Color, flair, singing rends the air. Different church groups sing and dance– I was in awe!

By Wangechi Gitahi |

Abyssinia–the enticing name should tempt everyone to make a visit. I have no idea why they chose to now call this hidden gem of a country “Ethiopia” (OK, even that name sounds cool). So, my first encounter with Ethiopia is highlighted when I made a transit stopover. I made an amazing friend–Anket who offered her home to me whenever I chose to visit. First–forward to Jan 2016, we were going to make it happen, I was going to traverse Abyssinia. The main challenge is that they mainly speak Amharic; thus, language is a barrier–but worry not, you can manage.

So, as you read in my intro, this trip just had hiccups from day one. I was behaving like an amateur traveller–drat–I think I am becoming rusty. So, ticket booked, flight boarded and then I remembered-I hadn’t informed Anket I would be arriving in a few hours. No worry, I would call her upon arrival. Now, when they say when it rains it pours-be sure ,hailstorms even  will follow. When we arrive, I put my phone on-dead-no power. Arrgggg. No worries, their in–flight magazine Selamta said there would be wi-fi, I can contact her–Nope! THERE IS NO WI-FI AT ARRIVALS as of January 2016. I asked the airport staff. Seriously, what is this now Ohhh, (Nigerian accent). So I stand to try develop plan. A young lady walked up to me to me telling me about the hotel she was marketing. I told her my predicament and she told me I could use her phone to call my friend. Lo and behold the phone was off. I want to faint even more. So I ask her about her hotel – let’s just say it falls under luxury hotels. She then offered that I could hang out with her for the night shift and in the morning I could go rest at her home before deciding on next plan. Like really is this lady amazing or what?! I eventually got over my cheapskate backpackers tendencies, negotiated for a rate and was off to the hotel. Thank you Rachel, I enjoyed my stay at Oasis Hotel.

With my friend Anket - grabbing coffee (for now tea)

With my friend Anket – grabbing coffee (for now tea)

Anket picked me up the next morning, accompanied by her brother David who would thus become my tour guide in Addis, and we’re off to their home. Whenever Ethiopians have a guest, they are honored to share the “Coffee Ceremony.” They prepare coffee from scratch– They wash coffee beans (I didn’t even know they are almost cream in color). They then roast them till they are brown/black and then grind them. Traditionally, they would pound them but with technology, we used a blender. Next, water is boiled in a traditional earthen jug called a “jebena” and the powder is added to make the final product-a cup of coffee. It was interesting to hear that this happens in every home and though I am not a coffee lover, I was converted here (interesting thought: government of Kenya– how come we do not do this in Kenya, yet we grow coffee? This would be an assured source of income for the farmers instead of always selling the raw berries and then buying coffee powder, imported, at a higher price – food, or should I say drink, for thought). I felt honored and privileged.

They ensured I sampled various meals like “tibs”, which is offered on special occasions or for special guests which they prepared at home. Meat is diced and then cooked in a pan. It is then topped with onions, tomatoes and any other seasoning one prefers. It is then served with injera which is their main dish. You need to understand injera–they love it. They eat it daily, for breakfast, for lunch, for tea break, for supper. Tibs with injera, injera with stew, injera with soup, injera with spaghetti- everything. I didn’t enjoy it much thus altered it with “dabo”–bread.

Things to do in Addis Ababa

  • Attend a festivalI attended Timkat
Priest carrying the Tabot

Priest carrying the Tabot

“Timkat” means Baptism and is a celebration of the baptism of Jesus at the River Jordan. It is the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church celebration of Epiphany. The priests carry the Ark/“Tabot” which is replicas of Tablets of the Law on which the Ten Commandments were written. These are found in all Orthodox Churches. It is covered in bright linen and carried on the head of one of the priests.

Now, I will try to be as vivid as possible, but seeing is believing. This is held on 19th January or 20th in a Leap Year. Thus both 19th and 20th were are National Holidays. The streets are covered with mini flags of green, yellow, and red–the Ethiopian flag colors. People dress up and when I say dress up, I mean– dress up. Everyone is decked in their best clothing dominated by Ethiopian style. After a specific time roads lead to Janmeda (Jan Meda) are closed. No vehicles coming in or out. Foot traffic is high with people lining the streets. Carpets are laid out and people sweep it in anticipation of a very important guest. Kindly note, people are not in their tens, not hundreds but thousands.

The church fathers also all dressed up

The church fathers also all dressed up

Color, flair, singing rends the air. Different church groups sing and dance– I was in awe! And then finally, we see the open, bright, umbrellas signifying the arrival of the Ark. The songs get louder, the dancers more enticing, and then you see the people’s faces– awe, jubilation, reverence, peace. As the priests pass nearby, on the carpet, some people kneel and kiss the floor, acknowledging that the Ark, referred to as “the Tabot” is Holy and thus the area is holy. The reverence of the people as they watch the priest carry the Ark is mind boggling and priceless. It is then led to a pool of water and dipped as Jesus was during Baptism and then returned to the Churches the next day. This is truly a remarkable ceremony to attend. Just make sure you arrive early so that you get a prime spot to see all.

The women dressed appropriately…singing their hearts out

The women dressed appropriately…singing their hearts out

* Disclaimer:
I apologize to Ethiopia and all Orthodox for not dressing appropriately. I had been so intent on attending; I forgot to do my homework on dressing–women cover their heads with a white scarf and dress in their best outfits.

  • Shopping

Shop anywhere and everywhere. Everyone spoke of Merkato being crazy, noizy, scary and lots of begging children. I didn’t walk all of it but my experience was to the contrary. It is orderly–different streets selling different items, tall shopping buildings and construction ongoing everywhere. No I didn’t feel insecure but as always keep your property safe. The hawkers also have some great stuff, their shoes are new, and their prices friendly only challenge is you have to “stalk them” as they disappear whenever the police appear. Let’s just say, my shoe collection has expanded. Arat Kilo is great if you are looking for Ethiopian outfits–OK also other several places and souvenirs. When you go shopping, buy then, I attempted to window shop and shop and buy later date; let’s just say… I was crunched for time and the public holidays didn’t help because most shops were closed.

  • The museums
"Red Terror" Martyrs Memorial Museum

“Red Terror” Martyrs Memorial Museum

This is the only private run Museum in Ethiopia. Please make sure you visit, even if for a little bit. You will learn the history of Ethiopia–that your history teacher never told you about .You will hear of the motto “Shoot to kill”. The number of lives, innocent lives lost to various regimes. The torture, the senseless killings all for the sake of “Power.” They even have a mini-cupboard cemetery, pictures of some of those who lost their lives, the tales, the horror but not in a horror movie kind of way. For me, what ate the most out of me was that, no, the perpetrators were not colonialists (Ethiopia was never colonized), it was by Ethiopians themselves! It shows how evil “humans” can be to their people. It’s like Rwanda and the genocide. Let’s pray for Africa– this should never happen again, ever! Let’s pray for Burundi where currently people are dying for what looks like what I call a “Burundi Genocide.” When will the AU and UN intervene, what body count is acceptable before anyone intervenes and saves the innocent lives being lost?

  • Electric train ride:
Yei…. electric trains in Ethiopia

Yei…. electric trains in Ethiopia

Now, this is the only one in Africa–just take a ride. It is clean, comfortable and a great way to somewhat see the city. It is also not expensive just do not ride it at peak times.

If you have been reading my posts, by now you know I love culture and all things associated. One of the reasons of having Ethiopia as my destination is that they still hold dear to most of their culture. Make sure you visit this place, the music, the dances from tribes across Ethiopia. Awe Awe Awe! I have to take Ethiopian dancing classes–Can someone point me in the right direction? Depending on the tribe, I noted most of the tribes from the central-south, for example Oromo, have graceful movements that mainly involve the neck for the women.

Dance galore-this dance was a romantic one-my interpretation

Dance galore-this dance was a romantic one-my interpretation

Now, the southern tribes are more vigorous, intense and involve all parts of the body. Help…! Lessons… anyone? The food is also amazing and not too expensive. I got the chance to meet the British (Somali-born) Olympic champion athlete Mo Farah.

  • Ride the taxi (as they are known as “matatu” in Kenya/Uganda) or, simply the Taxi:
the Lada taxi

the “Lada taxi”

The taxis have the cheapest costs ever. Imagine paying less than 2 Birr for most distances. Make sure you know your destination and always ask the conductor (called “redat/woyala”) if in doubt-they will assist even if it means they have to dig, dig deep into their English reservoir. They are really cool people. The smaller taxis (more commonly known as “the Lada taxi”) are more pricey but also great to use especially at night.

  • Coffee Coffee Coffee:

Take time to enjoy Ethiopian coffee everywhere and any time. It costs on average 2 Birr.

... with my tour guide David

… with my tour guide David

A big, big, big Thank You to Anket and David .You took your time, resources and opened your home to a stranger. David, I am not sure you have ever covered that many kilometers in a few days. Thank you for your flexibility, taking me everywhere I wanted even window shopping. This guy is just the coolest. Anket–my Ethiopian Sister, I do not know how to ever thank you–from the first day you met me on the road many years ago, to hosting me superbly, to just being awesome. May God bless the two of you immensely.

  • All the pictures were captured by Wangechi Gitahi.


This is not the only travel diary Wangechi has on Ethiopia. She also wrote the following:

Ethiopia–Addis Ababa
You can also follow her on Twitter.

Source: Wangechi Gitahi Blog
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