Ethiopia - 13 months a year
Feb 04, 2005
The culture in Ethiopia is different from East Africa's in a thousand subtle ways. But what I mostly notice is that the people here just somehow seem more outgoing and happy than their Kenyan and Tanzanian neighbors. These differences probably stem from the fact that Ethiopia, unlike the rest of Africa, almost completely escaped colonialism. The Italians managed to conquer Ethiopia for only 10 years.
Ethiopia also has a history going back to biblical times and beyond. They have thousands of years of independent history, and quite a few things that we take for granted are different here. Their calendar, and even their way of counting time, are uniquely Ethiopian.
They have a different guess for the year of Jesus' birth, so the year in Ethiopia is currently 1997. Days start at what we'd call 6am, and the evening starts at 6pm. It's very logical. The rest of the world are the ones who have this wrong - it's crazy that 2 o'clock in the morning is actually in the middle of the night. In Ethiopia, the morning is in the morning, and the night is at night.
But the biggest shock is that there are 13 months in Ethiopia's calendar. The first 12 months have a nice even 30 days and the 13th month, which only has 5 days (6 in a leap-year), fills out of the year. Many businesses pay their employees monthly, and for the 13th month they give everyone a full month's salary for only a few days work. It conveniently works out as an end of the year bonus.
Now, I'm generally a big fan of things that are unique and different, but I'm a bit religious about my billiards. See the L- shaped pool table in Tanzania [here]. In Ethiopia, they play the game like I've never seen it before. They play without cues. They pick up the cue ball and toss it around the table. I couldn't quite make it out the rest of the rules. I have to assume that some bar couldn't afford replacing cues, so they invented a game without them. And now it looks like it is the National sport. I can't say that I approve.
I decided to spend two days sitting in the shade letting my sunburn heal. The small towns in Kenya were dull as hell. But sitting around in Ethiopia is very social. Everyone is smiling and laughing and having a good time, and so am I.
I pull out my guidebook to show around. The photo of the stretched-lipped Mursi woman shocks and amazes everyone. I easily imagine someone from a Western country being bothered by the photo, but the Mursi people are only a 100 miles up the river. That's how isolated these people are. I'm not sure if they've ever seen pictures of the neighboring tribes before.
The guidebook has a big advertising page for its website: www.lonelyplanet.com. Someone asks what "www" is. Even in Loarengak people were asking for my email address. But here in Omorate, I've finally reached a place where they haven't even heard of the Internet. It's getting more and more difficult to do that.
While sitting around drinking tea all day, I begin learning Amharic. The first words you learn in a country are often indicative of the culture. In Ethiopia, they were "salaam" (hello), "boona" (coffee), and "shai" (tea). In my first 36 hours in Ethiopia, I've drunk a lot of coffee and tea. I expect that will continue.
As I sit down for dinner, a truck full of white people drives up. These are the first white people that I've seen since Lodwar. Unfortunately, they're German missionaries. Over dinner, I had a long debate with a cute young missionary. Most of what she had to say I'd heard before, but there was one sentence that stuck out. She told me that the tourists were ruining Africa (by inflating prices) - The tourists are the ones who are ruining Africa - How about that for the pot calling the kettle black!
I'll end today's journal with an observation for the Star Trek geeks. The Amharic word for "white person" is "ferenghi". Sound familiar?
Tomorrow, more sitting around. Let's see what I learn.
The trip from Nairobi to Addis Ababa was interesting enough that I wrote it up as a daily log. If you'd like to read it from the beginning click here: [ Leaving Nairobi ]
Leave a comment! I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading.
this is useful info for my Ethiopia/Sudan project at school. Please write more on their culture, clothes, music, and food. Thank you and God bless.
Eric Giles - Jun 21, 2007
Man you are an inspiration and I really envy you for what you've done and all that you've seen!!! Wow, this is so helpfull since i will be going to Ethiopia on August 16th. Thanks dude and o'yeah. Stay safe so you can keep writing!! peace
Tracey A - Jan 11, 2008
My cousin is currently living Ethiopia (she is american). She says her livestyle is much better there. Thank you sharing. I hope to visit there soon with my 9 year old son.