Rooting For Ethiopia In The Africa Cup Of Nations

Africa Cup of Nations, logoOne of the byproducts of travel is that you become more aware of events that don’t get much coverage back home. The sports pages here in Spain, for example, aren’t exactly full of stories about the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.

This continent-wide football championship, starting today in South Africa, is sure to be watched by millions of Africans. I’m especially curious as to the public reaction in Ethiopia. I’ve traveled a lot in that fascinating East African nation and I know they’re crazy about football – European football.

You see Real Madrid and Manchester United jerseys everywhere, and every village has a beat up old Foosball table painted in the colors of popular European teams. Yet Ethiopians seem singularly blind to their own football teams. I spent hours trying to hunt down an Ethiopian National Team shirt for my son, only to be told that they aren’t made in children’s sizes.

The kids don’t want them.

Hopefully that’s all about to change. Ethiopia has qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations finals for the first time since 1982. They haven’t won since 1962. With that kind of record, you can understand why the fans have been less than enthusiastic. Their first game is against Zambia on January 21. Zambia has a FIFA ranking of 34; Ethiopia’s is 102. It’s going to be a tough match.

My son and I are going to be rooting for Ethiopia. We’ll be sitting at home here in Spain watching it on the computer, urging on the Ethiopian team as crowds in cafes and bars across Ethiopia will be going crazy. It’s going to be a nice way to reconnect with my favorite country to travel in.

Hey, if a guy from Addis Ababa can be an Arsenal fan without ever having been to England, I can be an Ethiopia fan, right?

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

The Death Of A Good Travel Companion

travel, travel companion, HararThis week I learned the sad news that a friend and coworker in Harar, Ethiopia, had died. Mohammed Jami Guleid helped me out countless times while I explored the Horn of Africa. If you enjoyed my series on Somaliland or Harar, you have him to thank.

I first met “Dake,” as everyone called him, on my first visit to Harar in eastern Ethiopia as I was searching for a way to get to Somaliland, the breakaway northern region of Somalia. Everyone told me to meet with Dake. He was a Somali who had made Harar his home and had many contacts on both sides of the border. Within days I was riding through the desert with a couple of his relatives on my way to Somaliland. It was one of the best adventures of my life.

From that point our working relationship grew. Dake was an expert on Somali and Harari culture. He even wrote a book titled “Harar: A Cultural Guide.” My signed edition sits next to me as I write.

We meet lots of people on our travels. Most of them soon fade into the past, remembered only in old photographs and journal entries. Others last through a few emails and postcards before they, too, become memories. Only a few become lasting friends.

That was easy with Dake. He had an open, relaxed manner and was always quick with a joke. His deep interest in Harar’s history and architecture was infectious. Once he woke me up at five in the morning so we could photograph the town’s winding medieval alleys as the sun rose. I didn’t mind, even when his insistence on getting “one more shot” kept me from my morning coffee for far longer than I liked.travel companion, travel, HararHere he is in the narrowest of Harar’s alleys, called Megera Wa Wiger Uga, “The Street of Peace and Quarrel.” In local tradition you have to speak to anyone you pass here, even if you’re angry with them and aren’t otherwise talking with them. Since it connects two busy areas, a lot of people pass through this alley and a lot of arguments get resolved.

Dake had been an outsider to Harar once himself, so he sympathized with my efforts to adjust to the local culture. He was always ready to help out with advice at a moment’s notice and saved me from more than one cultural blunder. Having an insider who knows what it’s like to be an outsider is invaluable when studying a new place.

We also explored Ethiopia’s Somali region. Dake had big hopes of developing the region’s tourism potential as a way to expand his own tourism business while helping his people.

When we weren’t working at documenting eastern Ethiopia’s heritage, we spent many relaxed hours at birtchas or spinning tales in local cafes. Friendships can be fleeting when you’re traveling, but Dake and I became good friends and kept up a regular correspondence when I was back in Europe.

When you make a real friendship on the road, treasure it. Keep in contact and head on back to see them. I wish I had made it back to Harar at least one more time while he was still alive. As the list of my friends who have died relentlessly lengthens, I find myself more appreciative of those I still have, and more determined to pack as much life into the years left to me before my own inevitable end.

Authors note: my pay for this post will be donated to Glimmer of Hope, an NGO working to help Ethiopia’s children. Dake had a son about the same age as mine so I think he’d appreciate it.

Amazing 3-D Laser Scan Of Lalibela Rock-Hewn Churches In Ethiopia


Of all the incredible monuments in Ethiopia, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are by far the most impressive. Starting in the 12th century A.D., Ethiopian rulers dug a series of churches out of the solid bedrock.

This architecture-in-reverse creates a bizarre and otherworldly scene. As you walk along the exposed rock, you come across giant holes in the stone filled with churches. Narrow steps take you down into the pits, where you’ll find some welcome shade from the powerful African sun. Enter the churches and you’ll come upon pilgrims and priests studying the Kebra Nagast and Bible by the dim light steaming in through stone grills high in the walls. Further in the gloom, you’ll spot the gleam of elaborate gold and silver crosses as incense wafts through the air.

Now the churches have been scanned using 3-D laser technology. The World Monuments Fund sponsored the scan along with University of Cape Town in order to better understand the layout and look for any potential problems in its preservation.

Interested in reading more about Ethiopia? It makes a great adventure travel destination. Check out my series on my Ethiopian road trip and my two months living in Harar.

Video Of The Day: ‘Samsara’ Captures Imagery From Across The Globe


Today’s Video of the Day is an exclusive clip from “Samsara,” a new movie featuring mesmerizing scenes from more than 20 countries. Filmed over a period of five years, the footage covers sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial sites and natural wonders, demonstrating that human’s life cycle mirrors that of the rest of the planet. The film’s title is a Sanskrit word meaning “the ever turning wheel of life.”

Although it is a documentary, Samsara has no dialogue or descriptive text. Instead, the viewer is encouraged to find inspiration from the images on screen and musical score in order to make their own interpretations. Director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson sought out to make the film in order to capture the “elusive current of interconnection that runs through our lives.” In other words, the filmmakers hoped to encapsulate the essence of a subject, not just its physical presence. They traveled across the globe in order to make the film, including the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, a village in Ethiopia, Chateau de Versailles in France, and a doll factory in Japan.

Samsara will be shown on the big screen in select cities starting Friday, August 24. For a full schedule of screenings in the United States, click here. You can also watch the theatrical trailer after the jump.

Skype Banned In Ethiopia, Punishable By 15 Years In Prison

Skype, EthiopiaA new law passed in Ethiopia has banned Voice Over Internet Protocol services such as Skype, Al Jazeera reports. Use of such services is punishable by large fines and up to 15 years in prison. The law was passed with little fanfare on May 24 but has only just become noticed by international media.

The government-owned Ethio Telecom has a monopoly on telecommunications but the country is filled with cybercafes where people can make low-cost phone calls over the Internet. Ethiopians complain that Ethio Telecom’s international calling rates are unaffordable and Internet calls are their only option. This move blocks such competition.

Another probable reason for the move is to quash internal dissent. Several ethnic groups such as the Oromo and Somalis have armed independence groups inside Ethiopia. These groups get support from abroad and so the government may be trying to cut their lines of communication and funding.

Use of the Tor Project online anonymity provider has also been banned.

Having spent several months in Ethiopia in 2010 and 2011, and being in regular contact with people in the country since, I can attest to the difficulty in using the Internet there. Service is slow, and sometimes gets cut off entirely when there’s a skirmish with one of the rebel groups or a meeting at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. These cutoffs are invariably called “equipment malfunctions.”

Emails from abroad often don’t make it to people in Ethiopia. Those with business licenses always seem to get their email, but private citizens often don’t. Ethiopians have told me this is because of government security fears. Many people use Facebook for email because the government can’t block direct messages on the site. I myself have resorted to using Facebook for most of my communication with Ethiopian friends and colleagues.

And in case you’re wondering, our emails have nothing that could possibly be construed as a security risk. Emails about archaeology, historic preservation and simple hellos have gone missing. This is a shame because Ethiopia has a growing educated class that has a lot to say and is thirsty for contact and information from the outside world. Opening up the lines of communications could very well bring on an Ethiopian renaissance from which we’d all benefit.

Ethiopia’s government bills itself as a bastion of democratic stability in an unstable region and as an ally in the War on Terror, but laws such as this show that the current regime is anything but democratic.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]