Spain. Croatia. Burma, Thailand and Taiwan. These are a few of 2012’s top travel destinations but not being one for convention, I fly to Ethiopia tomorrow. From my initial research I’m already fascinated by this sub-Saharan country for several reasons. For starters the Rift Valley is known as the cradle of civilization and Ethiopia is home to Lucy’s 3.5-million-year-old bones. In an unassuming church in the northern town of Axum, I’ll find the Ark of the Covenant that Moses used to safeguard the God-given ten commandments. It’s arrival in Ethiopia is like the infamous Queen of Sheba’s visit to the court of King Solomon; legend and myth flirting with vague historical fact. Then there’s Ethiopian time-keeping for people like me who abhor constraints of custom and practice in marking time. Ethiopians shifted the start of their daily clock so what I think of as midnight will be 6:00AM; an Ethiopian year has 13-months and is based on a hybrid of Julian and Coptic calendars; the country only recently observed new year’s day 2004 (e.g. good luck getting picked up on-time from the airport but happily you’ll be eight years younger).
According to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’s official embassy website, there are many compelling reasons to hop a flight to capital city Addis Ababa. Truthfully I’m going to visit my dear friend Karin who joined the Peace Corps and is a volunteer on assignment for two years in Fitche, a small town 2800 meters (9000 feet) above sea level in the Ethiopian highlands. Listening to her stories safely perched in my cozy north London flat I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that’s shadowed with shame as I sip bottled water or worse, spritz with my beloved Avène re-hydration facial tonic—yes, I realize it’s only water spray but it’s calming and refreshing. Don’t judge me.
Historical and cultural highlights aside Ethiopia has serious economic woes and in England today there’s a highly publicized East African appeal due to the most recent drought and famine. I thought we did that, fixed that a while ago, but UK charities are on an emergency fund-raising campaign despite Ethiopia being one of the largest recipients of foreign aid with sketchy figures reaching up to 3.9 billion US dollars annually. In fact for decades Ethiopia’s collected millions upon billions and a mere 23% of this official development assistance money (ODA) is spent on humanitarian aid. With such a cash-rich pipeline of ODA what has been developed and how is Ethiopia still one of the five poorest countries in the world? Admittedly if I wasn’t personally sending aid in the form of glossy mags and sweets, my fleeting interest while skimming an article on the subject would probably last as long as my soy latte.
In Ethiopian current affairs, several tourists near the Eritrea border were attacked and abducted last week, five were killed. Although this bit of (under-reported) news has me in a state of semi-queasy anticipation neither the UK Foreign Office nor US State Department have issued travel restrictions except near the border regions. The FCO does mention a general threat of indiscriminate terrorism along with a reminder for foreigners to be vigilant at all times. Wonderful. I’m going anyway. I want to know more about Ethiopia. First though I’d like to find out what Ethiopian Air serves for their in-flight meal service (cue bad jokes from the 80s).
If you’re interested in reading about Karin’s life in Ethiopia, visit her blog: www.earningmykeep.com.