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Friday, December 31, 2010


Ethiopia is a magical place. Perhaps it's not ironic that the local pronunciation sounds more like Eto'pia than our drawn out rendition. I loved it from the moment we crossed the border…but I think I loved it even before its dust had settled on my toes. It was the one country I was most excited to visit, so that may have had something to do with it, or perhaps it was our recent brush with death [drama added for emphasis], but whatever the reason, I loved it.

We crossed over at Moyale, a divided town straddling the border with Kenya. We were told that the Ethiopian side was far more metropolitan than the Kenyan side, but to tell you the truth, it just seemed bigger; the streets were just as dusty, the shops just as ramshackle, and the beggars just as keen on getting a buck out of you. But it was Ethiopia and to me, it felt different, so it was different.

Within minutes we were warmly greeted, ushered into a tiny coffee shop across from the border post and served a shot of delightfully sweet, freshly roasted espresso. We couldn’t venture into the country before clearing customs, so an enterprising woman set up shop at the border to serve coffee to all of the travelers who happen to be unfortunate enough to cross the border between 1:00 and 2:00 when everything shuts down for lunch…you can cross, but you can’t come in; you just wait it out drinking buna in no-mans-land. Aside from a 5 year minor occupation by the Italians, Ethiopia was more or less spared colonialism. Fortunately the Italians brought with them espresso. Some of the best coffee beans in the world are grown here so it isn’t hard to find a wonderful cup of coffee. And nearly every Ethiopian you meet will be sure to invite you for a cuppa.

Day one was spent chasing parts, tracking wires and repairing the melted cable we ditched along the road in Kenya (I know, I know, we aren’t usually litterbugs, but someone will use it, I guarantee it; it was just to stinky to deal with at the moment. The copper wire will be stripped apart and woven expertly into something majestic, I promise you). 

Day two was Christmas day, for us. Ethiopia has their own calendar so their Christmas is still 19 days away so in essence we get two Christmas’ this year…oh, and it is 2003 here! So on our Christmas day we were invited for dinner at Biruk’s house. Biruk came to pick me up early so I could help his wife cook and learn a thing or two about Ethiopian food. Unfortunately for me, I don’t speak Amharic and Samira doesn’t speak English, so we spoke our common language of peeling garlic and chopping carrots. Which worked out just fine.
Dinner was followed by a coffee ceremony that begins with washing fresh green coffee beans in numerous changes of water, roasting them over an open fire and pulverizing them in a wooden mortar with a pesle before feeding the powder into a beautifully ornate clay urn nestled in a bed of hot coals. I’ve never roasted my own coffee before, but apparently Ethiopians do it daily and it is delicious. No thousand dollar Nespresso® apparatus needed.

The following day Biruk guided us into the Omo Valley on a 6 day excursion ‘back to the stone age.’ What we experienced blew our minds. There is so much that I want to say about the Omo Valley but don’t know where to even begin. Each village is unique, the culture, the people, the customs and language often vary from village to village, sometimes divided by nothing more than a river. We were mauled, welcomed, groped, glared at and pretty much everything in between but the overall experience was incredible and one I would have never EVER imagined.

I’ll share a few tales and photos in the next post.

Sending you love from the past,

Our photos with Biruk, Samira and their girls.

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