Ethiopia, the enchanted land

Normal, Weekender

FREDDY GIGMAI on a trip to Ethiopia discovers that it’s the people who join with the spectacular scenery, abundant fauna and fascinating religions to truly round out the character of this ancient land

Ethiopia, dissected through its middle by the scar of the Great Rift Valley, is as old as time itself. It is a land claiming a history that goes back to the Old Testament. It is the land of Sheba, and of Axum and Lalibela, of towering obelisks and the Ark of the Covenant. It is a country that was Christian before much of Europe and yet unknown to Europe for 1,000 years or more; a land that dwelt in limbo, forgotten by the world that it never forgot.
From the vast spread of Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile through the relics of Axum, down along the scorching inferno of the Danakil Depression and high amid the wonders of Simien and Bale Mountains to the untouched, game filled wilderness of the remote southern grassland, Ethiopia is an odyssey of discovery. Many visitors know Ethiopia for its splendid rock-hewn churches and colorful ceremonies. But it is Ethiopia’s people who join with the spectacular scenery, abundant fauna and fascinating religions to truly round out the character of this ancient land. Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic state. Many distinctions have been blurred by intermarriage over the years but many also remain. There are 200 different dialects. The Semitic languages of Ethiopia are related to Hebrew and Arabic, and derived from Ge’ez, the ecclesiastical language.   The principal language spoken in the north-western and central part of the country including the capital Addis Ababa is Amharic which is also the official language of modern Ethiopia.    
My colleague Napoleon Henry and I had the privilege to visit Ethiopia in July last year to attend a retreat program and spent one week in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
Wide tree-line streets, fine architecture, a bustling railway station, glorious weather, and the incongruity of donkey trains trotting along the boulevards make Addis Ababa a delightful place to explore; a city of surprises characterized by remarkable diversity and contrasts. Addis Ababa’s cosy espresso bars and patisseries are reminiscent of Rome and the Mediterranean, and its bustling outdoor market is a colorful reminder of more traditional ways of life. The people, the bursts of music from cafes and shops, the pungent aromas of spicy cooking, of coffee and frankincense, form a unique Ethiopian pastiche.
On the first morning of our week-long stay we befriended a taxi driver by the name of Menesh. We made an arrangement with him to pick us every morning at our hotel and drop us off at the United Nations Conference Centre (UNCC) which was our meeting place on the Millennium Villages Project (MVP).
On the third day of our stay we asked Menesh to take us around Addis Ababa to see and have a feel of the city. Menesh explained that Addis (as most Ethiopians like to call it) was clustered around two main centers; the palace to the east and the market, with Saint George’s Church, to the west. “Together they generated so much activity that the capital grew and developed rapidly” Menesh explained.
By the late 1950s Addis Ababa was recognized as the unofficial capital of Africa, and thus was made the headquarters of the United Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in 1958. Later, in 1963, it was chosen as headquarters of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
Today Addis Ababa, which bears the imprint of many of these past developments, is a major metropolis with a population approaching almost half the population size of PNG or an estimated three million people. The city stands at the very heart of Ethiopia and enjoys connection with the country’s economic zones.
Addis Ababa is also known as Africa’s unchallenged diplomatic capital, with more than 70 embassies and consular representatives clustered in the mountain city. There is much to do and see within the capital whether at night – at the variety of clubs offering all manner of music from traditional Ethiopian to modern pop, as well as dancing or by day. Addis Ababa has a large number of hotels throughout the city, from inexpensive budget accommodation to the most luxurious. Five Star hotels have everything including high-tech telecommunication and conference facilities.
The closest Ethiopian foreign mission to PNG is the Ethiopian Consulate in Melbourne, Australia. Entry visa can be obtained from there before travelling to Addis Ababa via Perth, Western Australia and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Official Ethiopian airline Ethiopian is Africa’s first airline to operate the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and with its friendly staff and crew it can take you safely into Addis Ababa in joy, comfort and style.