After climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, I boarded a plane headed for Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where I would spend a week doing a historical and cultural tour of the country. I would visit Addis Ababa (the current capital of Ethiopia), Axum (the capital of the Axumite empire), Lalibela (the capital of the Zagwe empire), Gondar (the capital of the Gondarine empire), and Bahir Dar (a port city near Lake Tana, a lake steeped in history).
Why did I choose to visit Ethiopia? First and foremost, I was intrigued by its history. Ethiopia is the only African country to successfully resist European colonization; thus, it has developed organically without an imperialist fist to shape it. Furthermore, it is home to one of the most ancient advanced civilizations in sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, the Axumite empire during its heyday was considered one of the world’s superpowers alongside Rome, Persia, and China. It was also convenient for me in terms of location: Tanzania (where I had just climbed Kilimanjaro), Uganda (my next destination), and Ethiopia are all in East Africa. I was also looking to balance my outdoors-focused experience climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with some time spent exploring Africa’s rich yet underappreciated culture.
I endeavored to learn as much as I could about Ethiopia’s past, present, and future in a jam-packed week. I ended up picking up a jumble of disparate facts that I will attempt to weave into a coherent narrative (accompanied with plenty of pictures, of course). I will endeavor to accompany my photos with factual/mythical snippets and my humble observations. Apologies in advance if this turns into a data dump.
Random facts about Ethiopia
Ethiopia is a scenically stunning country that boasts some of the most fertile lands in East Africa.
As mentioned, it was the only country that remained uncolonised after the Scramble for Africa by Europeans in the 19th century. Ethiopia was first “discovered” in 1493 by Portuguese explorers who were searching for Prester John, a mythical Christian king who was said to rule over a Christian kingdom in the Orient. Incidentally, the Portuguese incited war between the Ethiopian Muslims and Christians after centuries of peace. The people and culture of Ethiopia have been shaped by an eclectic confluence of African, Judaic, Egyptian, Arabic, and Grecian influences. This is due in part to Ethiopia’s location near major trade routes. Despite the country’s rich history, there remains a dearth of books and ethnological studies on Ethiopia.
Present-day Ethiopia is a federal republic with a population of over 100 million people, making it the 10th largest country in Africa. There are over 80 distinct ethnic groups in Ethiopia. The official languages are English and Amharic (spoken by the Amhara people in north/central Ethiopia); however, there are many other regional languages such as Tigrinya, spoken by the Tigray people in the north, and Oromifa, spoken by the Oromo people in the south. The part of the Rift Valley in Ethiopia is thought to be a strong candidate for the origin point of Homo sapiens; thus, Ethiopia is often touted as “the cradle of humanity.”
Most Ethiopians still rely largely on subsistence agriculture. The main cash crops are coffee and khat (a plant that is chewed and produces a mild stimulating effect that locals liken to a high from nicotine, coffee, or cocaine).
Mining, horticulture, and tourism are also major pillars of the economy. The main religions in Ethiopia are Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity (Ethiopia’s own unique brand of Christianity dating back to the 4th century AD), Islam (dating back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century), and Protestant Christianity. For the most part, Ethiopians with different creeds have coexisted peacefully for centuries.
Addis Ababa (new flower) is the capital of present-day Ethiopia and the headquarters of the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. I was there during the annual meeting of the African Union. Security was tight, with armed guards toting assault rifles on every block.
Addis Ababa was founded by Emperor Menelik II in 1886. Menelik’s wife, Empress Taytu Betul, enjoyed bathing in hot springs near present-day Addis Ababa and built a house and a church there. This, combined with the site’s usefulness as a military staging area, convinced Menelik II to establish his capital city there.
My first stop in Addis was the National Museum of Ethiopia. The museum was separated into 4 levels roughly based on chronology, with the first level examining prehistoric Ethiopia, the second examining Ethiopia’s early history, the third examining Ethiopia’s middling history, and the fourth examining its modern history/culture.
Perhaps the most famous exhibit at the museum is the skeleton of Lucy, a female Australopithecus afarensis believed to have lived 3.2 million years ago. At the time of its discovery in 1974, Lucy was touted as the oldest and most complete skeleton of man’s earlier evolutionary permutations. The archaeologist who found Lucy named her after the Beatles song “Lucy in the sky with diamonds,” which was playing when they returned to their camp after discovering her.
One of the staple foods of Ethiopia is injera, a flatbread that looks like a crepe. It is produced from a type of grain called tef. There are two types of tef: white tef and brown tef. Brown tef is healthier because it contains more minerals like iron. However, white tef is tastier and more expensive. Tef is hailed as the next superfood due to its low glycemic index and rich nutrients profile (it is, after all, an ancient grain).
My second stop in Addis was St. George’s Church. This church is quite nice by Ethiopian standards and was built by Emperor Hailee Selassie in the 20th century. Religion, especially Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, is a central part of Ethiopia’s history and culture. There are numerous churches throughout the country that are usually the most sumptuous buildings in their specific locale. Furthermore, they are all decorated with the same recurring pictures and themes drawn from the Bible. St. George is especially preeminent in the country. Every church I visited had a mural depicting St. George slaying the dragon.
My third stop in Addis was the Mercato, which is hailed as the largest open-air market in Africa.
The Mercato was first established by Fascist Italians when they successfully conquered Ethiopia in the 1930s. The Italians had been soundly defeated by Ethiopia in the late 1800s (story later on) and had craved revenge for decades. With Benito Mussolini at the helm, a Fascist Italian regime mounted an aggressive campaign to assuage their long-seated embarrassment at being the only European country to be defeated by Africans. Ethiopia’s Emperor, Hailee Selassie (holy trinity), fled the country a few hours before Addis Ababa was captured by the Italians (many contemporaneous Ethiopians regarded his lack of resistance as cowardice). While in exile, Hailee Selassie presented the plight of his kingdom to the League of Nations. The world’s superpowers had their hands full with the rising power of the Axis (remember, this was the 1930s) and disregarded his pleas, remaining silent on the matter. The only member nation to express public sympathy and decry Italy was Mexico (recall the Olmec statue head that Mexico had gifted to Ethiopia as a sign of friendship).
The Italian occupation lasted for five years from 1936-1941. It was ended when an Allied invasion. Hailee Selassie was escorted with great fanfare into Addis Ababa by a British force and re-installed as the ruler of Ethiopia. The Italians occupation did not only bring violence, looting, and other negative sundries. In some ways, Ethiopia benefited from their oppressors. The Italians developed the country’s infrastructure by building roads, bridges, and houses. They also started the Mercato. At the time, it was called the Mercato indigensio (the market for the indigenous people) and was mostly frequented by Ethiopians. The Italians built a segregated market for themselves called the Piazza that was presumably nicer and more exclusive. Furthermore, after the occupation was lifted, many Italians (mostly men) remained in Ethiopia and integrated into their adopted society by marrying Ethiopian women.
Today, the Mercato is an enormous, bustling, and organic market where merchants sell just about anything (food, electronics, souvenirs, etc.). I was particularly intrigued to learn that many Ethiopian scavenger will bring broken appliances, various raw materials, and other recyclable items to the Mercato. These items are repaired, refurbished, and resold, exemplifying the adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Indeed, my guide told me that Ethiopians rarely throw things away and tend to hoard items. I appreciate that Ethiopian entrepreneurs are at once stimulating the economy and reducing waste in one fell swoop, something Americans could learn from.
Next, I visited the Ethnological Museum, located on the campus of Addis Ababa University. The museum was formally the palace of Emperor Hailee Selassie, who donated the building to the university following a botched coup. The museum housed exhibits exploring Ethiopian history and culture.
Next, I was driven up to Mt. Entoto, a mountain overlooking Addis Ababa. Emperor Menelik II imported eucalyptus trees into Ethiopia and first planted it around Mt. Entoto after he returned from a state visit to Madagascar. His people were suffering a shortage of wood for fuel and building materials, and he recognized that eucalyptus trees grew quickly and produced straight, strong wood. The eucalyptus trees did indeed help to address some of these issues, but not without repercussions. Eucalyptus trees have invasively spread all over the country. They consume a great deal of water and erode the land, which has created a host of conservation and biodiversity issues around the country.
Ethiopia’s economy has grown quite a bit in the past few decades (GDP of $120 in the 1990s, up to GDP of $1,000 in the 2010s). However, many Ethiopians still live under the poverty line and wealth disparity is rampant. When I spoke to many Ethiopians, it was their opinion that the growth of the economy is an illusion. According to them, many Ethiopians have not benefited from the increased money and the wealth is still concentrated in a select few.
I also learned snippets about education when I was there. Many people around the country complete high school. The courses up until secondary school are officially taught in Amharic. In high school, all courses are taught in English. Thus, many people in Ethiopia are tri-lingual (they speak Amharic, English, and their tribal dialect).
There is a well-developed university system, with programs in engineering, agriculture, tourism, medicine, etc. The best university by far is Addis Ababa University, which has some 40,000 students. I was actually there during the graduation of many of its schools. I also met two high school students who saw education as their ticket to a better life. Their families had been subsistence farmers for generations. Their parents wanted them to focus on learning agriculture and taking over the farm from them. Both high schoolers did not want to do this. They recognized the value of an education and aspired to train as computer engineers and place their bets on social mobility.
My last stop in Addis Ababa was Trinity Cathedral, the burial place of VIPs. Among its more famous tenants is the last Emperor, Hailee Selassie, and the previous prime minister, Meles Zenawi.
Final thoughts on Addis Ababa: a bustling and booming metropolis with an interesting mix of people (and animals!). It is a mix of the old and the new, with large skyscrapers and mud huts in the city limits.
I boarded a domestic flight on Ethiopian Airlines headed for my next stop, the ancient city of Axum. This city was the seat of the Axumite empire that stretched from the Nile in East Africa across the Red Sea to Yemen (a total of 2.5 million square kilometers). The city is the oldest continuously inhabited city in sub-Saharan Africa. The empire existed from about 100 AD to about 900 AD, though the area had been civilized by an Iron Age society that predated the Axumite empire and probably developed into it. The empire’s golden age was from the 3rd to the 6th century AD. During this time, Axum was considered one of the world’s preeminent superpowers alongside Rome, Persia, and China. The Axumite empire, as a vital artery that connected the East to the West, thrived upon trade and minted its own coins.
My first stop was the Stelae fields, where large obelisks built during the Axumite empire still stand, millennia later. The enormous obelisks served as grave markers for Axumite emperors. Their tombs, at one point richly laden with treasures that they took with them to the afterlife, have sadly all been looted. There are also several smaller obelisks that probably served as grave markers for less important personages.
I found the juxtaposition of these two paintings particularly edifying. Both depict the Virgin Mary holding an adolescent Jesus. The mural on the left depicts them both with swarthier skin. The mural on the right depicts them with lighter skin. The mural on the left predates the one on the right by several centuries. As you can see, Mary/Jesus went from being imagined as dark-skinned to white-skinned. Hmmm…
This stone in front of the Church of Maryam Tsion is where generations of kings of the Solomonic Dynasty were crowned.
The Axumite empire began to crumble around the 7th and 8th century AD, mostly because its economy was waning. This was due to the increasing Muslim presence in and around the country. The Muslims controlled the ports around the Red Sea and siphoned off much of the trade that had previously sustained the Axumite empire. Though they never attack the Axumite empire, the Muslims effectively hamstrung the empire’s economy. The coup de grace to the empire was the anti-Axumite campaign led by Gudit, a Jewish princess, in the 10th century AD. The Jews had been segregated and discriminated against for generations. Gudit launched a retaliatory campaign that laid waste to the Axumite empire. She burned churches and monuments, including the original Church of Maryam Tsion, and killed the aristocracy. The Axumite empire was thus reduced to an echo of its former grandeur.
Another interesting thing about Axum: it is quite close to Adwa. Adwa is a hilly region where the Battle of Adwa was fought on 2 March, 1896. This was the famous confrontation between the Ethiopian army, led by Emperor Menelik II, and the kingdom of Italy. The Ethiopian army, despite being outnumbered and outgunned, successfully defeated the superior Italian army. This was because the Ethiopians knew the land and were able to outmaneuver the Italians and take the high ground. The Italians were poorly led and confused, allowing the barefoot Ethiopians armed with spears and single-shot rifles to overrun them.
Today, Axum is the regional capital of the Tigrai region in Ethiopia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The people of Tigrai are called the Tigrean people (trader people) and they speak their own language, Tigrinya.
Final thoughts on Axum: a city steeped in history. You can almost feel the weight of the years in the air. Unfortunately, Axum’s heritage has not been well-preserved and much of its history has been lost or buried. Hopefully one day, historians will be able to unearth what once was lost. This is currently happening; Axum University has an archaeology department that is working on piecing the history of this interesting land together.
After finishing my tour of Axum, I boarded another domestic Ethiopian Airlines plane headed for the city of Lalibela, nestled in the Lasta (thyme) mountain range. Lalibela is the home of eleven monolithic churches carved into or out of the living mountains. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered the unofficial 8th Wonder of the World.
Lalibela was the capital of the upstart Zagwe empire, which rose to power in the 12th-14th century after the Axumite empire crumbled. The city takes its name from Gebre Meskel Lalibela, the 5th Zagwe emperor. The word Lalibela means “the bees recognize his sovereignty.” Legend has it that when Lalibela was born, he was covered in bees, an auspicious sign that he was would have an unusual destiny.
Once he was king, Lalibela set out to create a New Jerusalem in Ethiopia (i.e., he wanted to create a mystical and holy center of worship in his homeland). Work had already been done to carve some churches into the mountain. Lalibela expanded upon this work and was responsible for building some of the more magnificent churches in the city that would eventually come to bear his name. Legend has it that King Lalibela was aided in his herculean task by an army of 14,000 workers during the day and angels at night. Lalibela was responsible for building a number of the churches himself and began a tradition of building churches in the area. Most of the churches in Lalibela were built during the 12th and 13th century, when the Zagwe empire was at the height of its power.
Time for a snippet of geology. My guide told me that much of the rock around Lalibela is volcanic rock with high amounts of Fe (iron), which helps to make the churches stronger and more waterproof. This lends the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela a beautiful, warm, rusty red color. The churches are also made out of hard stone with high amounts of iron. I find it incredible that the workmen chiseled these churches out of the mountains.
My first stop was to visit the 8th Wonder of the World, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela!
After completing my tour of the eleven monolithic churches of Lalibela, I headed for my second stop, Asheten Maryam Monastery on Asheten (good smell) mountain. Presumably, this mountain bears its moniker because of the thyme and other fragrant plants in the area. The monastery was 3,600 meters above sea level so I had a bit of a hike ahead of me.
Asheten Maryam Monastery was built in the 11th century and was also hewn into the living rock of the mountain. Its architecture is more primitive and my guide claimed it was built by Lalibela himself, though this seems to be anachronistic. Interestingly, the mountain is partially composed of sedimentary rock that has been overlain with volcanic ash. Presumably, this means that the sedimentary rock predates the volcanic rock mountains that was used as the building material for the monolithic churches.
I also had an unofficial jaunt into Lalibela’s nightlife scene. I had befriended one of the clerks at the hotel I was staying in. He was a young man in his 20s by the name of Selam. He offered to take me out to a cultural show/bar, where we would be able to listen to live music and drink some tej (more on this later). I was pumped to explore the nightlife scene, so I said yes.
The third (and last) stop of my tour was to visit Lalibela’s weekly market, which is typically held on Saturdays from 9am-4pm. Farmers from all the surrounding regions (within a radius of 20 kilometers) come with their wares packed onto the backs of mules. The market is divided into several sections: livestock, produce, spices, prepared foods, goods like clothing and bags. I asked my guide to tell me some prices; apparently, oxen are 5000 birr, goats are 1500 birr, chickens are 100 birr, donkeys are 1500 birr. Purchasing is mostly reliant on money (birr), but bartering is common. The market was crowded and bustling and hectic, with people and animals walking all over the place. I was amazed and overwhelmed at the scene, wondering if there was any method to the madness. If there was, it was certainly beyond me.
Today, life in Lalibela continues much as it has for the past few centuries. The churches continue to be maintained and administered by dedicated clergy members. All the churches are active Christian shrines and many Ethiopians make pilgrimages to Lalibela. The native people in Lalibela also regularly worship at the churches.
Final thoughts on Lalibela: probably my most favorite stop on my tour of Ethiopia. The rock-hewn churches were awe-inspiring and architecturally stunning. I also appreciated getting to hike around Lalibela and up the mountain to Asheten Maryam, where I was rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains of Lalibela. Visiting the market helped me realize how Ethiopians in the countryside live and get a sense of the flow and rhythm of life there. I found Lalibela to be a pleasing mixture of mystical and mundane, a city that has developed somewhat but has largely remained frozen in time. I would highly recommend a visit to this magical place.
I boarded yet another domestic flight through Ethiopian Airlines and jetted away to Gondar, leaving Lalibela and its imposing churches behind me. Gondar is in the Amhara region of Ethiopia and previously served as the capital of the Ethiopian empire. Gondar was established as the capital of the empire by Emperor Fasilides in the 1600s. Emperor Fasilides rose to prominence out of a squabbling cadre of local warlords who had been incited to violence against each other by European expatriates. When Fasilides consolidated his power, he promptly deported all the Europeans in the country and established a closed-door policy to Europeans only (other peoples were allowed into Ethiopia).
Gondar and the surrounding environs are hilly and strategically defensible, which is why Emperor Fasilides chose to establish his capital there. There were also major trade routes running through this fertile land, purportedly the best area to grow tef. Sesame is the major cash crop, which is processed into oil and exported to China, Pakistan, and Israel. Fasilides and his line built five imposing castles in the area.
My first stop was the castle compound in Gondar.
After finishing my tour of the myriad castles in the Gondarine castle compound, I ventured into the outskirts of the city to explore two sites: Emperor Fasilides’ swimming pool and the abbey of Empress Mentewab. Emperor Fasilides built himself a private retreat away from his castle complete with a swimming pool (remember, he enjoyed swimming and hunting). There, he could relax and indulge in one of his favorite pastimes. Similarly, Empress Mentewab constructed an abbey and domicile away from her main palace as a retreat from the rigors of court life. Both structures were located in the hills surrounding Gondar.
There were also 44 churches in Gondar. All but one of them were destroyed when the Sudanese invaded Ethiopia after the wane of the Gondarine empire and put the capital to the torch. Many of the burnt churches have been rebuilt. The one original church that survived the Sudanese invasion was Debre Brehan Selassie (Mountain Light Trinity). The legend goes that the church survived the onslaught because it was protected by a swarm of honeybees that drove the Sudanese away.
Final thoughts on Gondar: definitely the most architecturally imposing buildings I saw on the entire trip. However, I wasn’t as impressed by the castles of Gondar as I was by the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela or the obelisks at Axum, mostly because these structures had so much mysticism attached to them and because they had been built centuries before. The castles at Gondar were built in the 1600s when technology was much advanced, which decreased the impressiveness of their construction for me. Furthermore, I was disappointed that the castles and churches were not well-preserved and had been looted over the years. I am saddened that Ethiopia has failed to adequately preserve its heritage as well as some other countries. Of course, I do not think it is from negligence and acknowledge the many outside forces that contrived to harm the country and its people. Nonetheless, the crumbling nature of many of the buildings and the lack of anything besides the structures themselves was disappointing to me. I can only hope that Ethiopia preserves what is left and makes some efforts in piecing back what was lost.
After finishing my tour of Gondar, I boarded a car and drove for about three hours to the city of Bahir Dar.
Bahir Dar is the capital of the Amhara region of Ethiopia. Though the city does not have much historic significance, it does hold pride and place in terms of natural importance. It is situated next to Lake Tana, an enormous inland lake in Ethiopia that has been settled for millennia and is the largest lake in Ethiopia. Lake Tana is also the source of the Blue Nile, one of two major tributaries of the Nile. The Blue Nile travels north from Ethiopia to join up with the White Nile and form the Nile that courses all the way to the Mediterranean.
My first stop was the Blue Nile Falls, a large waterfall along the course of the Blue Nile. This was a bit of a drive from Bahir Dar (about 1.5 hours) plus a 30-minute hike through rugged terrain.
Apparently, the river acquires a bluer hue a few hundred miles north. I imagine the person who decided to name the river the Blue Nile lived in this region and that the name stuck. It does seem that the water is incredibly rich and would nourish a great deal of farmland. I mean, it looks like chocolate milk.
After returning from the Blue Nile Falls, I took a boat ride across Lake Tana to visit a church called Ura Kidane Mehret that was situated on a peninsula in the lake.
Final Thoughts on Bahir Dar: this was the shortest visit I made to a city in Ethiopia. I’ll admit I was a bit burned out at this point, having been on the move for a week and in a new city every day or two. I had also absorbed an enormous amount of information about Ethiopia in a very short time. It was interesting and relaxing to visit the Blue Nile, see the falls, and sail across Lake Tana for an hour. But the visit to the church was lackluster, especially when compared to those in Lalibela. I can say that I was ready
Back to Addis and Final Reflections
On the morning of July 10, my driver took me to the Bahir Dar airport two hours before my flight. I sat there patiently waiting for my domestic flight to Addis Ababa, where I would have lunch with Yared, the director of GETTS (the tour company that set up my tour). However, my flight was delayed by almost 2.5 hours. The passengers of the flight, including myself, were annoyed at the lack of communication and professionality of the Ethiopian Airlines staff at Bahir Dar airport. They didn’t tell us the plane was delayed or how long it was delayed for, even when we asked. We just had to sit tight and hope for the best.
When I finally touched down in Addis Ababa, I was quite worried that I would miss my flight. The delay had caused me to land at 1:30PM, and my flight to Entebbe, Uganda was at 3:30PM. It took me about forty minutes to debark and get my checked luggage. I then hauled ass to the international terminal and rushed as best I could through security. Luckily, Ethiopian Airlines gave me a priority sticker to skip to the front of security and customs lines. Long story short, I was able to make my flight.
Final reflections on visiting Ethiopia: Ethiopia is a complex and fascinating country with a rich history and an eclectic mix of different cultures. Its people are an ancient and proud race that are aware of the vast potential of their country and the African continent as a whole. Ethiopia has a unique mix of old and new that are seamlessly blended together. On the one hand, many Ethiopians are devoutly religious and adhere to traditions that have remained unchanged for centuries. On the other hand, the country has been developing quickly in the past few decades, with new roads and cellphones and other technologies being integrated into the society. I predict that Ethiopia will be very different in a few more decades. I would definitely recommend a visit to this absorbing land and would love to return to Ethiopia when I am older and see how the country has developed.
I’m off now to Entebbe, Uganda, where I will meet up with my boss Dr. Ross Boyce, an infectious disease fellow at UNC Chapel Hill. I’m excited to finally be a contributing member of society and earn my keep by doing some malaria field research. Stay tuned!
Appendix of Random Tidbits
- Cell phone and Wifi networks are inexplicably cut off in Africa. I experienced this in Ethiopia when I couldn’t get the Wifi to work. I went down to the desk and asked them about it and they told me that the Wifi and the cellphone network were all down. At first, I thought it was a power outage (a common occurrence in Ethiopia) but realized that the lights were still working. When I asked my guide about this phenomenon, he told me that African leaders have fallen into the habit of turning off the signal in selected areas to reduce communication between possible terrorist groups and thereby reduce threats to their person. Bizarre.
- The former prime minister, Meles Zenawi, was a Tigrean from the Tigrai region and was biased towards this group. He and his wife were very rich and corrupt. Zenawi preferentially installed Tigreans in positions of power in government and commerce. I was told by my guide that Zenawi ordered the demolition of a church and homes to make way for a sugar cane factory owned by one of his cronies. The displaced local people prayed seriously that Zenawi would die. He shortly developed brain cancer after this and died in a Belgium hospital.
- My guide told me one cannot trust the political situation in Ethiopia. In his words, “one bullet stops our jobs.” The people are treated very unfairly by the government.
- The Ethiopian population has been increasing rapidly; despite this, the government continues to evict people from their land with minimal compensation so they can sell the land to foreign investors
- The birr has been devaluing (currently 23 birr to 1 US dollar)
- There were massive protests after a radio station in Ethiopia leaked state secrets, much like Wikileaks
- Ethiopians have mixed feelings about Obama. On the one hand, they like him because he was the first black president. On the other hand, they dislike him because he permitted same-sex marriage.
- I noticed quite a few stores selling coffins around Ethiopia.
- The Chinese have invested massive amounts of money in developing the infrastructure of Ethiopia and other African countries. The Ethiopian government have allowed many Chinese companies into the country as sub-contractors because they are cheap, fast, and build much better roads than the Ethiopians could.
- There is little mixing between Ethiopians and the Chinese workers, they both mainly keep to themselves. Average Ethiopians do not mind the presence of the Chinese and see their presence as a pure result of a transaction between the Ethiopian and Chinese governments.
- Many young Ethiopians want to go to China to learn engineering. There is a good relationship between the two countries, and China sponsors many visiting students from Ethiopia.
- The Ethiopians do not trust Chinese-made trucks and refer to them as Al-Qaeda. They have had several truck accidents that were caused because the trucks had braking issues and the driver lost control of the vehicles.
- Many Chinese companies are involved in telecommunication
- Many Koreans are teachers in technical schools
- Many Indians are teachers at universities
(Note: I’m probably butchering the spelling of these words, I wrote them down based on what my guides told me)
- Wobba = malaria
- Beesh a wobba = yellow fever
- Ethiopians believe that evil spirits (wolete) are the causative agents of wobba. So, in the case of malaria, Plasmodium parasites are referred to as wolete, whereas the actual disease they cause (i.e., malaria) is called wobba
- It is believed that one must not go alone to the river. If one goes alone, one will be cursed with wobba. Mosquitoes that transmit malaria can be found near water, which helps to explain this phenomenon.
- It is believed that one must eat a lot of fat and garlic to cure wobba (malaria)
- Endote = a plant that is used as a traditional cure for schistosomiasis and as a abortifacient (abortion agent). It was formally described by Ethiopian professor who was once a farmer and combined his rustic upbringing with his scientific training.
- Koso = plant whose leaves can be squeezed to remove an oily liquid that is a cure for tapeworms
- Eucalyptus leaves = anti-fungal and cold remedy, can also be used for soap
- Goiter and cataracts are a big problem due to iodine deficiency and contaminated water
- Cancer has become a bigger problem in Ethiopia in the past few decades. My guide blamed this on the dissemination of pesticides, GMOs, and processed foods, coupled with the reduction of natural, organic foods that Ethiopians had been consuming for decades.
- I was able to make a brief, impromptu visit to Gondar university when I was in the city. The university is the best in medicine behind Addis Ababa University, and is particularly adept at treating fistulas. Gondar university provides free TB and malaria treatment, as well as free fistula surgeries