First in Service News

Exploring Ethiopia

  • Askum basket market
  • Young woman from Hamer tribe
  • Prayer time in Doze highlands
  • On the way to Lalibela's mountain churches
  • Hamer tribesman
  • Young girl at Hamer market
  • Traditional Ethiopian meal
  • Mursi woman
  • Villages near Lalibela
  • Ethiopian coffee ceremony

On their seventh trip to Africa, F1S clients Javier de Frutos and Susan From chose Ethiopia to explore what they love best – learning how indigenous people live. Over 16 days, the independent travelers trekked the historic North, abundant in ancient rock-carved churches (some argue that Ethiopia was the first Christian country) and then to the South, where the majority of ethnic tribes live.

“Ethiopia is undeservedly overlooked when it comes to tourism,” notes Susan. As she and her husband discovered, the ancient land is rich in fascinating history and culture.  It is where coffee originated. It is often considered the cradle of civilization. It has the most UNESCO world heritage sites – nine in total. And today, it’s one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

After a quick overnight in the bustling capital Addis Ababa, online the couple flew to the North, considered tourism’s “historic circuit.” First stop was the ancient capital of Aksum, home of the legendary Queen of Sheba. The Queen’s palace remains as do the famous giant obelisks that tower over the town’s northeast side. Javier notes, “Our local guide explained how important the site is for religious pilgrims. Everyone dresses in white to attend church. It was very moving.”

Lalibela is an hour-and-a-half flight from Aksum. As the eighth wonder of the world, the medieval capital is the star attraction of the North. The team spent two days touring the ancient monolithic churches high in the hills surrounding the city. The highlight was Bet Giyogis, named for Saint George, the country’s patron saint.

Heading southward, the couple hired a driver to accompany them along the rest of the trip. A six –hour drive from Addis Ababa stands the fortified city of Harar. “Entering the walled city, and getting lost in the market was an enchanting walk back in time,” notes Javier. “The town has a tremendous mix of cultures, even the country’s highest Muslim population. But everyone lived in total harmony. It was very heartwarming.”

Their final major destination was the Omo Valley, home to 46 ethnic groups alone. They spent time with three isolated tribes: the Mursi, the Hamer, and the Dorze. Each tribe had markedly different physical characteristics. Mursi women are among those known for their decorative lip plates, a custom which takes place when a girl turns 15 or 16. Women from the Hamer tribe are distinguished by the traditional red clay applied to their skin and hair. The Dorze are well known cotton weavers, famous for their colorful cloth and beehive huts.

“We are so drawn to tribal life, and learning how tradition and customs are the driving force behind lifestyles.” explains Susan. “We noticed well defined roles for men and women. In general, men were the shepherds. Women tended to the market and were responsible for retrieving water – walking miles for it. Outer beauty, however, is very important for both sexes. They both use adornments, beading and body modification to enhance their looks.”

Coffee ceremonies are one of the most recognizable traditions of Ethiopian culture. Naturally, a highlight was an invitation by a tribal chief’s wife to a coffee ceremony, a mark of friendship. The ritual is passed on from generation to generation, and involves every step from the grinding of the beans to the drinking of the coffee. Susan smiles and adds, “They were really gracious. We were constantly impressed by how warm, polite and respectful everyone was.”

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