Ethiopia: The land of beauty and hunger – By Rose Moses

July 19th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

After a recent visit to Ethiopia, also known as the Horn of Africa, the Daily Champion reports on the land of natural contrasts, where beauty lies side by side with hunger, among other things.

Having checked in with the Ethiopian Airlines and after clearing with both the Customs and Immigration this not so bright afternoon of June 11, 2011, I proceeded to Gate D44 of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.

Destination was Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia also known as the Horn of Africa. The 01:50pm flight was delayed for about an hour and expectedly, it was fully booked. Passengers were mainly Nigerians and Asians, especially Indians.

And that got me wondering why so much traffic to Addis Ababa, even when I’m aware that the city hosts several international organizations focused on Africa. It is also the headquarters of the African Union (AU).

After a call through to a colleague however, I was informed that final destination of most passengers on the flight was unlikely to be Addis Ababa.

Finally, boarding was announced for flight ET 900 and we boarded accordingly. My electronic ticket had indicated it was going to be a Boeing 777-200LR but on approaching the door of the aircraft, I immediately knew it wasn’t a Boeing 777. Turned out it was a Boeing 757!

I became a bit apprehensive but by the time I had my carry-on bag appropriately placed in the overhead locker and had taken my seat, I looked around, relaxed and told myself the aircraft was relatively okay for the five-hour direct flight to Bole International Airport in Addis.

And suddenly, one of the beautiful air hostesses (all of them on board that flight were females) came over to inform that an Indian seating two rows behind and adjacent mine would like to exchange seats with him. That way he could be closer to his family (a wife apparently, and two young daughters) occupying the row directly beside mine.

Already, I was seated by two other Indian men (one by the window, the other in the middle while I occupied the aisle seat) who were already engrossed in a conversation in their language.

So, I was like these Kora people and their wahala sef! I however, gave in to the man’s request to exchange seats in the name of family. But on getting to his vacated seat, I began to doubt if I had made the right decision.

Right behind that seat was an Indian woman, who found it so hard to shut her mount. Her sharp, tiny, but piercing voice was ringing right through my head that was already aching. Her high-pitched voice more or less sounded like she was shouting, and not talking, to her two kids. And this she would extend to her husband sitting next row.

This particular lady was simply in a world of her own, and it would seem like no other person mattered. Indeed, the Indians were all over the place!

At my new seat also was a three or four-year old Nigerian boy in the middle, who was giving the mother, seated by the window, a hell of a time while trying to get him properly seated for take-off.

At this point, I had a strong feeling that the Indian, who wanted my seat, may have done so, not necessarily to be close to family; after all, such situation is often taken care while making reservation. I felt that he, more or less, needed to escape the ‘chaos’ his country woman was creating right behind, and perhaps also to ease himself off the restless Nigerian kid by the side.

I needed no other evidence that we had to return to status quo ante. The same pretty air hostess (by the way most of the Ethiopian girls are pretty), I decided, was to take back the message. I apologised to the man and his family that the woman behind, who incidentally speaks the same language with them, had made it difficult to keep to the agreement.

They appeared to have taken no offence, but rather smiled nicely, may be in understanding of the situation, particularly the wife and the daughter, Gargee, sitting right beside me on the next row.

Gargee would later become my best friend on the flight, and the other Indian beside me, who kept on asking for Heineken Beer for the better part of the flight, mentioned of the striking resemblance between the cute, pretty 10-year old and I, stressing that Gargee could easily pass as either my daughter or sister. I wasn’t able to prove that though.

Now, the flight had taken off and was cruising at over 30,000ft and very smoothly, at least for three hours. With about two hours to our arrival in Addis Ababa, however, we began to experience turbulence. There was heavy thunderstorm outside and the flight became very rough it appeared like the aircraft was going down.

All manner of words, expectedly, started coming out of most passengers’ mouth; that is, those that could find something to say. The only thing I remembered saying was for Jesus to take control, which I kept saying out loud enough for as long as the turbulence lasted.

A few others were frightfully quiet, just as the pilot had ordered the cabin crew members who didn’t even bother to ensure that all passengers had their seat belts securely fastened and sitting in upright position, to quickly take their seats.

So, it was a race by both crew members and passengers from one end of the aircraft to the other. In the process, a good number of human collusions occurred in the rush back to their seats, including my ‘neighbour’ that may have started responding to the quantum of Heineken Beer consumed. This is going by his constant visits to the lavatory.

Although the turbulence was on for just some minutes, it looked like it was for eternity because when you thought it was over, there was another. Eventually, the aircraft stabilized. But not until the air hostesses began moving around again did I get to relax and my’ neighbour’ would make another visit to the lavatory.

Meanwhile, my new friend, Gargee, was all laughter and would ask if I was scared. I told her ‘very’ and also asked if she wasn’t. Still laughing at me, she emphatically said no. I wanted to know why, to which she responded it’s because she loves karat. Pray, what has the game of karat got to do with what we just experienced? I just couldn’t understand, but to Gargee, it was some form of entertainment. Very expensive one indeed, if you ask me!

Nonetheless, we arrived safely at Bole International Airport, Addis, around 9.50pm, about an hour late. There is two hours difference between Nigeria and Ethiopia. And truly, as we disembarked the aircraft, almost everyone on that flight was rushing for their connecting flight, mostly to Mumbai, India; or Dubai, United Arab Emirate for most of the Nigerian passengers.

Was I surprise when I was confronted right at the airport by a young man, perhaps in his late 20s, who claimed to be a Nigerian stranded in the country? Not really! Nigerians are everywhere.

But why get stranded in Ethiopia? And the guy I wasn’t really interested in getting his name said he was about being deported to Ghana, where he originally claimed to be his country.

According to him, he had hoped to find his way to Europe for ‘greener pastures’ through Ethiopia.

With the Hilton Hotel shuttle already aware of my arrival and that of other members of our group from other parts of the globe, I had no problem getting to the hotel that would provide shelter for the next seven days.

Checking in late and very hungry, I went straight to the restaurant, which luckily was still open for buffet.

For the remaining days, except I had to come down from my room for buffet, I would most likely go to bed hungry for not being too adventurous with food. Ordering room service didn’t exactly present one with what one may have expected, or thought to have ordered.

Welcome to Ethiopia, the land of beauty and hunger! It is Africa’s oldest independent country. Apart from a five-year occupation by Benito Mussolini’s Italy, Ethiopia was never colonised, although the nation is better known for its periodic droughts and famines, its long civil conflict and a border war with Eritrea.

Ethiopia is indeed a land of natural contrasts, with waterfalls and volcanic hot springs. It has some of Africa’s highest mountains as well as some of the world’s lowest points below sea level. While the largest cave in Africa is located in Ethiopia at Sof Omar, the country’s northernmost area at Dallol is one of the hottest places year-round anywhere on earth.

A landlocked country located in the Horn of Africa, and officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, it is the second most populous nation in Africa with over 85.2 million people, and the tenth-largest by area, with its 1,100,000 km2. The capital is Addis Ababa.

Interestingly, poverty and opulence live side by side even in the capital city. For instance, just surrounding the palatial residence/office of the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Asres, which sits on a large expanse of land at the central district of Addis, are shanties serving as homes to a growing number of citizens living far below the poverty line.

Same picture stares you on the face at any part of the city you find yourself, with a multitude of beggars at every corner. The story is much more pathetic in rural areas where for lack of the right words, the situation may not easily be described.

Ethiopia, which is one of Africa’s leading coffee producers, remains one of Africa’s poorest states. Almost two-thirds of its people are illiterate. The economy revolves around agriculture, which in turn relies on rainfall.

Famous for its Olympic gold medalists, rock-hewn churches and as the place where the coffee bean originated, Ethiopia, the top coffee and honey-producing country in Africa, is home to the largest livestock population in Africa.

Bordered by Eritrea to the north, Sudan to the west, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, and Kenya to the south, Ethiopia is also the most populous landlocked country in the world and was a monarchy for most of its history.

According to a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) documentary on the country, although it has had fewer of the coups that have plagued other African countries, Ethiopia’s turmoil has been no less devastating. “Drought, famine, war and ill-conceived policies brought millions to the brink of starvation in the 1970s and 1980s.”

This helped topple Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, whose regime was replaced by a self-proclaimed Marxist junta led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. Under Mengistu, thousands of opponents were purged or killed, property was confiscated and defence spending said to have spiralled.

Overthrow of the junta in 1991, the documentary further notes, saw political and economic conditions stabilise, to the extent that the country is regarded as one of Africa’s most stable.

The country boasts of about 80 different ethnic groups, the two largest being the Oromo and the Amhara. Both of them speak Afro-Asiatic languages.

Official language however is Amharic, although other recognised regional languages exist. Typically, Ethiopia has mild weather under 20 C and rain throughout the months of June and August.

Monetary unit or currency is known as the Birr with one dollar exchanging for about 16.80 Ethiopian Birr (ETB).

Favourite staple is injera and wat. From my research, Injera is a flat, rubbery bread made from tef, a fine grain related to millet. It is said to contain all the amino acids, minerals and vitamins necessary for growth. It is first fermented and the liquid mixture is put onto a hotplate, which is covered with a lid, and cooked quickly so as not to destroy the vitamins.

On its part, wat is sort of spicy stew, usually of vegetables or lentils, although on special occasions, chicken, lamb or beef is used.

The injera is spread on a plate and little mounds of wat placed on top. It is eaten by tearing off pieces of injera with your fingers and using it to scoop up the wat. Think of how we eat eba, amala, fufu, tuwo shinkafa etc.

Ethiopians never get tired of injera, said to be good and healthy, as they eat it at least twice a day. Perhaps, the staple may be responsible for why you will hardly see a fat or pot-bellied Ethiopian. Just guessing!

I never had a taste throughout my stay, though.

The story originally appeared on Daily Champion

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