My view of Ethiopia

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Departure at Manchester Airport

In February I went on a two weeks African Study Visit with eleven students to Ethiopia; a Japanese and a British have both written their experience. I had been procrastinating but I’m glad I’m finally writing. The aim of the visit was to broaden our understanding of Peace-building in Ethiopia. It’s a module for Post-Graduate students in Peace Studies. What made the trip more interesting was the diversity of all of us; we had people from the US, Japan, Canada, Germany, UK, Kenya, DRC, Czech Republic and Nigeria.

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Ethiopia is in the East of Africa also known as one of the countries in the Horn of Africa; it’s bordered by Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia. It is a unique country in Africa; civilisation dates back to over 2000 years ago, the only country never to be colonised apart from an Italian invasion of 5 years. They have had their fair share of conflicts ranging from internal conflicts to external conflicts. The two main conflicts were centred on Land Distribution and Identity; the Derg military regime that took over by a coup dealt with the issue of land although down the road gross human rights violation occurred. A guerrilla force known as Tigrayan People’s Liberation Force [TPLF] eventually took over power from the military regime which led to a democratic republic. The political wing of TPLF known as Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front led the country in 1991 and is still ruling the country now. They resolved the issue of Identity by the establishment of an Ethnic based Federalism where ethnic groups are allowed to govern themselves at the local level as well as the ability to be taught in their native language while making Amharic the official working language of the country.  This system has brought relative peace but the question remains if the peace will be sustained. We had interviews with Government and Non-Government agencies and all I can say is Ethiopia should be studied as a country. Let me take you through the entire journey.

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Arrival at Ethiopia

We arrived Ethiopia in the early hours on the 7th of February to be shocked to the chilly weather, apparently Ethiopia has the Highlands and Lowlands. Addis Ababa which is the capital is in the highlands hence the weather although during the day it gets hot. Did I mention one of us was held back at the airport on the suspicion of Ebola as a result of a high temperature. I knew we were going to have fun; that had to be the beginning, but thankfully was released and given an emergency card to call just in case their suspicion was valid. We checked into a descent place called Yeka guest house; thank heavens I was able to skype on some days because we were all concerned with the Internet before we arrived. I think the breakfast in the guest house was pretty good with the freshly squeezed fruit we were served every morning; I think I miss that a lot. We had most of our dinners in different continental restaurants except on two occasions where we had our meals cooked by the ladies and the men. I think seeing the men cook was pretty interesting accompanied with their ‘Everything is awesome’ song they danced and sang to from the Lego movie. I’m currently nodding to it while typing this post.

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At this point i needed to command the tortoise to stop chasing me
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While some people were trying to get a good shot
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I think this is cute
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Our first lunch together

All through the week we had interviews, meetings with some really hard questions we threw at them; I must commend the research everyone made because the questions put them on their toes but I can say we all left each meeting either more confused on what to believe or puzzled. This was reinforced when we met each evening with our lecturer to discuss the day’s activities as well as get an update on the activities of the next day. Once again I’ll say this Ethiopia as a country needs to be studied.

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Ethiopian Birr
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Apparently I was made the finance minister, balancing accounts
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Coffee ceremony at the guest house

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Highest point in Ethiopia, according to our tour guide Panoramic view

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Our first cooked dinner
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We had to smile after walking for almost an hour to find the Church, only to find out it was less than 15 mins from the guest house
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The smile of those who just defaulted

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Our first taste of Injera

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A depiction of how people were tortured during the Derg military regime. The stories we heard here was heart-wrenching.
National Museum of Ethiopia.
National Museum of Ethiopia.

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Finding reception.
Finding reception to watch the finals of the African Cup of Nations.
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One of our meetings at the end of the day

We were really excited when we left the capital city to have a weekend getaway in a village called Hawassa. On the way we stopped at a strawberry and raspberry farm where we bought fresh smoothies with a mixture of yoghurt and experienced the beautiful sunset. Our first night had us eating in a recommended restaurant; I was excited when I saw Indian chicken curry on the menu, I ordered for that, did I enjoy it? Let’s just say it came 30 mins after everyone had eaten and it wasn’t anything close to Indian curry. The next day we were hosted in this outdoor seat-out with the view of the sea; the avocado-mango smoothie served was life-changing and the food was good too and some of us went on a boat cruise. Later that night we visited Haile Resort which I can recommend, top-notch services and a good place to getaway, we had fun that night while the world was celebrating Valentine ’s Day we had ours together.

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On our way to Hawassa

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Amazing mango and avocado smoothie

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And this monkey hops on tables and takes food.
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We had to try a lot of times to get this concept.

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Haile Resort
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Sharing our love
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Cos he’s the only guy

On our way back to Addis we stopped at a place known for its Rastafarian heritage called Shashamane; from the tour guide telling us they take everything fresh (weed) to some guys smoking cigarette outside professing marriage and to the fact that we were told we needed to change our clothes to enter into a sacred house (which we declined and left); it was an interesting place to visit although I can’t say I didn’t have a good laugh. We visited Lake Abiata where we saw Ostriches and falcons. Headed to Lake Langano; where we danced to some good music and some of us swam in the private pool and then we headed back to Addis Ababa.  Even though we had one meeting  we still had an amazing time.

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Shashamane

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The meetings, interviews and questions continued and by Wednesday we were rounding off and took a day off to visit the market; I was often referred to as Habesha (which is equally known as Abyssinians, a group of people in Ethiopia). Going by what I saw and what I’ve heard Ethiopians are good-looking; now I’ve this wide grin on my face if you understand what I’m trying to say. And by Thursday we had our last fun by visiting the Ethiopian Cultural Centre. I think that was the climax of the visit for two reasons; the local food that is popular is Injera and I had eaten it a few years ago in Nigeria and didn’t quite like it, tried it again in a restaurant for dinner and I wasn’t convinced again but this cultural centre raised the bar. There was something different of their own Injera; it tasted better and I learnt a few lessons. Never write off anything in a hurry, look at the current president of Nigeria he had contested for the office of the president on 3 occasions and lost and still tried again, yes my experience is food, his is political and yours could be anything. Secondly I had the dance of my life with the entertainers; I have a huge smile just thinking of that night.

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This was just hilarious, that’s supposed to be Okra with some sort of bread.

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The warrior song
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Our last dinner
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Our two official photographers
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The mint toothpick gang
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That’s how you seal an international deal
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We just had to make faces

We finally packed our bags and headed to the airport Friday night; let’s just say the whole experience wanted to ruin a great trip. We had a flight delay of 4 hours in Ethiopia, 2 – 3 hours in Istanbul and finally arrived without our luggage; talk of Murphy’s law but everything is awesome. We got them a few days after, we’ve all written our essays on different topics; gotten the scores with the feedback. Regardless of our individual performance I can say it was an experience of a life time. We were able to see Africa through a different lens for those who haven’t been to Africa before and for those who are Africans could draw some parallels with their home country. I can say beyond the stereotype associated with Africa; there’s a lot that is not been reported in the media. You may not be opportuned to make a trip like mine but you can educate yourself and never limit yourself to just one opinion. Research from different sources and ask questions where necessary.

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Rosa 9

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The look you get for a 4 hour delay
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And some had to play cards over their suitcases

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She can’t be bothered
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The delay at Istanbul
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Rocking our Ethiopian Tees

AMASEGANALEHU which is thank you in Amharic.

JMAD

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The view of Ethiopia through the lens of Rosa

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Rosa kept on avoiding the camera but Mitch had a way of capturing her. This was at Istanbul waiting for the connecting flight to Ethiopia

As one of the members of the ‘Africa Study Trip’ group heading to Ethiopia in February 2015 I, like many others, was unsure of what to expect once we arrived in Addis Ababa. Whilst the trip passed relatively smoothly (excluding our interesting return journey), our first bit of drama occurred before we’d even left the confines of Addis Ababa airport with one of the group (I will mention no names…) being given an Ebola warning card. Once we’d navigated our way to the guesthouse and spent a day exploring Addis Ababa we went straight into our first meetings.

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Just finished balancing accounts. I guess i deserved a bite of Oreoes

One thing I observed was the lack of obvious corruption and bribery occurring at the street level. Of course this is not to say that Ethiopia is corruption free, but I personally saw no evidence of overt bribery or petty corruption with state officials as I personally saw whilst living in Cameroon and have heard is endemic of many African states. However, we were made aware of the fact that the state have their arms deep within Ethiopian society, controlling many areas that would be considered private in the Western world. The first few days in Addis were spent deliberating whether our communication to friends and family back home was being monitored. After several days of paranoia and the sending of carefully worded emails (not to give away too much detail about who we were visiting and when), we concluded that the Ethiopian Government probably had bigger things to worry about than a dozen University students asking some awkward questions. Despite several days when it went down, I was very impressed with the wifi in the hotel which directly contrasted with other experiences I have had with internet connections in Africa. However, the same cannot be said of the mobile network which was very patchy. We learned that this was due to the government stranglehold on telecommunications, preventing competition and maintaining control over their people.

Beautiful sunset on the way to Hawassa
Beautiful sunset on the way to Hawassa

After a busy first week of meetings I think we were all really pleased when we got the opportunity to travel outside of Addis to Hawassa in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR). Had we not had the chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital we would have failed to see any other versions of Ethiopia. Ethiopia, like most African countries, is extremely diverse and I’m pleased that we were able to experience another side to the country. One of the most obvious differences was the temperature in Hawassa- much hotter than in Addis. It was also nice to witness some of the scenery on the long bus drive down, we even managed to catch an amazing sunset. Other than taking some relaxation time out of our busy schedule, we had a meeting with The Regional Council of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s. We had a lot of time there to talk through a variety of issues but expectedly ethnic federalism was discussed in the most detail. The Regional Council painted a very positive picture of the ethnic federal structure, explaining how it maintains stability in the country as local grievances can be dealt with at a local level. However, some of the students we met from Addis Ababa University explained how difficult it is to identify yourself as of one ‘nationality’ when your parents are from different regions and you may have grown up in a different region entirely. Although I could see some flaws in ethnic federalism, I did appreciate the importance of each region promoting and practicing its own language, culture and customs. We were fortunate enough to visit a museum at the SNNPR Regional Council, learning about their culture. We also visited an amazing restaurant in Addis which showcased song and dance from across Ethiopia whilst eating some tasty Ethiopian food for the last time. Some members of the group also enjoyed trying Tej, an Ethiopian honey wine. Some in the group witnessed a ‘Tej-effect’ yet everyone was pleased to notice the absence of a ‘tej-over’ the following morning.

This is our fickle attempt at trying the neck dance we watched at the cultural centre
This is our fickle attempt at trying the neck dance we watched at the cultural centre

The experience was really eye-opening and I feel I learned so much more from being in Ethiopia than I could have if I’d spent the two weeks in Bradford non-stop reading about Ethiopia. We were incredibly lucky to have two students from the Institute of Peace and Security Studies at Addis Ababa University who were on hand to answer our many questions about Ethiopian politics and beyond.

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Nwanne di na mba

The study group are now all busy doing further research for the essays which we are all writing for the study trip module, so are engrossed in their specific aspects of Ethiopia. I would encourage anyone reading to speak to anyone who came on the trip about their area of research as by the end of the process, we should be much more informed. There have also been discussions about putting our various findings together in a presentation or document once finished, so look out for that!

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This was our not so good return experience. She ended up pushing me on the trolly. This is what happens when you have to spend close to 4 hours of delay at the airport

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I gave Rosa the name Nwanne di na mba. It’s an Igbo word that means my brother/sister in the diaspora. I wish I got a video of her speaking Pidgin and I mean Cameroonian pidgin or when she was dancing to the entire songs on the P Square Invasion Album. She even updated me on the names of some Nigerian artiste that I danced to without knowing their names. Rosa made the trip fun for me and I kept on teasing her that she’ll marry an African preferably a Nigerian. She forgot to mention her new found love in Ethiopian coffee. I hope you enjoyed reading the post like I did.

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Her new love – Ethiopian coffee with Sayaka

Loads of Love

JMAD

The view of Ethiopia through the lens of Natsu

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From L – R Me, Natsu, Carina. This was at Istanbul airport where we were waiting for the connecting flight to Ethiopia.

I had the opportunity to go on the African Study Visit 2015 to Ethiopia in February. The programme of the study visit was an intriguing experience, meeting people with various view points, each of them emphasising different aspects of Ethiopia’s political and social system (and making me much more confused on what to think than ever before) Incidentally all the information that I gained and the many questions that arose, I needed to verbalize, summarize and analyse in my essay anyways, so taking this opportunity Chijioke has given me, I just want to reflect what I felt being present in an African country, given it was my first ever visit to the continent itself.

Going to “Africa” was on my bucket list ever since I was told that both of my parents had lived and worked there. It has always been a vague curiosity of what kind of place Africa was. Living in Japan, where I come from, the continent ‘Africa’ seems so far away. Not only in geographic terms, but just far, simply far away, a place with such a exotic note.

My (and many of my friends) image use to be, thanks to TV news, cartoons and UN adds, mostly a mixture of “Lion King”, brightly coloured bead necklaces, poverty, exotic culture, bloody conflicts, great athletes, dangerous diseases etc. On top of that, I think many have generalized the whole African continent with a single image. Indeed when I told my friends that I was going to Ethiopia, most of their comments were, “Why go there when there is Ebola?” while others requested “I want a picture of a stray lion walking down the street”. I too, though we had been studying on Ethiopia beforehand, somehow still had that metal image of “rural-ness” all over the country, which I was so familiar with in the TV screens.

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She didn’t see a stray lion but she saw an Ostrich. Fair enough……..

That was why it did take me by surprise when we arrived in Addis Ababa for the first time and found large and smooth, perfect roads, and many high and western-looking buildings. There were a lot of other shocks, toilets without paper, being trapped inside an elevator, children asking for money, occasional brownish water from the taps, the load of “Ni-hao”s we received (there was a lot of Chinese people in the city) and food I wasn’t used to etc, but to find the city of Addis as a whole with its infrastructure, many nice buildings, the busy traffic and being different from the “Africa” that I had always seen on TV, was fascinating to me. Also, the dramatically changing landscapes we saw as we travelled outside Addis, from the city view to vast grasslands made me realize how unimaginably diverse the whole of the continent must be, let alone Ethiopia.

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She tried out some of the local dishes. That’s the famous Injera……. I’m not sure what her response to the taste is saying from the picture
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This was a risky one she tried, i tried it too…. The red thing in the white plate is actually raw meat… Ermm let me reserve my comments.

With the limited time we had, I know I can’t say I now know what Addis Ababa looks like, not to mention what Ethiopia or “Africa” looks like. But I think I have seen enough to tell my friends in Japan that there is much much more to the African continent than what is often portrayed in screens and photos.

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She’s keen on gathering so much information. That was our farewell dinner.

Now I have realized how very limited my image of the vast continent has been and how very little I was able to see and learn in the visit, my bucket list will probably grow significantly, making more specific details of which countries and regions in the continent to go to. It seems I really need to stop smoking to live long and healthy.

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I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as i did. It’s amazing to see the effect of just knowing a single side of the story and not just that but seeing it through a flawed perspective. There’s a lot of information in the media but we need to be analytical before drawing our conclusions. This goes beyond this post. Hopefully two more posts will be coming up on the Ethiopian trip.

Loads of Love

JMAD.