Who of us haven’t heard of Ethiopia and its everlasting dramatic situation? We barely know where exactly on the map Ethiopia is but most of us heard of its enormous problems. We’ve heard about celebrities visiting the country trying to rescue orphans or donation programmes to prevent poverty, hunger or lack of education. We all saw disturbing pictures of little kids. Ethiopia is not a paradise it’s true, but in many cases the common knowledge about this country is inaccurate, nebulous and misleading. There are three main misconceptions created by Western media when it comes to Ethiopia:
1. Ethiopia is a poor country and people are miserable.
UNO. Have you known that Ethiopia launched the first space programme in East Africa? That’s surprising for the poorest country in the world, isn’t it? US$3 million investment was set towards space exploration. Yes, it sounds ridiculous and was criticised by many especially taking into consideration that Ethiopia faces malnourishment and poverty among its own people. Nevertheless the space programme exists and proves that the concept of poverty can be very misleading.
DUE. Ethiopian Airlines is a pride of all Africa and was just voted the best airline in 2015 within the continent. Ethiopian was the third airline in the world (after two Japanese carriers) which started operating the-state-of-the-art Dreamliner 787 aircraft in 2012. Currently they have 13 787s operating in the fleet and around 6 more to come. Again the latest technology is the poorest country in the world.
TRE. I remember couple of years ago I was investigating the possibilities of getting to Danakil Depression. The quickest tour was a minimum of 10 days, involving some camel riding and trekking and sweating (not as a choice but as a must). With my tight schedule more than a week was way too time-consuming, so I had to postpone it many times. This year I did a research again and I was truly puzzled. Four days. Four days to cover Danakil Depression! It was very happy, four days is so much easier to spare from my schedule, so gladly I decided to make it happen. I confirmed with Ethio Travel and Tours the timings and yes it was 4 days! Only when I got there, I realised why the trip got shorten so unexpectedly. It was simply because of the road condition, which improved tremendously. We’ve been driving through some really excellent, German-style highways. I was really impressed! When I spoke to others who had visited Ethiopia many years ago, they said the road conditions had improved so much that it was hardly possible to recognise the country. Remarkable progress. Why did they build such a good highway? Who built it? I didn’t care at first, I was thankful about the results. Later on I found the answer to feed my own curiosity: the project was carried out by Chinese at a cost of over US$27 million to connect Ethiopia, Djibouti and Sudan for trading purposes. Impressive right?
2. There are many kids without access to food.
Ethiopia has become practically synonymous with famine, hunger and drought. The problem of Africa is not only hunger or access to food, the problem is malnutrition which means a difficult access to the quality food, the food that has enough of nutrients. Actually what children need is not just food but fortified food full of micronutrients and macronutrients that is very difficult to obtain in some regions of Ethiopia.
It is a burning problem and people do need help. Children are highly vulnerable to extreme weather conditions (drought, barely any rain etc) and lack of education doesn’t make it any easier. Nevertheless, even in that harsh environment like Dankil Depression I met happy, healthy kids, very polite and helpful. Those kids made me believe that not all over Ethiopia situation is as dramatic as we see it in mass media. Those little girls were a wonderful example that you can keep your smile on and manners on, even when life is hard on you. Truly unforgettable encounter, when the will to stay hopeful and cheerful is much stronger than any pain, discomfort or challenge.
3. Ethiopia is a dangerous and violent country.
It’s correct, Afar region and Danakil Depression doesn’t have the best reputation in the world. Known for previous kidnappings and attacks on tourist doesn’t really make it the most appealing place to go. Nevertheless, tour agencies make all the effort to protect tourism. Everyday when the group of tourist leaves the base in Mekele there are many precautions taken. Police is involved, military too, local people are spoken to and their rights are respected. I remember when we climbed the volcano at night, we were assisted by around 10-15 soldiers, fully armed and ready to protect us just in case. However as dramatic as it sounds the situation isn’t actually dramatic at all. I felt safe in Ethiopia. The tour guide gave a big credit to recent government which takes care of overall safety. I bet safety records improved in last couple of years and there should be little fear in going to Ethiopia. The truth is that nowhere is really safe these days and Ethiopia doesn’t impose much more risk than any other regular holiday. If you are curious about the country: go and explore!
4. It’s always hot in Africa
This is my favourite misconception, which I find myself a victim of way too often. Yes, also in my mind in Africa, and in Ethiopia in that case, it was always hot. What a surprise I had landing in the middle of the night when I heard the announcement ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we just landed at Addis Ababa International Airport, where the local time is 2 o’clock in the morning and the outside temperature is 4 degrees Celsius’. FOUR! With a guilt in my heart I secretly packed an airline blanket to survive that inhuman conditions. No, it is not always hot in Africa so be smarter than me: don’t assume, check the weather forecast and pack well.
I’m far from being an expert on Africa or Ethiopia, however even the short journey made me think about the country a lot. I found myself an ignorant in many aspects and I wanted to improve. I’ve started reading and promised myself to understand Ethiopia more. It is an amazing country full of surprises. Let me share some of them with you.
Interesting facts about Ethiopia:
- Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was never formally colonised! They defeated Italians twice.
- The Ethiopian calendar has 13 months (12 months of 30 days and a short month of 5 or 6 days, depending whether it’s a leap year) and it is 7 or 8 years behind the Western calendar—so it is currently 2008 in Ethiopia.
- Because of twisted calendar people celebrate New Year on September 11th and Christmas Eve on January 7th.
- Ethiopians measure time from when the sun rises and count time on the opposite side of the clock. When the sun rises at 6 o’clock it is said to be 12 o’clock – the start of the day in Ethiopia. Using watch — level hard.
- Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia.
- Lucy, the oldest human fossil, was found in Ethiopia in 1974.
- Taking about aviation and pride in women: Ethiopian female pilot Asegedech Assefa is the first African female to fly an airplane
That’s the end of my Ethiopian adventures, I’m sure I’ll come back for more. Hopefully next time I’ll go to Omo Valley and to see the churches. There’s so much more to explore there! It’s a country of beautiful people and exciting nature. What about you? Have you been to Ethiopia? I’d love t hear your thoughts. X