Capital: Addis Abeba
Languages: Amharic, Tingrinya, Orominya, English, Arabic
Ten centuries before Christ, the eastern part of today's Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen were part of the biblical Sabaean Kingdom whose capital Ma'rib was in Yemen. Amharic speaking Ethiopians like to trace the origin of Haile Selassie's dynasty back to Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba who ruled from 982 to 957 BC. In the 3rd century BC power passed to Axum in Ethiopia which flourished and expanded into Sudan and Yemen. By the 4th century AD Christian Rome had conquered Egypt and Syria and its influence led to the conversion of the Axum kingdom who later adopted the Monophysite heresy. Amharic evolved into the use of the Ge'ez script which has been replaced today by the roman alphabet except for Coptic liturgy.
Ethiopia has just recently emerged from a vicious 30 year civil war that started when Haile Selassie annexed Eritrea in 1962. What started as a struggle to liberate Eritrea turned into a civil war between conservatives and Marxists when the communist Derg party, under Mengistu Haile Mariam, seized power in 1974. The situation was further complicated by Somalia's invasion of the Ogaden Desert in eastern Ethiopia and by inter tribal strife unrestrained in the general chaotic atmosphere. When the USSR withdrew its support in 1990, the Derg party collapsed, Mengistu fled the country in 1991 and power passed to a coalition of rebels headed by the Tigray leader Meles Zenawi who orchestrated Eritrea's independence in 1993 and was confirmed as Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 1995.
Now, the worst is over but the wounds of the civil war are not yet healed and Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries of the world. Moreover, the largely Tigray government faces resistance from the Amhara who traditionally held power, from the Omoro tribes of the south, from the Ogaden tribes in the east and from armed Muslim activists supported by Sudan in the areas near the border with that country...
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The border formalities to exit Djibouti and enter Ethiopia in Galafi went smoothly and we climbed on the back of a covered pick up truck for the 20 km to Desiocho on the Addis to Assab highway. Desiocho is just a big truck stop at the crossroads. Mektum introduced us to the "traffic manager" who found a truck going east to Assab for Steve and Tam and another going southwest to Addis Abeba for me.
The 400 kilometre trip to Addis cost me 1 US$ for the "traffic manager" and only 7 US$ for the truck driver Mulugeta Gizaw. We travelled in a convoy of three trucks carrying sealed containers both ways between Addis Abeba and the now Eritrean port of Assab on the Red Sea. It was interesting to note that the three drivers enjoyed a much higher status than the three helpers who were treated like lowly servants.
One of the trucks had a broken spring which had to be replaced so our departure from Galafi was delayed until 5:00 PM. Mulugeta explained that we were in Afar territory and that the Afar were bandits who sometimes shot at passing trucks to plunder their loads at night. The land we were crossing was so desolate that I was wondering how humans could survive there. Yet there was a hut here and there and we saw several lone Afars walking along the road with a Kalashnikov hanging from a shoulder strap and a traditional sabre slung across their backs.
It was already dark when we stopped at a small place called Sammara. We could have gone further as it was only 8 o'clock but the drivers did not feel safe driving at night in this area so we stopped at a roadside restaurant for dinner and beers where I took this photo. Then, I slept in the truck cab while Mulugeta and his helper slept on top of the container.
Truck drivers Mulugeta Gizaw and Giday Gereslase. Mulugeta was of the Amara tribe and Giday was Tigray. They often made jokes about the traditional conflicts between their tribes but they were good friends nevertheless . The third driver was an older man who kept to himself.
The next day we started at 5:30, stopped for breakfast at X Mille and for a vegetarian lunch at Gewane where I had to coax these wary Afar children into letting me take their photo. It was Friday and my Ethiopian friends were unhappy to abstain from eating meat which is forbidden in the abyssinian religion on Wednesdays and Fridays.
This trip was getting more and more fascinating as Mulugeta told me how he had lived through the communist Mengistu regime and how the Tigray2 tribes that had led the rebel forces that overthrew him in 1991 had been instrumental in separating their principal homeland Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993.
I took this picture of this religious gathering as we drove by near Gewane. Mulugeta thought it could be a marriage but was not sure.
Mount Fantale near Awash.
Mulugeta's helper did not understand English so he was silent through our ongoing conversation interrupting us now and then only to show us where to look for some animal he had spotted in the desolate landscape. He was proud to show off his remarkably acute vision which compensated his illiteracy and low helper status.
The Awash reservoir is an artificial lake providing irrigation water for the Awash valley and electricity for Addis Abeba a 100 kms away.
Mulugeta Gizaw and his helper buying illegal wood charcoal. Trade in wood charcoal has been outlawed because deforestation threatens to desertify many dry area of the country. Mulugeta agrees with the objective of protecting the fragile environment but the profit is so much greater than the possible penalty that he smuggles wood charcoal into Addis whenever he can.
These Amhara tribal houses near Nazret are just a little less primitive than those of the Afar which the Amhara consider to be savages.
Here is a shot of a local political meeting taken as we drove by near Nazret. The various political parties rally around a symbolic party colour, in this case green, which simplifies matters in a country where 46 % of the people cannot read or write.
We spent the night in Nazret the same way we had in Sammara after having beers a meatless dinner. The following morning was Saturday and my friends were anxious to taste meat again so we all went to the local butcher shop to chose freshly killed beef at 5:00 am. They chose liver, kidney and stomach and we went into a nearby room to be served on the spot.
I thought it strange to have so much meat for breakfast but I did not expect it to be served raw on injera. In the circumstances there was no way I could avoid sharing this happy meal with my new friends so I plunged and tried it,. I found the raw stomach somewhat rubbery and the kidney a bit strong tasting but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that raw, bloody liver is delicious. Since then I like to have a bit raw whenever I cook liver.
When Mulugeta dropped me off at the Buffet de la Gare Hotel near the railway station, I was loath to see him go for I had grown fond of him.
Right in front of the station is Addis Abeba's main drag, Churchill Road, I went to reconnoitre...
A little ways up Churchill Avenue this communist monument, a heritage of the Mengistu regime, stood before the black Lion Hospital.
Having taken my bearings, I called my nephew Marc Lachance who has been living here for several years.
Marc picked me up and brought me to see the unique Ethiopian shoulder dance at the fashionable Karamara night club.
Marc had come here to teach in the Addis Abeba International high school set up to provide a first class education to the children of the expat community here. An amateur juggler, he showed his hobby to the kids in his school and then to ethiopian street children near his home.
Marc had discovered a vocation, the street children flocked to him and he became circus master without having planned it. He called his troupe Circus Ethiopia, gave shows all over the country and set up five branch circuses in other ethiopian cities. Finally he had to stop teaching to manage the circus full time.
When I passed through he was organising an outdoor show for a local association in a nearby park. Children came in droves and were fascinated by Circus Ethiopia. So were their parents.
Ethiopian street children discovered that they had a natural talent for acrobatics and they loved it.
As Circus Ethiopia grew in talent and renown, it received help and donations from a number of international relief organisations. Montreal's successful commercial "Cirque du Soleil" regularly donated costumes and surplus equipment. I selected the following to show what these kids can do.
The circus tours remote villages and provides the people of Ethiopia not only with amusement but also with a repertoire of sketches with enlightened social content on hygiene, woman's rights, racial tolerance and so on.
I am very proud of my nephew Marc Lachance shown here saluting the crowd at the end of the show.
Its a real success story, Circus Ethiopia has now toured Europe and has its own website you can visit at: Circus Ethiopia
Addis Abeba is an interesting place. It has some good hotels, a decent museum (behind this example of a native house) and a sizeable university.
This is the library of the Addis Abeba University.
Some parts of the city are well policed and quite safe but others are not safe at all which is quite normal for a city of three million in a poor country. The market area near the long distance bus station should to be avoided and caution is advisable everywhere . I got careless and got pick pocketed by a team on a busy corner near Wavell street and Churchill road.
After a week in Addis I continued on my way south by bus to Shashemene where I spent a night for 10 Birr (1.62 US$), at the Zaraideres Hotel with the colourful roadside café. I had dinner with Abebe Tegemu, a 24 year old school teacher working with 87 children for 280 Birr per month (45 US$).
Here is a real native hut near Finchawa about half way from Sashemane to Moyale on the border with Kenya in the south.
My next stop was here in Yabelo about 200 kms from the border. I stayed in the Menem hotel for only 8 Birr where I met five high school teachers, Berehanu Muhammad (geography), Mulugeta Balcher (biology), Mulualem Damita (chemistry) and Samuel Bekela (English) shown here plus Neway Mariam (history) who took the photo.
They were just as curious about Canada as I was about Ethiopia so we had a good exchange on a variety of subjects. We had a lot of beer and they felt free to talk about the local tribal conflicts and to describe the strange customs of certain more primitive warrior tribes. Mulugeta told how a 15 year old student in his class had been mutilated by a member of a tribe where a young warrior who wants to marry still has to bring a cut human penis to the elders to prove his ability. They were as shocked by this as I was but it made them more acutely aware of the enormous responsibility that educators like themselves have to bring the more backward tribes into the 20th century. Food for thought!