Ethiopia is one of the very few countries in the world where you can find, taste and smell the life as it was thousands of years ago. The reason why I say this is in the way of life. It is inevitably shocking with its simplicity and poverty but also an awakening that brings gratitude and a more complete understanding of the world we live in.
As an expat woman, I did spend enough time in this country to be able to understand it better. I believe every one of us should visit two types of countries – one of the richest countries in the world and one of the poorest. This is the only way to be able to understand where you stand in the world. To know that there is a better but there is a worst too. Surprisingly, or maybe not, the poorest societies have more to teach us.
1 – Ethiopian Airlines
Recently Ethiopian Airlines celebrated 70 years in the airspace. To commemorate the landmark date they performed a flight to Bangkok with all female crew! This was a historical event by which they wanted to show the world their policy focused on inspiring the young African women to follow their dreams and pursue careers in aviation.
To me, Ethiopian Airlines are something special. Every time I travelled from or to Addis Ababa I knew that I can trust the company with my life. This was years ago and I see that they are getting not only better in their service but also lead the process of social change in Africa.
2 – ONE OF THE OLDEST CHRISTIAN COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD
During my expat year in Ethiopia, I had many chances to visit the unique churches in this Christian Orthodox country. And every time when I was telling the priest that I come from Bulgaria, another Orthodox country, he asked me to kiss his hand! What?! Why I was exclaiming. His answer – if you are from our religion, you should kiss the hands of your priests. Hell no, not in my country!
The history of Ethiopia sometimes sounds like a fairytale and so the story of its religion. Ethiopian people claim that the monarchic dynasty of Axum Empire began with Menelik, son of Queen Sheba and King Solomon. However, there is no substantial evidence that this story is true. And still, when you hear it from a proud with its history Ethiopian it sounds like more than real because the lands of Ethiopia feel and look truly ancient.
As you can see on the picture, the people in Ethiopia are very religious and in Tigray province, it is common from an early age to have a mark in the shape of a cross on their faces. It is a blessing and an expression of cultural identity.
3 – ROCK-HEWN CHURCHES & MONASTERIES
The places that arose most interests in the travellers are the rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia. They are found in the central and northern parts of the country and date back to the 13th century. The most significant between them is the rock-hewn complex of 11 churches in Lalibela. As the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site states, these churches have outstanding universal value. And this is because they were not constructed in a traditional way but rather were hewn from monolithic rocks.
Apart from the very popular Lalibela (among the tourists but also as a main pilgrimage place for all Ethiopians), you will find other smaller and simpler rock-hewn churches in the Tigray region.
One of the most interesting places to see along your route in Ethiopia is the monastery Debre Damo. The monastery is accessible only by rope and unfortunately can be visited only by man. Despite all these restrictions, it is still a unique place to see a woman who visits the country.
Hannah mother and child
4 – VARIETY OF ETHNIC & TRIBAL CULTURE
Honestly, I lost count of how many different tribes inhabit Ethiopia.
The most attractive cultures have the Afar people (famously inhospitable, warlike and proud), Harari people (known for their distinct two-storey houses and the colorful traditional clothing that women still wear today), Oromo (traditionally farmers and cattle breeders), Amhara (the ruling ethnic group that lives in the region of Addis Ababa) and Tigrayan people (in the north of Ethiopia) that I know best.
There are also Gurage, Hannah, Sidama, Somali, Karo, Hamar, Mursi people … All of these ethnic groups have distinctive traditions, culture, and appearance and this is what makes Ethiopia so interesting to visit!
5 – THE OLDEST COFFEE CULTURE IN THE WORLD
It is set that the first coffee drink was made in Ethiopia. The story is that a shepherd noticed that his animals become more active and energized after eating the fruits of the coffee tree. Today, Ethiopia is one of the top exporters of Arabica coffee beans in the world but the coffee culture goes far beyond the production. The traditional coffee ceremony is an integral part of the hospitable culture of the Ethiopians and a good cup of strong, sweetened coffee is never far away.
The Ancient Coffee Ceremony
The coffee ceremony is a nice way to spend some time in a peaceful environment, enjoying the moment when the coffee will be finally ready because it is called ceremony for a reason. The coffee is prepared in a few stages. First is the roasting of the coffee beans. Only imagine the smell of the freshly roasted coffee! Then the beans are ground up and until the coffee is brewing in a traditional jebena pot, popcorns are served as a snack and incense is burnt as a blessing for the guests.
The archaic way that Ethiopians use to make their traditional coffee (or buna, as they called) is what makes it so special. Nowhere else in the world you will taste coffee prepared with so much attention and care.
6 – STILL NOT TOO POPULAR FOR TOURISM
The views you will surely remember from Ethiopia are the hills with little vegetation, herds of goats and numerous children running in the wilderness. And because it is difficult and endlessly adventurous to travel through Ethiopia, the secrets of the country are reserved only for the most daring, curious and adventurous people. Are you one of them? If so, pack your bags! Because tourism in Ethiopia develops and just a year or two from now the country can become the new trendy tourist destination, after the interest in Cuba decreases.
Before you decide to travel to Ethiopia must accept that the conditions will be simple and poor, but that’s the beauty of Africa – everything is so archaic but true!
7 – UNIQUE GIFT FINDS
As in all African countries, here also you will find unique hand-made souvenirs, household goods, and art objects. Ethiopia has good painters who paint their art in beautiful colours. But besides paintings, there are also three beautiful Ethiopian crosses that in my eyes are pieces of art.
The crosses are called after the places Axum, Lalibela and Gondar. The difference between them is easily recognizable because they have distinctly different designs. On the photo is a wooden cross from Axum. But you will find these crosses also in a form of jewellery – golden and silver. In the shops, you will also find wooden statues, rugs from goat wool (be aware that the smell of goat does not go totally away even after years!) and many other magical objects that can be original gifts.
What is your favourite country in Africa so far? Do you want to visit more places on the African continent?
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