Ethiopia – A land worth re-discovering


27-October-2012

Posing with Ambassador Joseph Nourrice (third from right) at the Boston building

A country with a booming economy, rich in history and culture, home of several world heritage sites, and definitely a place worth visiting.

A team made up of local journalists, television and radio producers, and representatives of travel agencies, recently left Seychelles for a one-week discovery mission, which would take them over as much of Ethiopia as the tightly-packed programmed would permit.

The media and travel agencies team were focused on the fact-finding part of the mission for their specific sectors,  left the country on an Ethiopian Airlines flight and landed in the capital Addis Ababa, which is also known as the political capital of Africa.

A short bus ride later, and we were in the town of Debre Zeit, just off the outskirts of the city, to spend the night in the amazing Kuriftu resort. Amazing, because this hotel is nothing like the typical hotel you expect to see, as it is designed and decorated in a purely exclusive African style, with everything unique, from the furniture to the grounds!


Food

A plate of traditional Ethiopian food; the dough at the bottom being ‘injera’ and the stew on it being the ‘Wot’

My first night in Ethiopia was one of discovery, where, being the adventurer that I am, I made sure I sampled as much of the local cuisine as possible. Like all countries of the world, Ethiopia boasts a variety of culinary delights, with their main staple called ‘injera’.

‘Injera’ and ‘wot’ are the most popular elements of the national dish, with the former being comparable to rice in Seychelles.

It is unleavened and flat bread – somewhat like a grey chapatti – prepared from a unique Ethiopian grain called ‘teff’, which contains various nutrients like calcium, phosphate, iron, copper, barium potassium, and many more – perfect for the diabetic and calorie-watchers!

Dinner at the Kuriftu resort

The ‘wot’ – which is a stew – is often hot and spicy and comes in many varieties, with the most popular being the chicken wot (doro wot) prepared from hot pepper, red onions, garlic, crushed cardamom and cumin, ginger, sautéed with purified and herbed butter. Being a lover of spicy food, however, I thought that Seychelles spicy food is a lot hotter, but hey, that’s just my opinion! The milder wot is called alicha, and Ethiopians often eat their national foods with their right hands, using pieces of injera to pick up pieces of the entrées.

An interesting aspect of a blend Ethiopian cuisine and culture is the goorsha, which is an act of friendship. During a meal with friends, a person may take a piece of injera, roll it in the stew and then feed it to a friend. This is called goorsha, and the larger the goorsha, the stronger the friendship. It is usually repeated for at least one more time. I had the honour of getting goorsha for the first time from our head of delegation Bethelhem Kinfegebreil, and later on for the remainder of the trip from another member of our group and now my good friend, senior journalist from the Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency, Bezawit Alemu.
 
Culture

Traditional dances being performed in the city of Bahir Dar

It would be difficult to describe Ethiopian culture in one article, since it is so vast and varies from region to region. The country has so much tradition and spirituality that one centrespread would not even be enough to describe it all! Each part of every city, a variety of communities and ethnicities have developed and maintained their own cultural traditions. The country has nine world heritage sites declared by Unesco, of which three are found in the Amhara national regional state.

Traditional dances being performed in Debre Zeit       Stephanie  Felix of SBC tries out her skills at traditional dancing, in Bahir Dar

An interesting fact to know is that Ethiopia is the home of coffee. Ethiopia is recognised to be the birth place of coffee long before its gradual migration to the rest of the world. Traditionally, the process of brewing coffee in Ethiopia is a most important social event, and is taken as a symbol of friendship and respect to invite a guest or friend over to a coffee ceremony.

The group looks on as delicious coffee is brewed the traditional way

I am not usually a coffee drinker, and although I have the occasional cup when the situation demands, but in my personal opinion, after tasting Ethiopian coffee, and drinking it faithfully every single day for the rest of the trip, I found it to be one of the best coffees I had ever tasted!

Tourist attractions
With a country as big as Ethiopia, where does one even begin? Better to tell of some of the sites that we visited and give my personal experiences on them.

Taking a plane to the city of Bahir Dar, our group moved into the Kuriftu resort which overlooks Lake Tana and we later crossed it on a slow-moving boat, heading to the Zege peninsula. On the way there one could observe people taking firewood by papyrus boats known as ‘tankwas’ to the mainland, paddling their heavily-laden boats on a journey that took them a whole day on average to complete! Reaching the peninsula, we visited an ancient Ethiopian Orthodox monastery that was built as early as the 13th century, but still being used today by monks. We could see that this was a popular tourist attraction, with one of the most interesting things being the church having colourful paintings dating back centuries on all its walls and roofs, depicting stories from biblical times.

Entering a monastery church on the Zege Peninsula

Visitors could also buy various artisanal objects crafted by the people living on the peninsula, which is the main way they earn their living there.

Heading back to the mainland for lunch, we had the honour of eating at the palace of one of the popular late emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. Perched alone on top of a hill, the palace has elegant views over the Nile River and Lake Tana.

Boarding a boat to cross Late Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake

Mostly associated with Rastafarianism in Seychelles, Emperor Selassie ruled Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, and his palace at Bahir Dar, although not the biggest of his palaces, was the one he stayed in whenever he was in that city.

The Blue Nile River is also another impressive attraction, which flows through Ethiopia, and onwards to Egypt. Taking a bus to the site, we took a small boat and crossed a stream, and then had a short but interesting hike to one of the waterfalls. Walking through fields of flowers and grass, going around sleepy cows, and stepping on stones to avoid falling into the mud made it all that more adventurous, and when we finally got to the fall, it was so totally worth the 30-minute walk.

Our group hikes through the country side towards the Blue Nile River

Water everywhere. Flowing powerfully to the edge, then cascading wildly over the edge and thundering majestically into the pool below, our group wasted no time in taking as many pictures as possible.

I spoke to a young man who had accompanied us to the fall and back, who said he worked for the culture and tourism office as a tourist information and supervision officer.

I asked him how he could sell such an attraction to visitors from Seychelles, and he wasted no time in getting straight to the point with an impressive answer.

“We get thousands and thousands of tourists here annually, both domestic and foreign, and the Blue Nile River is a place that people from Seychelles should definitely see. First, there should be good relations between Seychelles and Ethiopia, which I believe already exists, and then good and correct information given out to potential visitors through proper marketing strategies.

Exhibitions and tourism fairs should be held in Seychelles about the attractions of Ethiopia. People should know firsthand about what they are going to see, and should know why they should come to Ethiopia, and we ask those who have seen the wonderful places we have here to spread the word to others, so that they might also come and see for themselves,” he said.

Posing for the camera at the Blue Nile River, with a breathtaking waterfall in the background

“The Nile river is only one attraction among many others, but here people will not only come to see the fall and take pictures, they can go on boat rides up or down the river, see the historical buildings, or hike up the mountainside.”

The city of Gondar was up for the next day, and a three-hour drive by bus took us there. On the way, we could see lush green countryside, and long seemingly endless valleys and fields. We drove up then down long, winding mountain roads, which reminded me very much of Seychelles’ roads of Sans Soucis and La Misere! We stopped from time to time to admire the views and take pictures, as well as giving small gifts to the children we met.

Fields of teff, corn and other crops were popular, as the agriculture, which is one the main industries of the country, was well made use of by farmers.

Gondar was the capital city of Ethiopia for over 250 years – we visited the palace of Emperor Fasiladas and his bath house, located  two kilometres away. There are six palaces in the royal compound, each built by a different king and one queen who came to power, and the site has been declared a World Heritage site by Unesco.

Going up the steps and into the castle of King Fasiladas, in Gondar

Apart from the many site-seeing organised, there were also events for the travel agents, where they were shown how transit passengers are handled. They also had meetings with higher managements and representative from different departments of Ethiopian Airliness, as well as visiting the various lounges of the airlines. This is all with the aim of educating our agents so that they can ensure that Seychelles’ and other visitors who visit the country get the best possible time and benefits on their trip to Ethiopia.

A visit was also held at the Ethiopian Airlines headquarters, where we saw the hangars, training centres with real-time flight simulators, reparation and maintenance areas, and others.

A small plane used for training purposes at the Ethiopian Airliness headquarters

On the last night before leaving for Seychelles, the group also had dinner with the Seychelles ambassador to Ethiopia, Joseph Nourrice, where he explained his diplomatic missions of continuing to promote good relations between the two countries.

Seychelles Nation will bring you more articles on the Ethiopia trip in its upcoming editions, including an exclusive interview with one of the main sponsors of the trip, entrepreneur and chief executive of the Boston Partners PLC company, Tadiwos Belete.

The Nation will also have articles on promotional packages for Seychelles visitors and others who want to travel to Ethiopia to see for themselves the wonders that the Seychelles team recently enjoyed.

A big thank you to all who have made the trip possible, the sponsors, our hosts, guides, and everyone who received us with such warm Ethiopian hospitality, thank you. 
So for a holiday that you will not soon forget, visit wonderful unique Ethiopia!

Ethiopia Quick Facts File:

. Located in the Horn of Africa, it has a population of with over 84,320,000 inhabitants and is the most populous landlocked country in the world

. Ethiopia is bordered by Eritrea to the north, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, Sudan and South Sudan to the west, and Kenya to the south

. The majority of the population is Christian while a third of it is Muslim

. The country now has the biggest economy by GDP in East Africa and Central Africa

. The only African country to never have been colonised

. First African country to win gold in the Olympics

. Only African country with its own alphabet

. Home to the earliest human sightings and human fossils on Earth that dates over millions of years back

 

Ivan Hollanda
 

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