By Hilda Mhagama
I got an opportunity to visit Addis Ababa in Ethiopia in November …… oh my God, it’s last year already! I did a lot there, including travelling on the outskirts of the city, and with only three days, I spent most of my time attending various meetings and field trips, but on the last day I went to Yod Abyssinia Cultural Restaurant, all I can say is that it was a blast!
I will be happy to share my little experiences of Addis and give a brief summary of what might prove to be interesting. Near the cultural restaurant there is the National Museum, various embassies, and the largest enclosed open air market in Africa, which covers a good number of square miles.
First the beauty of the people….. The Ethiopians are a beautiful lot, with a lovely intimate habit of promenading with hands on each others’ shoulders or holding hands or arm in arm.
The Amharic language is unique, they calculate time in units of 12 hours, with their day starting at 6:00 in the morning and follow their unique Julian calendar, which consists of twelve months of thirty days each and a thirteenth month of five days-six days in leap year. Their calendar is seven years and eight months behind the Western Gregorian calendar.
In the Gregorian year 2015 Anno Domini, the Ethiopian calendar year 2008 begins on September 12, rather than September 11, on account of this additional epagomenal day occurring in September 11 every four years. The most interesting thing to me was the history surrounding the various Ethiopian Orthodox Churches and a Grand Mosque all worthy of visits.
From Injera and a host of traditional foods, to ice cream which you can still find in this city. Before my trip to Ethiopia, I was aware that it was one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity, but I did not imagine how pervasive and well known this historical vein would be, nor could I appreciate how much the country’s present would be connected with its past through ritual.
Whether they are put in far off hills or plains, Ethiopia’s churches often feature original paintings and frescoes from as early as 1000 years ago or more. Ancient texts and relics remain in use by today’s priests who bless all those willing by rubbing large ancient metal crosses over afflicted areas of the body.
So much of Ethiopia’s identity is connected to its history, a history passed on orally which traces its roots back to four thousand years to the time of Queen of Sheba, King Solomon and the Ark of the Covenant.
For over a thousand years, Ethiopian kings claimed to be direct descendants of the line of Solomon, living connections between their country, its history, and the Holy Land.
Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony is something out of this world, and I do not believe that there is no coffee producing country that enthusiastically consumes and appreciates what it grows than Ethiopia.
They not only grow the beans, but they are also skilled in roasting it. The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is well planned, a process that has been handed down through generations of Ethiopian women for centuries.
It has an almost magical way of seeming to slow time, if not stop it completely. Coffee addicts can thank Ethiopia for introducing the caffeinated bean to the rest of the world.
It still plays a central role in Ethiopian society today, with coffee ceremonies that include three rounds of the beverage, finger-food snacks such as popcorn and the burning of incense as you commune with friends over coffee that has been roasted, ground and prepared on the spot.
When I visited Abamote Keble – approximately 150kms from Addis Ababa, I was told that once they receive visitors in Ethiopia coffee and popcorn was the best thing to offer, and one can enjoy the coffee ceremony with all the traditional accoutrements.
Coffee is central to Ethiopian life and pace, and you will find coffee ceremonies taking place throughout the country in cafes, on street corners, in markets and most importantly, in homes.
In our experience, Africa rarely garners awesome food distinction. Ethiopian cuisine is an exception, one of the greatest cuisines and healthy too. In any event, it stands out against its neighbours with an array of rich and spicy stews.
To Ethiopians, the most important part of any meal is injera, the spongy, stretchy pancake like flatbread made from fermented teff, which is the staple ingredient of the Ethiopian cuisine which forms the foundation of every Ethiopian meal. Teff flour is incredibly high in fibre, iron and calcium, it has all the amino acids required to be a complete protein, but it is also gluten-free.
It is kind of a miracle food, to eat Ethiopian food. Simply tear off a piece of injera, grab some food with it, roll it up, pop the whole thing into your mouth and repeat the exercise until you are full.
You will often find injera, which is circular, spread out like a natural platter, with a variety of spicy stews made from lentils, meat and vegetables blended with spices piled on top.
Although the presentation and flavour resembles an Indian cuisine, the Ethiopian table is very much independent. While listening to traditional music, you might appropriately imagine hips and butts gyrating and shaking in ways that blows off the mind of visitors. Ethiopian roads overflow with life. Vehicles take first priority on the roads, not so in Ethiopia.
From village lanes to full-fledged highways, the Ethiopian road is ruled by a fog of people, animals such as sheep, goats, cows, donkeys, camels and more. Drivers get out of the way of these animals, not the other way around.
Whilst enjoying this new experience immensely, I have found that it is not an easy country to travel, because of its mass, distances are huge.