The Greek Poet Homer in the Odyssey: “But now Poseidon had gone to visit the Ethiopians worlds away, Ethiopians off at the farthest limits of mankind, a people split in two, one part where the Sungod sets and part where the Sungod rises.” Below are some interesting facts I found out when I visited Ethiopia.
- ETHIOPIANS ENJOY EATING RAW MEAT
Before visiting Ethiopia for the first time in April 2016, my friend who had visited Ethiopia before warned us, ”Don’t eat raw meat while you’re in Ethiopia, our friends tried it and ended up in the ICU”. There and then, I knew that eating raw meat was not on my to-do list while I was there. Fast forward to my second visit in June and on a road trip to Debre Zeyit with some friends on a sunny Sunday afternoon during lunch we ordered for some meat and the usual injera. Just before the waiter left to place the order, one of my friends said, ”Today you will eat raw meat for the first time”. They were like, but if you don’t like it you don’t have to eat much. So the food was brought and history was about to be made, I was going to eat raw meat like a lion. So I had my first bite of raw meat which was actually a gursha from my friend. Gursha is the act of someone feeding you with their own hands. Remember the Simpson’s episode, ”EVERYBODY GURSHA! GURSHA!”.
Luckily the raw meat was covered in mitmita an Ethiopian spice which makes the taste bearable. It took a while for me to finally swallow the raw meat and when I was asked how it was, my simple response was, ”I would rather have it cooked than eat it raw!” I tried raw meat once again during a friend’s family function that I had been invited to and the raw meat wasn’t bad at all. The best raw meat I ate was when I was invited for a Ethiopian Muslim Wedding and on this occasion I literally fell in love with it. This one had been specially prepared and had the right spices in it not forgetting to mention that it was very soft. I was told that after you’ve eaten raw meat for the third time, then you become fully hooked to it. I am not hooked to it and I still prefer my meat cooked. While I would not discourage you from trying any local food when you travel to Africa, you need to know that eating raw meat consistently can cause tapeworm infection (Class 5 Science)
- ETHIOPIA IS THE ONLY AMHARIC SPEAKING COUNTRY IN THE WORLD
Amharic is the 2nd most spoken Semitic language in the world after Arabic, and has its own writing system called fidel. The fact that Ethiopia was never colonized and most public schools do not teach English or any other foreign language, then communicating with most of the locals can be quite challenging and frustrating. To make matters worse, if you are buying bus tickets like I did during my first road trip visit to Ethiopia then you might feel like you’re in a different planet if there is no one around you that can translate what’s written to you. Remember in one of my articles when I mentioned how most people are unable to speak English even in Addis Ababa apart from in places that are of International standards. Yes it can be very frustrating . I will write an article on the basics of Amharic so that if you are planning to visit Ethiopia, you can easily find your way if you are stranded or alone. So stay tuned! Some of the numbers in Amharic below.
- ETHIOPIA IS THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD THAT USES BIRR
Ethiopian currency is in Birr and it is the only country in the world that Birrs are in circulation. Actually unlike other African countries that have foreign exchange bureaus at almost every turn, like of course my motherland Kenya, the only place you can get dollars legally is in the bank and you can only access the dollars to a certain limit. You hear of the black market where you can access dollars but at a higher rate than the banks but I would urge you to exercise caution when dealing with them. I hear that it’s illegal and if you ever come into contact with them, you need to ensure that the dollars are not fake or you might end up burning your fingers. And when you are in Ethiopia, it is the only time you can be a ‘Birrionaire’ if you are not yet a Billionaire so enjoy your “new found status” while it lasts. Below is a 100 Birr note, the highest currency value in Ethiopia which is around $4.5
- ETHIOPIANS LOVE THEIR MUSIC
On my journey from the Moyale border to Addis Ababa, I had access to the music system of the bus and so I played some of the music from my phone only for me to be told that the other bus travelers were complaining and wanted Ethiopian music to be played. I got to the capital, Addis Ababa, and so I thought that things were probably much different. Only for me and my friends to go out to some of the clubs and observe how excited Ethiopians get whenever Ethiopian music is played as opposed to music from the West. There is this common dance that involves vigorous shaking of the shoulders. It can be difficult at first, but after a while you get the hang of it and it becomes very easy. Below is Aster Aweke, don’t I love this lady’s music even though I can’t understand what she’s saying throughout her songs! But luckily for me, I had this one special Abyssinian lady by my side most of the time to translate what was being sung.
- ETHIOPIA WAS NEVER COLONIZED
Who in the world doesn’t know this? Ethiopia was never colonized and you see exactly why when you visit and interact with the people. Most of the Ethiopians have a great love for their country and they won’t let you take what’s theirs without fighting for it. My friend actually told me that in the Amhara region of Gondar (What I like to call the Ancient City of Royals) when a man gets married, he is given a gun to protect his household. So you may never know who is ‘strapped’ around Addis Ababa and the wider Ethiopia. I recall the same friend telling me that Ethiopians are always ready to fight. When an intruder attacks they all unite against them and when the intruder has been dealt with, they get back to fighting each other.
There was also this very interesting culture in the Gondar region whereby if someone killed a member of another family, one of the males in the family of the deceased had the right to kill a member of the killer’s family. The reason as to why the killer wouldn’t be the victim is the fact that he would escape to the jungle knowing his fate very well. One of the killer’s family member’s life would be taken away and then the two families would come to an agreement that they are now square. They would meet and put their guns in front of them and cross over them close to 3 times and peace would be made between the two families. Interesting, right? Word of advice – BE NICE IN ETHIOPIA! Below is King Menelik II, Defeater of the Italians.
- YOU CANNOT SEND MONEY OUT OF ETHIOPIA
Another major set-back is the fact that you cannot send money out of Ethiopia. The reason being that the country has a small currency reserve but there are some certain conditions that allow you to send money out of this African country such as paying for imports which can be sent using a Letter of Credit or Telegraphic Transfer. There is also another category of people allowed to send money out of the country such as expatriates working in Government institutions and whose salary is dollar based. So if you ever visit Ethiopia and need to send money back home, at least make sure that you have some money in your bitcoin wallet.
- TAXI HAS 2 MEANINGS
I remember the first time I was I Addis and we were going to a famous burger joint with other Rotaractors so we asked our guide how we were going there and he said that we are going to use a taxi. I asked him how much and he said, it will cost us not more than 3 Birr (15 cents) per person and I was like wow that’s super cheap for a taxi. Only for us to walk until the bus stop and then a public ‘taxi’ stopped and we entered. The difference is this, the cabs are referred to as contract taxis or ‘lada’ (first image) while the public ‘taxis’ are referred to as the big taxis (second image). So next time you’re in Abyssinia, don’t confuse the two.
- ETHIOPIANS ARE VERY RESPECTFUL
In every village there is a mad man. This is not an exception to the fact that you will find a couple of Ethiopians who have strayed away from their culture. But if you take a look around you, you will find out that Ethiopians have a lot of respect for the people that serve them, their employers and elders. You will also find yourself being treated with a lot of respect and differently if you’re a foreigner. But I have been mistaken for an Ethiopian man on very many occasions. I am one of the lucky Kenyan men not to have kinky African hair and my hair tends to look slightly curly when it’s not too long. So at least I wasn’t taken advantage of much while I was in Addis only until they realized that I cannot speak Amharic.
- IN ETHIOPIA, THE BEAUTIFUL ONES ARE YET TO BE BORN
Ha! Ha! Ha! Well, this statement is absolutely correct if you were born last night. But for most of us with more than 20+ years, we know that waiting for the ‘beautiful’ ones to be born might just as well be a chasing after the wind OR writing on water OR winking at a your crush in a dark room and expecting her to notice you. Do you get my point? I hope you do!
The Kebra Nagast and the Old Testament talk of the beauty of Queen Makeda, Ethiopia’s beautiful powerful black woman. In the former it even talks about Queen Makeda traveling to Jerusalem to see King Solomon and having a love affair with him. Why would the wisest man to walk the earth and possibly the wealthiest (I also call him the ‘Old Testament’s playboy‘) have fallen in love with this Ethiopian Queen yet he had 700 wives and 300 concubines – HER BEAUTY is perhaps the best answer.
‘Descendants’ of Queen Makeda still walk around the streets of Addis Ababa in the 21st Century and one thing that’s certain is that there is not a scarcity of beautiful women in Ethiopia. Luckily for me, my girlfriend is not only Ethiopian but the most beautiful in the whole of Addis Ababa and Ethiopia so you won’t find me on a mission like the infamous #TeamMafisi members when they visit Ethiopia or other African countries.
What is Team Mafisi? This is a Kenyan coined term to refer to men who are constantly on the chase after ladies and would be very persistent to make sure that they fall for their advances. Most of the time, they don’t give up getting what they are after without putting up a good ‘fight’.
What other interesting things about Ethiopia do you think I have left out? Please share below 🙂