Many reasons combined made me make the choice of wanting to visit Ethiopia. Indeed, it is one of the most beautiful countries, I have had the finest opportunity of traveling to. Beautiful and kind people, big churches, very big roads and wonderful natural scenarios including the famous Blue Nile.
My first stop was in Addis Ababa, thats the Amharic meaning for New Flower. First, you get to ride on line taxis. Line taxis are, as I said, is a convenient and inexpensive way to get around Addis Ababa. Most rides cost either between 2-5 birr. Line taxis are minivans with sliding doors on one side; they hold maybe 12 to 15 people. Most of them are blue and white and are easy to identify, and there are hundreds of them on the roads, weaving in and out of traffic.
They have a conductor, usually a young man or boy, who pops his head out of the window or gets off at stops and shouts the name of the destination. When I first arrived I had no idea what the conductors were saying, because they speak Amharic so rapidly. Amharic on the other hand is a very charming language, but the phonetics and the pronunciation kept challenging me several times thou in the end i was able to construct a proper full length sentence.
Well, when I first arrived in Addis I was cautious to take any line taxi. I’m not sure why, maybe I was concerned about being self-conscious as a conspicuous foreigner; then there was the fear of getting on the wrong line taxi and ending up lost in a strange new country place. Over time i have developed the habit of using public means to move around the city whenever i travel. I believe this is rather the best way to tour a new place and get to interect with the locals on a one on one basis. I’m addicted to using public means, and while in Ethiopia, I looked forward every day to my line taxi trips. Every one of them is an experience.
So what’s so wonderful about squeezing into a packed line taxi for an hour every day, bumping your head half the time when you get on or off, having sometimes to squat on a small wooden block inches off the floor if there’s no room on the real seats, or scrambling with six or seven other people, aiming to be the lucky one who gets on when a line taxi approaches the stage, with room for just one more?
I can only say that my experiences with line taxis combine learning about Ethiopia, Ethiopians and Ethiopian culture, having simple yet poignant human interactions that are precious and noticeably less common in other societies. Getting to see street life and scenes of Addis through the taxi window, and picking up new words of written and spoken Amharic amongst the passengers.
As I mentioned previously, written Amharic is based on “consonant-sound” combinations that make up a syllabary, which is akin to an alphabet but has well over two hundred characters. The more you mingle among Ethiopian people, the better you learn this fascinating and elegant language. Like a child, I got to learn the syllabary slowly. I kept looking frequently at street signs, food and drink labels, posters, and stickers on the walls and windows of line taxis, carefully trying to pronounce the words. I listen to locals speaking, and I ask, when I’m in stores or cafes, for the shopkeeper or waiter to pronounce the word for bread or milk or potato for me. This was the only way for me to get to learn this beautiful language.
If I know an Amharic phrase or word, I practice it, encouraging feedback as praise or correction. Many shop signs have both Amharic and English words together, equivalent to an Amharic-English dictionary, with instant translation. I translated the sounds of characters from the word that was on the letter-head.
Basically, that’s another reason to love Ethiopia, at least if you’re a foreigner: you get the chance to learn first hand a new, inspiring, fascinating language, from the best teachers of all- local Ethiopians. And what better way to learn it than to live, dine and breathe among wonderful people who smile when they hear you speak Amharic and are always patient and willing to help you improve.
There are thirteen months of the year in the Ethiopian calendar: 12 months each with 30 days and a final “month” with five days, or six in a leap year. It can therefore claim to be a capital city with “thirteen months of sunshine.” During the weeks I had arrived there was a rainy season, in Addis, Debre Markos, Bahir Dar, Gondar and Aksum. Despite the wet season, there is plenty of sunshine between downpours, thou it can be very cold during the night and day as well.
I think of the excesses that many people have in the world, yet they often don’t enjoy or appreciate them; I’m reminded of how there is so much strife for monetary wealth. To quote the words of my mother, a kind woman who never had much material wealth, and who would give the last penny in her purse to a needy neighbour, “You didn’t bring any money with you into the world and you’re not going to take any with you when you leave.”
Sure, terrible poverty does not breed happiness, but then material excess is not the key either. Somewhere between the two extremes, the Havenots and Havelots, there is a place where the Havegots dwell with contentedness, tolerance, a sense of belonging, humour, compassion and humanity, without greed, prejudice, misguided strife, animosity or arrogance; where the true jewels of life are valued;
Where there is no greed or selfish exploitation of others, and where the goal for everyone to make life better for everybody else. Knowledge, humility and humanity constitute the currency that makes people truly rich, and the more of these they have and spend, the wealthier they, their children and the society around them become.
One of my observations was basically, how the ethiopian people and culture is so inter twined that they assist each other whenever a problem arises. During my 13 hour trip from Bahir dar to Addis, I did not fail to realize how the passengers in the mini bus i was traveling in, began contributing money just to offer to the road side monasteries that were up in the hills.
This is a common thing that they get to do always when traveling, since it brings more blessing s to them and their journey as well. Generally Ethiopian have a culture of giving and thats what i admired amongst all the things that i got to observe during my stay. I really liked Gondar and was amazed that Ethiopia still has its history intact, 400 years now. Emperor Fasilidas empire and palace still stand at Gondar which was the capital of ethiopia in 1636.
Back to the cost of living in Ethiopia, you can eat a tasty main course Ethiopian injera meal in a very reasonable restaurant and have two Meta or Saint George beers to go with it for less than 4 dollars, or have a cup of the best coffee you ever tasted, along with a gigantic piece of invitingly seductive white forest cake, for less than a dollar.
I must mention that Ethiopia indeed was amazing and am looking to paying another visit to this wonderful country soon if not later.
Photographs for Africa
Photography: Joe Lukhovi