What Ethiopia Looks Like and 7 Unpopular Points

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Many people wonder what Ethiopia looks like. You probably have seen pictures of bare feet and nude people with weird piercings and body scarification. You at least have watched one advertisement about poor Africans with flies with a message ‘a dollar a child’. That is how the media portrayed the country to the rest of the world. This is how the NGOs created the image of the continent.

While going out shopping in Addis Ababa, a European student once confessed to me how she feared being robbed on the streets before she came to Ethiopia, and she left her valuable clothes back in her country. We heard similar stories that are strange to local people and surprising to the visitors. How did these stories begin?

Most of the stories that shaped the images of what Ethiopia began with the 90’s famine story, the time Ethiopia was under a socialist dictator government. Between 1983-1985, famine had affected the northern part of the country, and it killed 1.2 million, left 400,000 refugees, and displaced 2.5 million. At the end of the famine, almost 200,000 children were left orphaned.

Human rights organizations including Oxfam concluded that the famine was not because of drought but because of the country’s policy that was aimed to undermine the resistance in the northern part of Ethiopia by restricting food supply. The plan failed hugely and fueled a civil war in that part of the country and brought unanticipated famine.

A BBC news crew, who is responsible for the news, documented the famine and portrayed the situation as ‘the closest thing to hell on earth’. Everyone heard, and Ethiopia, a country that was civilized long before any western country, a country that inspired many countries in the world, a country that contributed to the civilization and to the African liberation, all of a sudden became an image of famine and poorness.

Many charity organizations followed creating an image of Ethiopia, and being able to convince the world to collect money as donations. A new era of aid policy came about that only made the government rich and the donors richer. But the image of what Ethiopia looks like stayed overly exaggerated and pessimistically painted, and as an illustration of poverty and famine, even in dictionaries.

Ethiopia, however, is a diverse nation, with peaceful people and ancient civilizations and with massive landscapes, untapped resources, and a huge future.

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What Ethiopia Looks Like: Nature

Ethiopia is a diverse nation in terms of its climate and weather. It has different landscapes and faunas that are unique to different parts of the region. One of the most amazing landscapes is the simian mountains national park.

It is located in the northern part of the country and it contains deep valleys a mountain peaks making the extraordinary scene. The area is known for it’s endangered wild like such as Walia ibex. Visitors choose the place for trekking.  

Lake Tana is another surprising feature in the northern part of the country. The place is a choice for bird watchers. Great while pelicans and African darters exist near the lake. The most amazing part is the highlands in the center of the lake that have monasteries and religious places. These existed since the 13th century. 

The Blue Nile falls is another amazing site in the region. The fall plunges from a 45 m (150 ft) basalt ridge, creating white smoke. The whole scene is striking. Although it requires a walk of a few meters to arrive at the falls, many tourists and visitors don’t shy away from it.

dallol afar ethiopia

The Omo national park in Jinka, in the south, is another natural feature that shapes what Ethiopia looks like. The tribes, with a very unique life than the rest of the country live there.

Many visitors went there to visit the natural attraction as well as safari ride the park and river.  He park is full of wild animals including elephants, cheetahs, and buffalos. Entoto in the capital of Addis Ababa another mountain that lets you see the whole city at a glance.

Afar is another unique destination in the country. Afar is not a walk in a park, it is one of the hottest places in the world. Only a few kilometers from a normal climate a completely different landscape exists. Afar is known for Danakil depression, the lowest point above sea level, which is 400 feet below sea level.

It’s a colorful landscape, due to chemical reactions on the land, the salt land, and the open lava that is mesmerizing to watch. The dusty desert color change when you see them from an above point and the orange, green, and yellow colors give dream-like images. The colors emanate because of sulfur and other minerals.

The place is called a land of 13 months of sunshine.  ( Ethiopia has only 30 days in every month and 5 or 6 days of a leap year) The climate in many areas is mild.

What Ethiopia Looks Like: Nature

What Ethiopia Looks Like: History

Ethiopia is an ancient civilization. Its name is associated with many biblical stories. The ancient Axum (Aksum) civilization goes as far as the 1st century. Lalibela goes as far as 12th c. The present territory came about with European powers who were interested in the country’s past. Ethiopia only became a topic in foreign stories after defeating Italy in the battle of Adwa in 1896. Ethiopia is the only independent sovereign state that didn’t fall under a colonial rule. This shaped what Ethiopia looks like in many ways. Rastafarianism paved away based on this story. It also inspired many black American movements and even many marginalized black people travel to visit the courtyard and get inspirations.   

What Ethiopia Looks Like: History

What Ethiopia Looks Like: People and Culture

You probably have heard how many countries, including the west, mechanically try to make a diverse population by migrating people from other countries. The diversity visa, the scholarships are part of this process. Many countries seem to have a homogeneous culture and population, that they don’t have an experience of other cultures. Many people from these nations speak a single language.

It is interesting to see such a diverse population in a single country. There are up 77 various tongues in Ethiopia and many cultures and ethnic groups. 33 percent of Ethiopians speak oromigna, 29.3 speak Amharic and 6.2 percent speak Somali. There are many ethnic groups that are different and unique in their culture, looks, and living styles.

Ethiopian women wedding

There are various religions as well. Christianity and Islam have a major following. Fasting twice a week, which is not consuming meat and dairy products, resembles veganism that is a fresh topic in many nations.

Ethiopia is also associated with the first Islamic stories, where it is said that the prophet sent the first followers to Ethiopia seeking refuge.

What Ethiopia Looks Like: People and Culture

What Ethiopia Looks Like Sports

Football( soccer) is popular in Ethiopia. It has been a place of violence recently, associated with the recent unrest in some regions. Although it didn’t have quite significant results in any form, soccer remains an emotional sport in the country.

Contrary to this, athletics has a huge place in the country. Runners like Haile Gebre Selassie, Kenenisa Bekele, Abebe Bikila, Fatuma Roba, and Tirunesh Dibaba are known for their long-distance track and street competitions. Abebe Bikila who runs in the 60s and 70s for the summer Olympics in Rome set a new world record at the time.

He had a reputation of winning 12 of the 1 marathons he participated in. Haile Gebreselassie is another great athlete who runs 10,000 meters and won 2 Olympic gold medals and 4 world championship titles. He won Berlin marathon, 4 times in a row, and Dubai marathon 3 times. In total, he has broken more than 60 national records, 27 world records in various distance competitions.

What Ethiopia Looks Like Sports

What Ethiopia Looks Like: music

Ethiopia has various musical instruments from aerophones to Membranophones. The basic and popular ones are begena, which is a religious instrument, resembles Kirar or a guitar. It has an integrated triangular shape and is big to hold in hand. Kirar is smaller and is often played with a single hand.

Washint is an air instrument that resembles a trumpet. Kebero is a drum, made with animal dried animal skins and often held on the neck with a single rope. The player uses both sides of Kebero to make a piece of music. Kebero sometimes is associated with orthodox religious ceremonies.

What Ethiopia Looks Like: music

What Ethiopia Looks Like: Cities

Most Ethiopian cities are growing cities. Addis Ababa, for example, saw a fast change only recently, associated with the fast construction in the city. Most cities seem to be under-construction and look like third world cities.

Some places, especially in Addis, and the northern part of the country, including neighboring Eritrea, have some left edifices of fascist Italian space and architecture. Most cities follow a planning standard set by the country.

Ethiopian cities have their own unique images. Here are the few that define what Ethiopia looks like.

Aksum is known for its tall carved obelisks, remnants of the ancient kingdom of Aksum (Axum). The place was a naval and trading power, in 400 BCE to the 10th century. It is one of UNESCO archaeological sites. It is also considered as a holy city.

Lalibela is another city on a list of UNESCO. Lalibela has marvelous rock-cut monolithic churches built from 7th to 13th c.

Gondar is another city, that was a powerful state and a capital of the country in the 16th century. It has medieval remnants of castles.

gondar castle

Harrar is another UNESCO registered city. The old walled city has a story as far as 13th c. The town is marvelous and historic to visit.

Shashamane is a promised land for Rastas. It is the first place King Haile Selassie gave to the first rastas that visit the country. The place has a number of Rastas Until today.

What Ethiopia Looks Like: Cities

What Ethiopia Looks Like: Holidays

January 7 and January 19 are religious holidays, Ethiopian Christmas and epiphany. These days, the religious people and others came on the street to celebrate the day with white cloths and lighting candles and chanting and singing.

Many tourists prefer these days to visit the country as the days show the hidden images of the country.

March 2 is a victory of Adwa day, a day where Ethiopians defeat fascist Italy in 1896.

Unlike many countries, Ethiopia has its own calendar which is called an Ethiopian calendar. And September 11 is the begging of the new year. Therefore September one in the Gregorian calendar is September 1 in the Ethiopian calendar. A year in 2020 in the Gregorian calendar is the year 2012 in Ethiopian. Ethiopian year is 8 years behind.

Islamic holidays such as Ramadan and Eid are also celebrated in the country on unfixed dates, in a fixed month.

I tried to explain what Ethiopia looks like using the different images the country already has. It is hard to capture the image in a single sentence rather it better understands Ethiopia grom various directions, including progress, culture, cities, and more. Ethiopia today is a poor nation and has a lot of challenges. This does not govern the good things that the country has. It is always good to understand it in a balanced way.

What Ethiopia Looks Like: Holidays

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