Twelve random observations about Ethiopia

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been posting a series of articles about travel in Ethiopia. I’m about halfway through but I have some observations that don’t fit into anywhere but would be of interest to people considering a trip there. So here are a dozen facts about one of Africa’s most interesting countries.

1. When kids see you they’ll often shout out “Farenj!” (Foreigner!) It’s not meant in a bad way, and they’ll break into peals of laughter if you respond with “Habasha!” (Ethiopian!) This usually leads to a schoolbook conversation in English and much shaking of sticky hands.

Ethiopians love Facebook. At any one time at least half of the people in Internet cafes are using it.

Male friends will often hold hands or walk with their arms around each other’s shoulders, but homosexuality is frowned upon.

English-language newspapers are easy to find in the capital Addis Ababa, and virtually impossible to find anywhere else.

5. Some hotel restaurants will give foreigners menus listing only imitations of Western dishes, assuming they’re not interested in “National Food”. I recommend the “Papered Steak”.

Obama is incredibly popular here and everywhere else in Africa. There are Obama hotels, Obama electronics shops, even a brand of Obama ballpoint pens.

7. Harar Elephant Sanctuary has only one road, and the elephants avoid it.

8. Western charities bring over huge shipments of secondhand t-shirts from the West, so you’ll see Ethiopians wearing shirts advertising the Lake Champlain Monster, “Canada, Eh!”, and “John Kerry for President of France”.

9. Unattractive, poor, old, and handicapped characters are much more common on Ethiopian television than Western TV. Apparently Ethiopian drama isn’t afraid of reflecting reality.

Ethiopians generally don’t eat dessert with their meals, but don’t despair. There are lots of Italian-style pastry shops.

11. Amesaygenalo is the Amharic word for “thank you.” At six syllables it’s the longest word for thank you I’ve ever come across. I like a culture that doesn’t rush its thank yous.

. Ethiopia has a different calendar. Right now it’s the year 2002. The calendar has thirteen months and the day starts at six in the morning. The Ethiopian Tourism Ministry’s motto is, “Thirteen months of Sunshine” and one tour operator has the motto, “Come to Ethiopia and feel eight years younger!”

Next time: Lalibela, Ethiopia’s ancient jewel!