Dora Bitsi

Dora Bitsi

Nov 07 2014

A first dip in the Ethiopian culture: Addis Abbeba

The name “Ethiopia” derives from the Greek “eth” , meaning “burned” and “opsi” , meaning “face”: the land of burned-faced peoples. Aeschylus and Homer already mention Ethiopia in their work and thus creating strong bonds with this faraway nation!

Ethiopia was one of the most awaited countries on our AfriQuest list. And there are many reasons why Ethiopian culture and history are among the most unique in Africa and the entire world. Ethiopians, who refer to themselves as Habesha or Abyssinians, are reminding us with every chance their uniqueness and that they managed to stay the only African country that has never been colonised. Indeed, every Ethiopian feels very proud of his/her identity , a pride which is translated from their amazing food and coffee to their music and to the fact that the dynasty of their Kings (which ended in the 70’s with Haile Selassie) had a direct bloodline to King Solomon himself through the mysterious Queen of Sheba!
Skyline of Addis
Moving around Ethiopia’s capital , Addis Ababa (or Abeba), you feel this history alive with all your senses! Addis nowadays is amalgam of people from every corner of the territory. Efforts towards modernization are filling it with new skyscrapers and an urban train whose construction brings unbearable dust to your nose. However, even through this chaos there is magic! You can hear the prayers of the Christian churches calling to pray and the roads are filled with old cars, goats and people trying to cross the streets at the same time! In the air you smell the freshly brewed coffee and the berbere spice just added to the pot is making your mouth to water!!
There are people living like this..
Women covered with traditional white scarf.
The old neighbourhood streets in Piazza

What we came to realise on our way to the north is that Ethiopia is huge. Maybe not so much in size but in the sense of how much time it takes you to get from place to place due to bad roads and old/slow means of public transport.
To arrive to Addis Abeba from the south, took us two days for a distance not more than 578km! 
The day we arrived, we found ourselves in one of its busiest and most chaotic suburb, the Merkato! It was crazy! Hundreds of people in the bus station which was part of this huge market. Memories from our trip to India started coming back to our minds for the first time in Africa due to the smell and the chaos! Finally we managed to find our way walking further some 2km to the Piazza area, one of the oldest colonial parts of the town and where our hotel was, the famous Taitu Hotel.
As we found out, this very hotel was inextricably linked with the city’s founding story.

The city’s official foundation was not set until the late 1800s during Menelik’s expansion.Before that, the dynasties of Ethiopian Kings ruled Abyssinia or Habesha (the name of Ethiopia in Amharic) from the Northern highlands and particularly the city of Gondar (which will visit on our trip to the north!)

Menelik, and later his daughter Zauditu, would be the last Ethiopian monarchs who could claim uninterrupted direct male descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
King Menelik & Queen Taytu
When Empress Taytu, 3rd wife of Menelik, saw the beautiful yellow flowers growing in the hills of Entoto in 1886,she decided that  there should be their new capital, this place was named Addis Ababa ,meaning New Flower. There Menelik, who was very eager for modernization, built for her the Taitu Hotel that still stands today in a condition not far from how it was back then.

Ethiopians descend from Yemen and Saudi Arabians that migrated in the area and have been Orthodox Christians since 333 when Christianism was first introduced. They have a huge legacy when it comes to their religion and governs most of their culture up to these days.
Ethiopians are very religious,therefore, and follow all the traditions of the religion. Most importantly big events like Epiphany,Timkat (Ethiopian Christmas) and Meskel (Finding of the true Cross) are celebrated with massive festivities all across the country, where thousands of people gather in churches and holy sites like Lalibela and pray. It is important to note that Ethiopia is following a different calendar and as a consequence this year is for them 2007!
People in general also fast during the week, every Wednesday and Friday, days that meat is not served in houses and restaurants.

Injera bread with various sauces! Yummy!
Shiro from the hands of Bizu,who cooked for us in her house!

In Addis this rule was a bit loose since it was the capital. But still we missed no chance to try each and every dish of the famous Ethiopian Cuisine!
Injera , a spongy unleavened bread made from teff grain, is the staple of every meal. All food is eaten with the hands, and pieces of injera are ripped into bite-sized pieces and used to dip and grab stews ( wat ) made of vegetables such as carrots and cabbage, spinach, potatoes, and lentils. The most common spice is berbere, which has a red pepper base. Among their most famous dish is shiro, a paste made out of split peas powder and the kifto which basically very lean raw meat served by pouring ontop sizzling hot butter with berbere spice so that eventually the meat gets slightly cooked! A must try and one of our favourites!
Their favourite drink is of course coffee or buna. Whole streets are filled with the delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee along with the incense they usually burn during the typical ceremony during which neighbours are invited to join.

The coffee station and the jebena
The coffee ceremony is a common ritual. The server starts a fire and roasts green coffee beans while burning frankincense. Once roasted, the coffee beans are ground with a mortar and pestle, and the powder is placed in a traditional black pot called a jebena . Water is then added. The jebena is removed from the fire, and coffee is ready.Usually the coffee is served 3 times around the small cups. In Addis  but also all over Ethiopia there is immense variety of coffee shops.Usually there are several small coffee stands that one can taste simple buna but also several big cafeterias offering as well italian style Macchiatto!

Sightseeing in Addis is essential!

1.The Museums

A reconstructed replica of Lucy’s skeleton
Selfies in Haile Selassie’s bedroom
The beautiful entrance to the Addis Ababa University!

In Addis the most popular museums to visit are two : The National Museum (10 Birr entrance fee) and the Ethnological Museum (100Birr entrance fee), both of them located near the Arat Kilo Area.
The National Museum is relatively small but the reason why it is famous is that there you can see the famous Lucy, (or 40% of her ),the earliest human ancestor and the first  Australopithecus afarensis discovered in 1974 the Afar Region of Ethopia. The Ethnological museum is far more extensive and well presented.Its collection includes several items and rituals from the everyday life of some of the most important Ethiopian tribes. You can also see the collection of the different crosses used in Christian Churches however the most important exhibit is the private rooms and clothes of the last Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife. Actually this museum is inside the impressive University grounds and used to be the King’s Residence.
2. Meskel Square

Meskel Square on a rare occasion without traffic!

The Meskel Square is the most central square in town. You will realise you ‘ve found it once you see a crossing of 6 roads but no traffic lights not even a traffic policeman. Cars, trucks and pedestrians are managing to make their way through without crushing! It is really something you cannot believe until you see it! If it’s the rush hour though and you are on foot . I would not recommend crossing this mess!
3.The Churches

It is a nice walk to have a tour of the most important churches like The Holy Trinity, St.Georges Cathedral and St Estifanos. The Greek Orthodox church is dedicated to St.Frumentius. Most of them are a spot for the believers to pray irrespective of whether the church is open.For tourists however you often find that you have to pay to gain access to the inside and also the small museums that accompany the churches. We merely had a walk around to get the feeling though and avoided paying yet gain another fee. The choice is yours! 
4.Traditional dance

This is a MUST and by far the best memory we will keep! Ethiopian Music is quite unique and we could say a little bit “pastoral”.The music is fast paced and the singer’s voice always high pitched.But nothing prepares you for the way the dancers move! Women and Men dancing in groups alternating are showing off an amazing series of hips and especially shoulder movements! It is really impressive!
There are several spots you can have dinner and the shows start usually after 8pm. Check Habesha 2000 Restaurant on Bole Rd.
5.Markets: Churchill Str. ,Merkato, Shiromeda

Cotton Scarfs and dresses in Shiromeda!

With the exception of the Huge and chaotic Merkato ( where you can find really anything you wish), there are twp places you can find touristic shops and souvenirs. Churchill Road is more for crafts (even though it is a bit dodgy and you should be careful) and Shiromeda is up to the North and there you can find traditional white clothes and scarfs woven by hand from local women!

Baargaining is essential even though you will find in Ethiopia the prices are often not going down in favour of the farenje (foreigner) !

For a deeper immersion into the Abyssinian landscape and culture one should head further north where the old Kingdoms of Ethiopia once prospered!
Follow our next posts on Lalibela and Gondar!

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One Response

  1. seble says:

    Wow it is very interesting you guys put it in very interesting way but we still have so many historical places you should came again and visit.

    Thank you

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