On our many trips abroad over the years, we have always been outsiders. Not so much in the UK, where most people don’t usually realise we’re not one of them, but most definitely in places like India, Ethiopia, Egypt and Japan, even when we dressed like the indigenous population.
In my childhood, I was an unwilling outsider. Like all children, I wanted to fit in but I never did.
However, my outsiderness was never as severe as Martin’s. He suffered in silence, learning behaviours that made life bearable as a child, but didn’t prepare him for being adult.
That all changed for Martin when he was sent to Japan to represent his company, not necessarily in a good way, although ultimately…
No, I won’t tell you the ending of Cultivating a Fuji, the new edition of which is out in one week: 19th January. You can pre-order it now from Amazon.
Nowadays, I’m happy to be an outsider. As an author, it’s helpful to get an outsider’s perspective. And I like being unique, rather than fitting some pattern. What a shame that children can’t see those benefits, or accept differences.
I haven’t looked up statistics about animals in Ethiopia, but there are, without doubt, more than I’ve seen in any other country. Cows, goats, buffaloes. You see them on the roads. The driver gives a hoot and the animals inch away until there’s just enough room for the jeep to get past.
Camels and donkeys carry salt – for internal use only, we were told.
We spotted a baboon
and a monkey
and a dik-dik.
We saw vervet monkeys.
That’s right – blue.
But most of all, I remember the birds. Our guide and driver for part of the tour (Milli) was very knowledgeable about birds and knew all the names. He’d spot them while driving and stop for us to take photos. When said bird was on my side of the jeep, I’d let the window down and sit back for hubby to lean on me while photographing. The results were definitely worth the slight discomfort.
Before travelling to Ethiopia, we read warnings about visiting the country. Ethiopia has good relations with some of her neighbours and not such good relations with others, notably Eritrea. Terrorism is well known in Ethiopia.
Consequently, security is high. At every airport, there are two security checks – one to enter the building and another before boarding the plane. You have to take your shoes off twice. Large hotels also have security checks outside their entrances. Soldiers and police were often visible where we went. I was surprised to see them at tourist lookout points. I felt as if they feel tourists are more important than their own citizens. Fortunately, we saw no signs of terrorist activity.
Driving, in Ethiopia, from what I saw, is good. Our drivers kept calm and didn’t take risks. The roads were not always good, and some busy junctions would have benefited from traffic lights, but I didn’t feel in danger there. This is in marked contrast to India, where my heart was in my mouth each time we overtook.
Danger on our trip came from more natural places. One was Erta Ale, the volcano in the Dannakil Desert. We’d been expecting to be taken to the lava lake, where danger would have come from breathing the sulphur, but views would have been spectacular. Unfortunately, just before we arrived, there was a rare eruption and we weren’t allowed near the lake. We did make the climb, however, and saw the new activity from afar.
Then, instead of spending the night at the top and walking back down in the morning, we had to return to the camp at night, due to the danger from the volcano.
All that came after what for me was the most frightening part of the trip, but I did it. I climbed a vertical cliff to reach the Abuna Yemata Guh Church. Here is the proof:
I got help, as you can see, from above and below. “Left hand here. Right foot here.” You see where my right knee is resting? I had to get my right foot there, and somehow I did. Yes, we took our shoes off before that stretch. They told us that was because all the ground near the church is holy, but I wouldn’t have been able to climb with boots on. I could barely squeeze my feet into the spaces as it was.
The pictures above were not taken by David, who decided not to go up. He made a wise decision; it’s not a place for someone who’s afraid of heights.
I made it! I took pictures from inside the nearby cave and of the church.
Ethiopia is a country of religion, more than any other country I know. All the residents seem to identify with a religion.
One of the guides informed us that Ethiopia is roughly half Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and half Muslim. This made me wonder why we weren’t shown more about Islam. Is it because there is nothing particularly worth seeing in connection with the Muslim community? Or is it because every one of our guides was Christian?
Proof (if we needed it) was all around us, in the crosses hanging in vehicles, in the way one of the drivers crossed himself three times each time we passed a church, in the keeping of fast days. On those days – twice a week – adherents refrain from eating all animal products, including eggs and milk products. There are stricter and less strict versions, but this seems to be the norm.
We visited many churches, always having to leave our shoes outside. We saw separate entrances for men and women. All the churches had an area where only priests were allowed to enter. We saw pictures, including many from the Old Testament. Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity treats the Old and New Testaments with equal importance.
Apart from churches and monasteries, we witnessed religious ceremonies outside. In Axum, we saw the Timket ceremony, of which the highlight involves jumping into the lake and filling bottles with holy water. In Lalibela, we saw the celebrations for St. George’s Day.
Perhaps because of where we came from, the guides were keen to stress the many similarities between Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity and Judaism. They don’t eat pork. They pray in an ancient language called Gez, which is similar to Hebrew. Etc. Jews have lived in Ethiopia for a long time, starting (if Ethopian tradition can be believed) with the son of King Solomon. When Christianity arrived in Ethiopia, most people converted. Recently, during the 1980s and ’90s, Ethiopians Jews were brought to Israel and there might not be any Jews left in Ethiopia.
I haven’t mentioned the traditional, tribal religions, and I promise to do so in another post.
I hope you’re enjoying the lovely photos taken by David Drori. You can view the full set on Flickr.
There’s one church that he didn’t photograph and that’s because… I’ll leave that for next time!
One more thing: in Addis Ababa’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, shown above, we saw the crypt of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife. (I mention that because someone said she was particularly interested to read about him.)
This is one of several posts about my recent trip to Ethiopia. The others, so far, are here and here.
Naturally, we flew from Tel-Aviv to Addis Ababa. In just four hours – less than the time it takes to fly to London – we landed in another world. This shouldn’t have surprised me. I’ve crossed borders to Egypt and Jordan, where differences are also obvious. But Ethiopia is more different; and more friendly.
There were also some internal flights. Security is tight. If you don’t like taking your shoes off, imagine having to do it twice before being allowed on a plane. We got to see some tiny airports. In Arba Minch Airport, the second security check was done by hand, reminding me of the not-so-good old days. A woman rummaged in my rucksack and brought out
“What’s this?” she asked. “It’s for wiping hands,” I replied, miming the action in case she was still in some doubt. She tried to open it by unscrewing the top – which isn’t how it works – but soon gave up. Some of the Chinese had walkie-talkies, which were taken away from them, hopefully to be returned after the flight.
Then we sat in the airport lounge.
On the left, you can see them rummaging. In the centre, a light hanging from the ceiling is tied to a column. Good thing the hall is “Under mentenance.”
All the flights were as comfortable as flights can be and seemed safe. The views were interesting and varied. This is an aerial photo, although you wouldn’t know. It was taken before landing at Arba Minch.
On good roads, we travelled mostly by minibus. The advantage was that the guide could tell us things on the way.
In the desert and other unpaved roads, we were separated into jeeps. They were nice and modern and the rides were as comfortable as they could be in the circumstances. Only once did a jeep get stuck in the sand.
Addis Ababa has a light railway system. David (hubby), who is keen on trains, told the guide how he wished he could travel on one of the trains to get a feel for it. “Don’t wish too hard,” the guide replied. “Trains come about once every thirty minutes and they’re extremely crowded.”
Added on 15 March 2017. How did I forget?…
We were taken on two very different boat rides. The first was to cross the Omo River to reach Wakonos Village, which is arguably in Kenya. They gave us a choice of boats and we chose to travel like the natives in one of these:
It wasn’t comfortable stepping in mud to reach the boat, squeezing in, knees raised, but we made it to the other side and our bottoms soon dried in the sun.
The other boat, from which we viewed crocodiles and hippopotamuses on Lake Chamo, was more comfortable.
I didn’t take many photos on our recent trip to Ethiopia. I generally left that task to my husband, who takes much better photos. That left me more time for taking notes. He needs to organise his photos and I don’t want to write about the trip in detail before that.
In the meantime, here are a few anecdotes:
In Bahir Dar (or Bahar Dar) Airport, we saw an interesting advertisement with several mistakes. One of them, in particular, caught our collective eye.
…in the sand in the Dannakil Desert.
Modern amidst ancient in Lalibela.
There was an enormous run on lemons wherever we went. Lemon with tea, with soda water, with cola, with fish. The “…with lemon, please” always pronounced the o as an o, which is not what we native speakers do. Israelis tend to copy each other. (Perhaps that’s why some of us like folk dancing.) On a previous trip, it was ginger.
In one village, we saw honey that was produced on the spot. The local guide dipped his (unwashed) finger into the pot and offered it around the group, for anyone who wanted to lick it. No one did.
Rhythm an’ me
I thought this was a cute slogan. I didn’t realise I’d be in the photo, too!
Surprise! I’m back and ready to reveal all… within reason.
I’ve just returned from a wonderful and intensive tour of Ethiopia, which means: the black people. It’s an amazing country, full of archaeology and history, volcanoes and lava, camels, donkeys and birds of many sorts, religion and tribes, music, dancing, paintings and much more. Although we were busy every single day of the nineteen, I’m sure there’s plenty we didn’t see. In fact, there were two things we expected to see and didn’t. More about that later.
This is the notebook (given to me by my friend, Marallyn) in which I recorded activities, impressions, etc. Some of my scribblings are legible, I think. Some of them can probably only be deciphered by me. They were written while bouncing around in a jeep in the Dannakil Desert.
There’s even some music.
I plan to find a way of using it all – after writing everything else I have planned. In the meantime, when we’ve sorted out the photos, I’ll post some of them here.
What didn’t we see? The lava at Erta Ale as shown on YouTube. That’s because there was an eruption on the day we visited. (The previous eruption, we were told, was in 2005, although Wikipedia says 2009.) We climbed all the way up, but weren’t allowed to get near enough to see bubbling lava, although we watched the eruption from afar. We also weren’t allowed to sleep at the top, as planned, and had to walk down again the same night. We were lucky, though, because groups arriving after us weren’t allowed up there at all.
We also didn’t see a regular ceremony that includes bull jumping (that doesn’t harm animals, we were told) and dancing. The ceremony didn’t take place that week.
But the trip was amazing and I’ll definitely write more about it. Stay tuned…