Welcome to Middle-Earth

Ethiopians can be quite funny when writing foreign names. Here you can eat spahketi or order latte-makiyto, you are welcam or can sleep at the land-scap hotel. Also the name of our next destination was such a funny mistake: Gondar. Of course, everyone knows that correctly it would be written Gondor, and it is beyond doubt that it really refers to the country from the “Lord of the Rings”. Sorry Kiwis, the real Middle-Earth is in Ethiopia.

The “Shire” landscape is similar to NZ, but a fortress like in Gondar you will search in vain in Down-Under. And each one looking at pictures will directly know what we mean. However, there is a legend concerning the history of this castles complex which we find completely implausible. According to our admittedly very knowledgeable guide, Gondar was built in the 17th century by the Ethiopian King Fasilidas. During the century before, Ethiopia – just like Austria – struggled with the Ottoman invasion but finally was able to push out the conquerors, also thanks to the help of the newly arrived Portuguese. And after the Ottoman threat had vanished, these Jesuits supported them to build their new capital. Every successor of Fasilidas added an own palace, library, music hall, sauna or lion cage to the compound, making the whole area more and more impressive. Unfortunately during the occupation before World War II, the Italians made it their headquarters and you can guess how Italy defended its headquarters against the Royal Air Force. Although nowadays big parts are destroyed or in ruins, you can still get the fascination of that place where 3 cultures met. Continue reading

Rock-Hewn “Dens of Thieves”

We had been warned. In Addis one friend of our couchsurfing host told us that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was “all about images and candles”. This guy had lived in the US for more than ten years, was enthusiastic about Jesus and disappointed about the religious practice in Ethiopia. I was soon to follow him in the latter point and Steffen in both.

It is little known abroad but Ethiopia hosts one of the oldest Christian churches – the Ethiopian Orthodox Church – related to but not to be confused with neither Egypt’s Coptic Church nor with any of the Greek, Russian or Armenian Orthodox Church (everyone who thinks of Brian’s “Judean People’s Front” now: we do so, too). Ethiopian Orthodoxism is much closer related to Ancient Judaism than any other church and most present-day Jewish faiths. It has been unaffected of most developments in Rome and Constantinople, not to speak of the reforms and reformation later on. They claim to host the “Ark of Covenant”, a replica of which can be found in the center of every Orthodox church. They hold both the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday, priests are allowed to marry, practise exorcisms and circumcision, they have menstruation taboos and are monophysite, some pretty complicated thing explaining the relationship between Jesus’ human and divine nature. Believers see the priests as the guards of the holy symbols, they kiss their magic hands and drink holy water against diseases (see here for other similar strange ways of believing). Continue reading

A First Glimpse at Africa

Clean, quiet, agreeable – is this what comes into your mind when you think about Africa? Probably not, but arriving from India to Addis Ababa, these were exactly our first impressions. As Ethiopia was the first country in Africa, we had kind of respect and did not know what to expect. In general we were positively surprised.

Addis Ababa is located 2350m above sea level and offers a comfortable climate with about 20 degrees, fresh nights, low humidity, lots of sunshine and little rain. The roads are mainly wide and crowded only in the center, not littered, drivers do not use the horn and the streets have charming names like “Bob Marley Square” or “Haile Gebrselassie Road”. Actually there is nothing really spectacular about the town. There are some communist architectural relicts, a green river valley and many inhabitants live in rusty Quonset huts. However, poverty does not seem as dire as in India because people care for their homes and the constructions offer much more privacy. But Ethiopia’s capital city also hosts what is proudly presented as the biggest market in Africa: the huge “Mercato” area, where you can find all sorts of fruits, traditional cheese, recycled steel, chickens dead or alive, clothes and the typical fascinating market atmosphere. Continue reading