Explore Ethiopia for its ancient culture

August 18th, 2010 | by addis portal |

Ethiopia is the cradle of civilization, the place where some believe the biblical Ark of the Covenant is held. Its historical landmarks and rich culture tell the story of a people who have survived more than a thousand years of outsiders’ attempts to exert influence.¬†Ethiopia also is home to more than 80 ethnic groups, a country with a growing economy and a modern infrastructure.

So how is this land seen through a modern American traveler’s eyes? Certainly a visitor must be open-minded to have a meaningful experience here.

I went to Ethiopia in May for a month as a volunteer with Projects Abroad for my senior class project at the Haverford School. I worked as a journalist in the capital city of Addis Ababa, writing articles about Ethiopian culture for a local newspaper.

I tried to absorb as much of the culture as I could, touring Addis Ababa as well as many historic small towns such as Lalibela, named after the king who built the city about 1,000 years ago. It’s one of the holiest cities for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.

The scenery took me by surprise – and not just for its beauty.

Evidence of “Obamamania” was everywhere, in tourist shops selling T-shirts with President Obama’s image on them, and among the town’s youth, who eagerly inquired, “Are you American?” then responded, “Yes we can!”

Along with the obvious modern influences, the rich history of the community was vividly present. There were more than 13 churches in Lalibela, monolithic structures cut out of rock. These are active houses of worship, not just historic monuments, and the air of devotion when you walk inside is palpable. Throughout Ethiopia, people hold tradition and faith close. Maybe that is one reason for the country’s resilience.

There is much to see in Addis Ababa.

The Ethiopian National Museum has the 3.5 million-year-old skeleton of Lucy, the oldest hominid ever found. Though her bones are kept out of view for preservation, there are replicas on display. The museum has many artifacts of Ethiopian history dating from ancient times to today.

Be sure to stop by Addis Ababa University library, once the palace of Emperor Haile Selassie. Some of the family rooms are on display there.

A visitor’s open-mindedness might be tested at mealtimes in Ethiopia, since the custom here is to eat with your fingers. Family and friends gather around a big table of assorted dishes, many of them stews spiced with a pepper seasoning called berbere, on a pancake type bread called injera.

There are Ethiopian restaurants in the Philadelphia area, but nothing compares to the wholesome quality and quantity of dining this way in Ethiopia.

When it comes to transportation around Addis Ababa, it’s best to catch one of the small blue minibuses. For as little as 7 U.S. cents, you can ride these sometimes uncomfortable buses all over the bustling city. It’s a great way to experience everyday life there.

I saw many examples of the modern influences of clothes, music and culture thriving in Addis Ababa, especially in places like Bole, a growing middle- and upper-class neighborhood by Bole International Airport. Many young girls and boys walking about the streets were dressed in the kind of hip-hop garb you’d see around Philly. During one bus ride, I heard a remix of a Jay-Z song, sung in the official Ethiopian language, Amharic.

But I was also impressed by Ethiopians’ sense of traditional wear. As I boarded Ethiopian Airlines in Washington, D.C., at the start of my trip, many older Ethiopian women were dressed in the traditional white garment called a shama that covers the head and shoulders and sometimes most of the face.

Poverty is another aspect of Ethiopian life that leaves an indelible impact on a visitor. I will never forget seeing a woman who appeared to be in her early 20s, barefoot and dressed in rags, with a baby in her arms, begging for money.

Malcolm Cain, of Mount Airy, will attend St. John’s University in New York City this fall. He will major in international studies.

Read more: http://www.philly.com/dailynews/features/20100818_Explore_Ethiopia_for_its_ancient_culture.html#ixzz0wxxgrJfa
Watch sports videos you won’t find anywhere else

Be Sociable, Share!

You must be logged in to post a comment.