I have been fascinated by Ethiopia ever since I learned about Lucy, the ancient human ancestor found there. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archeologist. Or maybe an anthropologist. I struggled between the two, but in either case, I knew I wanted to go to Ethiopia.
And, when I finally did, it was even more magical than I had anticipated throughout my youth.
My guide, Dereje, was fantastic, and did an extraordinary job explaining the rich culture and history to me. I have never before felt so much knowledge flowing forth at me, at such a rapid speed. And I enjoyed every second of it.
Mostly, I think the fire hose effect was because I knew so little. I imagine if I had never studied the Roman, Greek or Ottoman empires in school, my visits to Italy, Greece and Turkey would have been similarly overwhelming. But, when I went to those countries, I had a strong basic understanding in place, and the visits therefore served to fill in the missing pieces, explain the nuances, and add the lively details.
In Ethiopia, it was wholly different. I didn’t know anything. Dereje had his work cut out for him.
Let’s start with the basics. Did you know that Ethiopia is on a calendar eight years behind ours, and starts in September? Or that they follow a 12-hour clock that starts at dawn instead of midnight, and ends at dusk? So 7:00 AM in East Africa Time (EAT) corresponds to 1:00 in daylight hours in local Ethiopian time. 12:00 noon EAT is 6:00 in daylight hours, and 6:00 PM EAT is 12:00 in local time.
Wow I had a lot to learn!
Like, the fact that the Nile starts in Ethiopia. Dereje and I hiked to the Blue Nile Falls to see the start of the Nile River. Having already been to Egypt, this meant even more to me to see where the river begins.
To get to our hike and back, we had to cross the Blue Nile via boat. On the way back our boat (a rickety metal canoe powered by a rusting motor) had a musician onboard to serenade the passengers. He asked my name, and he understood me to say “silly” instead of “Cindy”, which I didn’t correct. So, for the boat ride, as well as the walk back to the van during which he followed us, he kept singing “…..Silly……Silly, Silly Silly….silly….silly…” which was pretty silly to me.
I also didn’t know why so many African flags have the same colors as Ethiopia. Apparently, since Ethiopia is the only African nation that wasn’t colonized, when they each won their independence, the other nations took inspiration from Ethiopia’s flag.
Oh, and I also learned that the whole Jamaican Rastafarian movement is named after an Ethiopian king. He is the same king that was the first black leader to visit the (Nixon) white house. He landed in Kingstown and a 4-year drought ended, which was part of legend in Jamaica about an African king.
And he took 2,000 Jamaicans back to Ethiopia with him and gave them all land. When he was overthrown by the military in the 70s, a lot of them left, but I guess there are still a few hundred.
The King’s name was Haile Selassie, and you can hear him mentioned in a lot of Reggae music.
You would not believe the wad of cash I had in Ethiopia. I traded 3 $100 bills for like 50 bills of Ethiopian money. They had to give me a rubber band! And, I had to break some of those bills into smaller denominations as well. It reminds me of the Shel Silverstein poem “Smart” about the boy who trades his dollar for five pennies.
My dad gave me one dollar bill ‘Cause I’m his smartest son, And I swapped it for two shiny quarters ‘Cause two is more than one!
And then I took the quarters And traded them to Lou For three dimes – I guess he don’t know That three is more than two!
Just then, along came old blind Bates And just ’cause he can’t see He gave me four nickels for my three dimes, And four is more than three!
And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs Down at the seed-feed store, And the fool gave me five pennies for them, and five is more than four!
And then I went and showed my dad, And he got red in the cheeks And closed his eyes and shook his head – Too proud of me to speak!
Well, class, now that we have finished Ethiopia 101, stay tuned for my impressions of the actual trip, itself!