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Final Thoughts on Ethiopia

Final Thoughts on Ethiopia

V and I spent our final dinner in Ethiopia at the Sheraton Addis. Over dinner we chatted, trying to pin down what we found most surprising about the country. V's random thoughts:

  • Ethiopia is roughly the same size as Sweden. Population 80 million, Sweden 9 mill. Pop of Addis is 3.3 million and growing daily. Ugly city but a major centre.
  • 9O% of the pop is engaged in agriculture,mostly subsistence farming.
  • Lots of early ties to Jerusalem and early Christianity. The Lalibela churches were built in the 11th century by King Lalibela who had spent 20+ years in Jerusalem and wanted to replicate it in Ethiopia.
  • The third wise man, Balthazar, was Ethiopian and his gift was frankincense, which is harvested here. Who knew?
  • The Queen of Sheba was Ethiopian. She went to Jerusalem to visit King Solomon and had his child (!!). When that boy grew up he returned to Ethiopia with many people from Jerusalem, who stayed here. He also brought the Arc of the Covenant, which is still here, in Axum. (Doubt if the Israelis would agree with that but there does seem to be some hard evidence).
  • No pork anywhere in the country.
  • E has the second largest donkey population in the world. China is first, but who counted? E must have the largest goat pop in the world, hands down. We watched goats being sold in the market, $20 to $25 each. Their meat goes to Saudi.
  • The govt launched a 20 year plan in 2007 to become a developing country. It will be hard, the infrastructure is still underdeveloped, although cell phones do seem to work pretty well and the banking system is good, unlike Burma, which doesn't have one at all. We see no black market for money, unlike Argentina.
  • Chinese investment is everywhere. They have built all the roads in the last 5 years, built the huge new headquarters for the African Union, and most of the industrial plants, steel etc are Chinese. They are buying up Africa.
  • The population is roughly equally divided between Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and Muslim. The communities are all very mixed and seem to get along well, hope that continues, but with neighbours like Sudan and Somalia, I would be worried.
  • The country used to extend to the Red Sea but as a result of some historically bad decisions is now landlocked, and pays Djibouti $500K US per DAY for access to its port. Enormous when you think that the the average annual income is $250, and for many of the places that we have been that would be high. It's a terrible drain on resources, but what is the alternative?
  • No fences, herds all have a herder, often a tiny child who is smaller than the cattle...sometimes even smaller than the goats. And they all (people, goats, sheep, cattle, donkeys, dogs)wander on or across the road, all the time. Driving is a constant game of dodge 'em.
  • Everybody works hard. Women and donkeys carry everything. Men tend the fields and flocks, they don't carry.
  • No private cars outside Addis.
  • Ethiopia has never been colonized. It was occupied by the Italians, who left behind pasta on every menu. The battles were horrible, however and the Ethiopians finally drove them out.
  • People are lovely, soft spoken, gentle and cheerful.
  • Jacaranda and flame trees in bloom, amazing bougainvillea. Temp around 40C in south (HOT), mid 20s here and north.
  • Addis is really the centre of everything. Every nationality in the world is at this hotel, it is the only major hotel downtown and is right next to the presidential palace. It is fascinating to speculate on all the deals that are going on, it absolutely hums.

My own thoughts in addition:

  • Struck by the huge difference between the north and south of the country. North is ethnographically, culturally, climatically and geographically hugely different. Might almost be two distinct countries.
  • All the major and most disruptive changes are occurring in the south. North appears more settled but in the south there is a strong sense that within 5 to 10 years it will be unrecognizable.
  • Surprised at the general sense of cleanliness in the smaller towns. Undoubtedly there is litter, open puddles and broken paving stones on both sides of the road in small centres but it feels as if it would not have been any different if you had visited 100 years ago. Unlike India for example where the landscape and the small towns are littered, coated, buried under billions of plastic bags, blocking waterways, hanging from trees like obscene fruit and coating every inch of waste ground inches deep.
  • Honesty of the people. I mentioned in one of my first posts that I had left a bag with a Fuji X-E2 camera and lens along with my ipad and headphones in the hotel lobby tea court. Didn't realize what I had done for at least an hour but when I returned it had been put aside for me. I forgot my ipod in the hotel room when we checked out to travel to the south. The hotel called our travel agent to tell him that they had found it and that they would keep it for me until we returned for our last night. Pretty unusual.
  • The paranoia about journalists. I have talked about my camera problems but what did not hit me until later was that on my arrival when customs were having such a hard time with my equipment, they kept asking me if the cameras took video. Fortunately, the only smart thing that I did that night was to say, No. Since every camera in the world now takes both video and stills, had I said yes I don't think I would have seen them again as I would have been irrevocably branded as a journalist.
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