Ethiopia is by far the most unique country we have visited thus far. Because it was never conquered (except briefly by Mussolini as part of World War II) it has maintained many of its own traditions in the face of modernity. We may have struggled with the food, with some of the locals, but much of this modern day culture, steeped in ancient tradition, is downright fascinating.
Religion: Ethiopia has it’s own brand of religion, where the practiced Christianity is far older and more closely aligned with the Old Testament. The Emperor’s of Ethiopia are believed to be descendant of King Solomon and so the familiar Star of David (that’s the Jewish Star) is literally everywhere. When walking through the churches of Lalibela the chanting of the priests made me feel as though I was touring parts of the old city of Jerusalem rather than a church. The best part was when I purchased two Stars of David and the men just referred to it as the Axium (an ancient capital city) cross.
Time: This is just downright confusing to Westerners. In Ethiopian time the day begins at 6am on our clock rather than midnight on our clock. That means that the sun rises at 11pm or 23:00. Most buses leave at midnight (6am our time) but you need to be there by 11:30. So basically you need to know that your morning bus is actually 6 hours earlier than the time written on your ticket.. Noontime is 6 and sun sets around 12. The nice thing is that the clock counts up all day long and one you’re used to it, it actually makes things easier as the entire day is AM and the entire night is PM, not that the Ethiopians actually use AM or PM to distinguish, however.
Date: Yup, they do that differently as well. They are 7 years and eight months behind us. It was 2002 the entire time we were there because their new year doesn’t come until September. (Remind anyone of Judaism?) Naturally they use differently named months and as well but the difference between the two calendars is that when the rest of the Western world switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which periodically has been edited by popes for various religious purposes, the Ethiopians stuck with their Coptic (based on an Egyptian system) calendar. This means that there are 12 months of 13 days with a 13th month added every four years without exception. (You might remember we skipped a leap year in the year 2000 meaning my cousin who was born on leap year had to wait 8 years between birthdays.)
Every time we did anything here we did so with a bit of a double take. Never sure if we were right or wrong we always needed to find someone bilingual to ensure we did it right. It was confusing and it was different and that made it all part of the adventure. Having said that, if I see another injera before the 2011 I, well it won’t be pretty.