Trip Start Jan 10, 2006
60Trip End Jun 02, 2006
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They try to tell me how it is in Shashamane (or Shash). I'll be there next week. The sensi is $12 (100 birr) per ounce.
Addis Ababa is the third highest capital in the world at around 7700 ft. It is in the center of the giant plateau on the northern end of the Rift Valley. It is surrounded by mountains, and fingers of mountains stretch in all directions within and from the edge of the plateau. It's been called the roof of the continent. It contains 20 mountains over 13,000 feet. Ras Dashen is Afrika's fourth highest at 14,900 ft.
Ethiopians speak Amharic, generally (In all of Afrika there are hundreds of local languages). It is difficult to learn, unlike Swahili, because it has Hebrew and Arabic sounds in it. Amharic has its own alphabet; everyone has their own spelling of Amharic words with Roman letters. Very few Ethiopians speak English. Amharic is part of Ethiopian identity. The language barrier is somewhat alienating. I can't help but feel like an outsider. I felt the same way when I visited Italy. The Italians don't care much for other languages. Isn't it ironic that I would feel like an outsider in the land of my fathers and in the land of all our fathers. Visiting Ethiopia is tough as an Italian-American foreigner, when Italy has always been the only one bold enough to try to conquer Ethiopia. You really have to be cocky to lie about and pick fights with the last divinely ordained, empirical, theocratic throne left on Earth, which holds and guards the original Ark of the Covenant. The Italians only got as far as Eritrea (and the Battle of Adwa), stealing one stelae with many lives and treasures.
I was told once that Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings about Ethiopia ("the last free nation of men") and that his daughter wore an Ethiopian cross around her neck. It makes sense looking at the names of the great cities in the novel and in Ethiopia - Gondar/Gonder/Gondor, Roha(Lalibela)/Rohan, there's even a town called Shire.... Middle Earth might as well refer to this equatorial, mountainous land that resisted all of its invaders. Tolkien died two years before the throne was lost to "socialists."
One thing that makes Ethiopia stand out is the spirituality of the people. They know they live in the place known as both Eden and Zion. This (besides divine intervention) is no doubt why the Italians were defeated - the Ethiopians know themselves and would rather die than become somebody else. Even Mohammed told his followers to "leave Abyssinia in peace."
Things are more natural in general in Ethiopia. The women are the most beautiful in Afrika, and they have real long hair, not extensions. Most things are homemade, like the barley beer and injera. Injera is a flat sourdough bread that everyone eats as the staple here. It's stored at room temperature in a basket to keep the yeast culture going. Its made of tef, a tiny grain endemic to Ethiopia. Also endemic (found nowhere else but) in this incredible country are 31 mammals ([do a google image search] gelada baboon, mountain nyala, walia ibex, Ethiopian wolf,...), 24 amphibians, 16 birds, 9 reptiles and 4 fish. Between 600 and 1400 plants are thought to be endemic to Ethiopia.
Ethiopians love meat with their injera. The big delicacy is kitfo, minced raw meat in warm spiced butter. There are goat and sheep pieces littering the ground in the yard and street. Two days per week no one eats meat. I'm pretty much sticking to shiro, a puree of lentils, peas, onion, garlic, peppers,.... Berbere is the common, orange, homemade spice blend made up of 6 to 16 different ingredients.
Thursday I went to visit His Majesty I's last palace (now a ethnological museum and library for the Institute for Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University). I studied some history in the library and entered the museum. They don't allow cameras. I had to tell the curator that some of the medicinal plant labels were wrong. His Majesty's bedroom was simple. There was still a bullet hole in his mirror from the failed coup in 1960. Empress Mene's bedroom had no bed. They were using her dressing room as an office and her bathroom was also well-used. His Majesty's office, where he was taken from by ignorant gunmen in 1975, was not open to the public.