October 24, 2013
We stayed our first three nights in Addis Ababa, the capitol. Addis means “new” and Ababa means “flower.” It was settled as the capitol in the late 1800’s because of the large water supply.
Addis Ababa is teeming with people on the sidewalks. The city is rather hilly, with a mix of retail shops, people selling stuff, especially food, office buildings, apartment buildings and government institutions. The urban architecture has the charm of the mid-20th century.
On Wednesday we went on a road trip to the Blue Nile Gorge about 180 miles north of Addis for a less busy perspective of Ethiopian life. It was a deep canyon, but not quite comparable to the Grand Canyon. We enjoyed a hike down to a series of waterfalls and the sight of a stone bridge built several hundred years ago.
The drive was worthwhile because of the opportunity to see the countryside. It was green, with rolling hills of farms and pastures. The villages had simple, small houses and shops. The homes in rural areas outside the small towns are usually little round huts made of mud, sticks and straw, with thatched conical roofs with no electricity or running water. It is common to see people carrying big jugs of water on donkeys from a communal well or pump to their houses.
On Thursday, we were back in the city and took a walk through the market district of 13,000 shops. It was a maze of narrow, unpaved alleyways with tiny shops selling everything from scrap metal to live chickens. Ethiopians are very friendly, often waving to our bus and posing willingly for photos, proud to showcase their history. Ethiopia and Liberia are the only two African countries that were never colonized. They trace their lineage to the Queen of Sheba and Emperor Haile Selassie, who ruled Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. The monarchy was replaced by a communist government in the ’70s and by a democratically elected government in the ’90s.
In the National Museum, we saw the giant throne used by Selassie. In the Ethnographic Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, which is located in the former Royal Palace of Selassie, they have preserved his bedroom and bathroom. The museum also had a collection of human remains dating back to the time of the star skeletal remains of “Lucy” from 3 million years ago. There were also displays in both museums of items showing the culture of the more than 80 ethnic groups that comprise Ethiopians.
We flew to eastern Ethiopia on Friday, close to the Somali border. We visited Dire Dawa and Harar, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the fourth holiest city for Muslims and there are 82 mosques. Many of the people who live there are Somalian. Quite like Addis Ababa, the city is a maze of narrow streets and alleys.
We flew back to Addis Ababa today and leave the hotel at 4 a.m. on Sunday for an early morning flight to northern Ethiopia where we will be seeing archeological sites. Next week we are heading down south to visit remote tribal areas and to be in the path of the eclipse.