|Traditional dancers at Habesha Restaurant.|
Despite often depressing reports emanating from Ethiopia, there are many fine things to be enjoyed there as PETER MUIRURI found out
The air was heavy with clouds when the Ethiopian Airlines plane landed at Bole International Airport. However, any dull moments were immediately banished the moment I stepped in the clean, ultra modern, glass clad terminal building that could easily be mistaken for a Five-star hotel by a first time visitor.
Being Kenyan and thus in no need of a visitorâs visa, I was plucked out of a long queue of visa applicants and cleared in a matter of minutes, much to the consternation of those waiting. Courteous airport staff helped with luggage without expecting anything in return.
The famed hospitality of Ethiopians was already on display here. As I struggled to exhibit mutual feelings, my conversation here began and ended with the only Amharic word I had mastered from Selamta, the in-flight magazine â amesegeânalloâ, thank you. Nevertheless, I would need more than this single phrase to navigate my way around Addis Ababa, or ânew flowerâ in the local dialect.
Ethiopia is a country that has in the past been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Enduring images of hunger stricken citizens were beamed across the globe courtesy of the late renowned Kenyan photographer Mohamed Amin. If it is not hunger, then it is the never-ending friction with its eastern neighbour, Eritrea, in a conflict that cost thousands of human life.
In this din of depressive reports, a few superlatives about the country have been ignored, things that I discovered in my recent visit to the country.
As your history teacher told you, Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the most populous. In fact, it is among those with the oldest civilisations in the world, dating back thousands of years before Christ. With close to 80 distinct ethnic groups, Ethiopia is perhaps one of the countries in Africa that takes great pride in the preservation of its age old culture.
Take music for example. Addis Ababa, the capital seems to be the melting pot and custodian of the countryâs rich heritage.
In every one of the many entertainment joints that I visited, local music was the in thing. Live bands outdid each other belting out Amharic, Tigray or Orominya tunes much to the delight of patrons.
Â In Habesha Restaurant along Bole Road, various local artistes put on eccentric shows that required little prompting for patrons to jump on stage, never mind that Ethiopian tongues are not the easiest to comprehend. As my guide on the visit put it, â Ethiopian lyrics sound the same till you listen to the pulsating beat.â How I wished our local eateries would replicate this and play Kenyaâs traditional music that as of now seems to be the preserve of the Bomas of Kenya.
Music is not the only glue that binds Ethiopians together. As a Kenyan, you may not have given much thought as to how you partake of your food and drink. Not so in Ethiopia. As I found out, a simple task such as taking coffee is wrought with many customs.