What's so great about Ethiopia?

What's so great about Ethiopia?

We've just spent 3 weeks travelling Ethiopia,2 weeks of that on a Gap Adventures DEN Northern Explorer tour. To get a sense of other people's perspectives on Ethiopia,towards the end of the tour I asked my co-travellers to write down a few of their impressions and what they thought were the highlights.These are their comments.
"Why are you going to THAT place?" was the most common question I heard before my journey. This place has so much to offer: amazing historical sites, an old deeply religious culture. And last but not least, the people are welcoming and friendly!
1. Xenophilic - in no other place would a shepherd abandon his animals and run over stony soils, only to smile and enthusiastically wave at you, (yes, I mean you,you,you,you,YOU!)
2.It wasn't my idea to come to Ethiopia.Staying at home or going somewhere else would have saved me a couple of nasty mosquito, bed bug and flea bites. But I would also have missed out on World Heritage sites,beautiful scenery and lots of tasty (spicy!) food which were definitely worth the insect bites!
The resilience of the Ethiopians is astounding. They live their lives with a smile and a positive outlook. Most Westerners would not be capable of living their lives. The day to day tasks that must be achieved is a testament to them and a country rebuilding itself.
The thing that amazed me and delighted me about Ethiopia is the religious tolerance,being Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and Muslim.Even to the point where leaders of both religions have helped the other with building their churches and mosques.
1.The sunset in Lallibella with a bottle of beer, on the cliff.
2.The visit to Sambati market.
3.The coffee shop in Woldiya.
1. The walk to the Blue Nile Falls.
2. Habesha 2000 Cultural restaurant.
3.The rock church and village at Abraha Atsebeha.
4. The warm friendly smiling people.
5.The clean,green, rubbish free countryside. 
One observation I had was how unique Ethiopia is in its history, culture, geography and people. Even though I have travelled in a dozen African countries, I have never been anywhere like Ethiopia because the specific culture of Ethiopia is to be found only there. I did find that Ethiopia is a difficult country in which to travel.There is far less tourist infrastructure than in some other countries in Africa.This makes a trip to Ethiopia to be much more "off the beaten path",more adventurous,more of a personal challenge,and one is far less likely to stumble upon hordes of other tourists.
And for myself-
1.Rocks! Everywhere, piles all along the roads for a sometime or never to happen  road upgrade. Rocks thrown in a heap for houses, walls, fences,some complete , but mostly still to be finished or already tumbling down.Rocks where the footpath once was. Rocks marking where a bus is being repaired in the middle of the road.Everywhere man is busily mining the rocks from the hillsides, and placing them where we have to wander around or trip over them!
2.Music!. Infectious beat,trance inducing repetiton,unique vocals meandering to and away from and counterpointing the music,with a huge range of traditional, tribal,religious, or contemporary pop to explore.
3.Best of all ,driving along the Highway Of Life! The long drive days on congested roads ,that could never be sped through, which meant the opportunity to kick back and relax and watch out the window.There you observe the life of the country folk.The early morning starts would find us driving down a crowded highway, through families with their herds of cattle or camels,flocks of sheep and goats,or produce laden donkeys all heading for the market. And later in the day we'd see another migration as those  rural farmers would return from market to their homes,meaning many would round trip 20 to 30 kms or more,all on foot.Massive amounts of firewood, and water moving on the backs of barefoot, rag clad women, all too eager to offer a smile in return for yours.Children, some as young as 4 or 5 tending the flocks of sheep and goats, older boys minding the cattle grazing the narrow grassy strips between road and cropland. Life vibrates along these highways!


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