Ethiopia: Addia Ababa

Posted July 16, 2013 by Rahul Aggarwal

Africa had been on our destination wish list for some time, so I was relieved when the flight finally touched down on Ethiopian soil. I was last in Eastern Africa as a wide-eyed backpacker in 2003, when I had visited better known Kenya and Tanzania. Like most in the West, I had read and seen pictures of famine and poverty but now better informed, I was genuinely excited at visiting a country, to which we actually all owe so much – more about why later...

The temperature was a pleasant 20 degrees, and as I made way to the hotel from the airport, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of ‘noise’ and congestion commonplace in most capital cities. Then again, Addis Ababa is only a population of about 5 million people and as it was 8am the city had not yet woken up. Addis, as it’s more commonly called, is the third highest capital in the world, standing at almost 2500 metres above sea level.

My guide for the northern part of my trip was Andrea, a proud Ethiopian of Italian heritage. Ethiopia had been temporarily occupied by Italy when Mussolini was playing catch up with his European counterparts and expand into Africa. Andrea explained when the Italians were defeated in 1946, most returned to their homeland, although many chose to stay back as they had business interests in the country as well as a growing attachment with the people here.

After a short rest in the hotel, it was off to some of Addis’s key sights, the first stop being the Church of St. George. The Ethiopians are highly religious people and follow their own branch of Christianity – Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity. The church was octagonal in shape and adorned with brilliantly colourful paintings depicting holy saints, as well as a Bible dating back almost 600 years written in Ethiopia’s native language, Amharic, which dates back thousands of years with some resemblance to Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Outside there were impressive statues of saints and a brief visit to the museum shed some light on Ethiopia’s monarchy and their association with the church.


All this infusion of new knowledge made me hungry, so we went to a superb Ethiopian restaurant, which was traditionally set up. First our hands were washed at the table, followed by a selection of Ethiopian dishes served on enjara. This is the staple ‘bread’ which accompanies virtually all meals. It is made from a crop called teff and fermented, eventually looking like a thin pancake, but is spongy in texture and slightly sour in taste. This is typically unrolled to cover the whole steel plate, and then the meat, veggies and sauces are served on top. You then tear off the enjara and scoop up your food. A lot of fun and very delicious!

Later in the afternoon I went on to visit the museum showcasing ‘Lucy’ – the remains of the oldest human skeleton ever found. There is more-or-less universal agreement that humans first evolved from Ethiopia, making this country the birthplace of humankind. Quite a title. From there we drove up the hills to Entoto, which had stunning panoramic views of Addis. Any images I had of Ethiopia being a barren land were immediately dispelled by the view of lush green mountains. I wrapped up the day with a hearty Italian meal before calling it a night.

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