Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ethiopian Languages

It is fantastic how many languages are spoken in Ethiopia. There are more than 80 languages! The main languages are Amharic, Oromiffa, Tigrinya and Guraginya. During the previous government, everybody was forced to learn Amharic. Now, Amaharic is still the official language, together with English, but in the provinces the local language is being used.
Amharic and Tigrinya are written in a different alpahbet, an Abugida fidel. This is a phonetic set of alphabet, with each letter representing a sound. It is not so difficult to learn, what you see is what you say.
Like in many other African countries, language has ben a means of oppressing the people. It used to be forbidden to speak Oromiffa. A very likely reason is that the tribe of Oromo is fighting to gain independence.
There are many foreigners who have learned Amharic, a number of Italians were born in Ehiopia and brought up there. Others have studied it for the sake of working in Ethiopia. Of course, many people can speak English. But knowing the local language does bring you closer to the people.  Then, there are the many families who adopt children from Ethiopia and want to preserve their cultural heritage.

Women of Ethiopia

Women in Ethiopia are incredibly strong. Life, for most of them, is tough. Hard work from morning to night. Frequent pregnancies and many children. Many have to go far to fetch water, carrying it on their heads and backs. Even women in the city need to be strong. With power-cuts a normal occurence, many get up at 1 am to cook food, since there is always electricity in the night. Others work hard with little pay in an office, just to make sure the children get an education.
Then, there are some Ethiopian women who have become famous. Most of us have heard about the marathon runners from Ethiopia. A number of them are women! One of them, Derartu Tulu, took time off to give birth and then made a come-back- twice! Talk about strong women! Others are White House chefs or super models. In other words, the whole spectrum is covered with Ethiopian women.
Like women in every part of the world, these women also have dreams. Often centered around the well-fare of their children. Just like us. Most of them want their children, especially their daughters, to have a better life than them.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Ethiopian Food

There are millions of Ethiopians living in different parts of the earth. This has led to many restaurants being opened, with the characteristic food. These restaurants are not only visited by Ethiopians themselves, but by many others. A lot of us have learned to appreciate this rich, tasty food. The only problem I can think of is that you have to eat by hand! While this might take a while to get used to, it does make the food taste even better.
The staple food is called injera and looks like a big pancake. It is made of a special flour called teff, and has been fermented for three days before being fried on one side only, without any fat. Teff is easily available in the US and some parts of Europe. It is actually cultivated in some parts of the States! You can buy it both on amazon, as well as in the health-stores.
With injera they serve a lot of different sauces and stews. With or without meat. In fact, Ethiopia has many vegetarian dishes since the major religion prohibits meat on a regular basis.
Usually a lot of onions are used. These are chopped finely and made to sweat in a big pot! Once all the water has gone away, spicy butter and chilli pepper is added. When it has all cooked together, meat or lentils are put in the pot. This will result in a rich, thick stew!
A piece of injera is put on the plate, and a little stew (watt) is put on top. You eat with your right hand, and drink with the left one. The fingers should never touch your lips, so eating from the same plate (as is the culture) is quite OK! A good injera eater will have clean fingers when finished. Try to achieve that next time you go to for Ethiopian food!
Since I love the food, I have prepared a few recipe collections for Ethiopian food. An introduction,including the national chicken dish, some vegetarian recipes, as well as how to prepare the injera and butter. It is really not too difficult to learn how to make this food, and it is so much worth it. It is really, really tasty!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ethiopia's Animals

Ethiopia has a wide range of wild-life. With a very diverse fauna, the wild-life also differs from the different parts of the country. The mountains in the northern parts, the desert areas and the fertile, green south.
It is also interesting to note that there are many endemic animals in Ethiopia. This means that they are native to the region, some of them are only found in Ethiopia. Among these we can mention the Walia Ibex, a mountain goat that is close to extintion. It lives in the mountainous regions in the north, but only a few hundred animals are left. One reason is that is poaching, but the other reason is a very common threat to animals everywhere. Man is changing the habitat, by means of deforestation and agriculture. In fact, even if the number of the Walia would increase, there is not much space for them. How terrible.
There are also many birds in Ethiopia, migrating ones and permanent. Out of the 800 species of birds, a very large number (29) are endemic. Just to mention a few: Blue-winged goose, White-tailed swallow and Abyssinian catbird.
A very popular animal name is Nyala. This is the name of an antelope, and the name is derived from Swahili and Zulu! The kind found in Ethiopia is also referred to as Mountain Nyala. One of the most common insurance companies in Ethiopia is called Nyala Insurance. There is also a restaurant with the name Nyala in Vancouver, which serves African food, and another one in Los Angeles!
Ethiopia is not so developed yet when it comes to safaris, but they are working on it. Word has it that the right to develop the National Parks is being given on a lease to foreigners. Hopefully this will mean more opportunities to see Ethiopia's fantastic wild-life at close range!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ethiopian proverbs

One thing that Ethiopians are well-known for is the use of proverbs. There are so many of them, and they are used daily. Especially old people like counselling the younger generation with an appropriate proverb. Some of them are a little bit off, using words and expression normally not mentioned in the Western world. But most of them are really good for all of us, regardless of where we live in the world.
Of course, sometimes we need to understand the country and the culture to really appreciate a saying. Even people reading the Bible have had this dilemma. In some languages there are no words for sheep, they don’t exist in that part of the world. How do you explain illustrations about a shepherd to these people? The same with Ethiopian proverbs, sometimes they mention situations that we have never heard of. This only makes it all more interesting, in my opinion!
Here is a selection of proverbs: ’After the hyena has gone, the dog barks’ , ’ The point of the needle must pass first’,’ Coffee and love taste best when hot’. Especially the last one is very good! To know when to use which proverb is not always easy. If you choose the wrong one, the whole meaning will change. But, on the other hand, you choose the right one- the point will be very clear!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Omo Valley

One place I really would like to visit in Ethiopia is the Omo Valley. There are many tribes living there who are truly unique. Nomads, cattle herders, with traditions that are so different from anywhere else.
An example is the Hamer people in the Southern Omo Valley. They are not many, a little over 40 000 and they are semi-nomadic. Since cattle is the most important thing to them, they make sure their cattle has enough pasture to graze. When this runs low, they simply up and go! Building a new village wherever they find good pasture grounds, staying there until this is exhausted. Usually a village is made up of some 20 huts, plus pens for the goats and cattle.
Even the initiation to become a man for the Hamer people involve cattle. A young man has to run across the backs of a row of cattle four times, naked, before he will be called a man and be able to marry. (If he falls down, he could be given a chance at another occasion.)
There are many tours operating to the Omo Valley, it is becoming a very popular place with tourists. The nature and wildlife down south is also very impressive, with hippos, crocodiles and an impressive birdlife.
At times the Omo Valley is not recommended for travelling because of tribal fighting, so it is good to check with the embassy before planning anything!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ethiopian Coffee

To have a cup of coffee in Ethiopia is truly an experience. Nothing like pressing a button and putting a cup under a machine! No, it is a whole ceremony, which can take hours.
To start with the coffee beans are washed with water. This will remove the husks, as well as any dirt. Then, they are slowly roasted on an iron plate put on a charcoal fire. All of this will be done in front of the guest. Slowly the whole room will be filled with the beautiful aroma of freshly roasted coffee. When the beans have got the right colour, the coffee will be pounded in a wooden kind of mortar into a powder. This is often done outside, it makes a lot of noice.
While the coffee is being pounded, the water is put on the fire in a small clay-pot with two spouts. One on top for putting the water and coffee, and one on the side for pouring the coffee. Sometimes popcorn are prepared before boiling the water. This is for the so-called Coffee Breakfast. Popcorn, roasted grain, or sometimes bread, is always served while waiting. These are eaten long before the coffee is ready, to keep you going while waiting! 
The coffee will now slowly boil in the clay-pot on the charcoal-fire. When ready, the pot will be put aside for a few minutes, allowing the grounds to settle in the bottom of the pot. The cups will be washed with water in front of the guest, sugar put in the cup, and the coffee poured to the brim. When you finish the cup will be collected and more coffee will be boiled by simply adding water to the pot. Naturally, this second cup will be weaker than the first. Three cups are often boiled, each with a different name. This is why it can take hours to have a cup of coffee- or three!
Ethiopian coffee is now available in many countries. Starbucks has different varieties for sale, and you can also find it in other shops. In the Ethiopian restaurants, a lady will often perform this ceremony to entertain the guests. Make sure you try this wonderful coffee!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Travelling to Ethiopia

My first time travelling to Ethiopia, I was so excited! After so many years of dreaming about going to Africa, I was finally on my way. We decided to visit a couple of neighbouring countries first, after travelling so far, and spending so much money, we wanted to get the most out of it.
When we came to Ethiopia, we first spent a few days in the capital, Addis Ababa. The civil war had ended less than two years earlier, with the dictator, Mengistu Hailemariam, ousted, and a new government installed. The country was still in a daze, people were worried about what the future would bring. And they were very tired after almost two decades of suffering.
Despite all of this, they received us in the most hospitable and caring way. Especially when we ventured out of the city, taking the bus to the other provinces. Some were so poor they lived in mud-huts. But we were invited in to drink a cup of yogurt, or eat a piece of dry bread. Nobody should be allowed to leave the village without proper hospitality.
This took place almost twenty years ago, but I still remember what a wonderful trip it was. A part of my heart was left in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is truly a unique country, with a very old culture. True, the country is changing, not only for the better. But a lot of the old values are still there, at least in the country-side. This country is so worth a visit!