This is one of several posts about my recent trip to Ethiopia. The others, so far, are:

The Black Country | Anecdotes | Transport

Ethiopia is a country of religion, more than any other country I know. All the residents seem to identify with a religion.

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Addis Ababa Holy Trinity Cathedral (Photo by David Drori)

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?

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(Photo by David Drori)

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.

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Lalibela – Asheten Mariam monastery (Photo by David Drori)

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.

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Lalibela – St. George’s Day ceremony (Photo by David Drori)

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.

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Lalibela church interior – ceiling (Photo by David Drori)

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.)

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A-Z Challenge 2015This is where things get complicated (as is often the way with religion). You don’t just have to describe religious practices. You have to get into the characters’ heads and work out why beliefs make them act and talk as they do.

In this article, Amanda McCrina claims that the vast majority of historical fiction mostly ignores religious practices and the pervasiveness of religion in people’s lives, making them more modern in outlook than they really were. This makes life easier for the modern writer and also makes it easier for the modern reader to identify with the characters.

 Baby

In my previous post, I suggested that writers’ blogs are shallow and uninteresting. By writing that, I have been introduced to some very different blogs, and especially mapelba, who poses some thought-provoking questions. The question in her latest post is: “Where do you come from? Does your answer explain your writing?” Some people come from some very dark places. I come from a place of love, protection and loneliness….

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I come from a place so deep in suburbia that the bus came only once every half hour – if you were lucky.

I come from a world of secrets and pretence. Of feeling guilty every time I forgot.

I come from a father who I now know was a people pleaser, who needed everyone to think well of him, and who took out his frustrations on his wife. And a mother who never understood that. I come from a mother who never understood many things. I come from parents who had had enough excitement in their lives by the time I was born.

I come from a place where religion is a noose, a chore, a secret, an embarrassment, a reason for keeping quiet. But also a fine tradition, an offloading of worries and hopes, an expression of sadness and joy.

I come from a place where teachers just taught and children were free to torment as much as they wanted. Where no one explained to them that their actions could be a life sentence.

I come from a place where loneliness is the norm and thoughts have no human outlet.

I write to tell the world that whole lives can be spoilt because of where they come from, if no one notices or acts in time.