Archive for the ‘Ethiopia’ Category

More of Addis

Monday, March 10th, 2014



After travelling to the north and the south of Addis with the tour (note the map), we wanted to explore more of Addis Ababa itself.  We finished our work archiving MCC files several days early so we spent the last couple days of visiting sites in Addis.

We started our exploration by walking around the neighborhood.  The house is located down a small rocky road on the side of a hill.  At the top of the hill (about a 20-25 minute walk) is an Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

One afternoon we walked from the office to Meskel Square and on to the “Red Terror” museum.  Meskel Square was important in the days of the Derg for that is where there were large military review parades.  It is now a big bus/taxi station.  The Derg (1974-91) was the socialist-inspired Military Coordinating Committee that ruled the country after the arrest of Emperor Haile Selassie.  During Selassie’s time and during the Derg there were thousands of people killed.  The “Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum” is in honor of all those killed.  It was a sobering visit.

African Union (AU)

African Union (AU)

A highlight visit was to the new buildings for the African Union which were completed in 2012.  What an impressive building!  We were able to visit the grand hall which holds 2500 people and some of the smaller meeting halls. Ethiopia has been a center for the promotion of pan-Africanism since the early 1960’s.

We visited Addis Ababa Museum and Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies.  Both quite interesting.  Addis Ababa Museum is housed in a former royal residence.  There was a collection of old ceremonial and official clothes, documents, photos, artifacts.  Imposing paintings of Emperor Menelik II and his wife Empress Taitu greeted us upon entering.  Menelik II is considered the founder of modern day Addis. 

The Museum of Ethiopian Studies is housed in the former palace of Emperor Haile Selassie on the grounds of the University of Addis Ababa.  The first floor is dedicated to artifacts of the daily life of Ethiopian peoples from birth to death.  The second floor is a selection of Ethiopian crosses and icons dating back to the Middle Ages. 

We ended our exploring by eating a samosa from a street vendor, visiting the nearby leprosy and TB hospital gift shop, and riding in the ever-popular bajaj.

The travel home was tiring  with little sleep during the 44 hours from Saturday morning until late Sunday night (with 7 hour time change).  And we arrived to snow after experiencing perfect weather for 2 months—warm and sunny.  But its good to be home!




Ethiopia files

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Our work here in Ethiopia has been much the same as Uganda and Tanzania—except that we started with more!  We had been told there was a shipping container of files which was the reason we planned on three weeks here.  There were actually 48 boxes and very well organized.  We were able to go through the material quicker than we expected.  We ended up with only 4 boxes to be sent to Akron archives.

We lived with the country reps.  They had a lovely garden with a resident tortoise and two friendly dogs.  We very much enjoyed learning to know them and the local office staff.  We laughed together and learned from each other.  Every day we had morning tea together.  We also had lunch together at noon and went to a nearby small café for coffee afterwards.  Ethiopian coffee is excellent!  At the café we saw the various spices being dried that are used to make berbere which is used in Ethiopian cooking.  We were also invited to one of the staff’s home for a meal.  We ate injera every Tuesday at the office and had several other opportunities to eat traditional Ethiopian food when we were out and about.  Excellent!

We were able to visit two MCC projects.  We visited a nursery/kindergarten school in Nazaret.   It was fun to be in a school again; however, we would have liked to correct some of the English which was painted on the walls.  We visited a tutoring project with students affected by HIV Aids.  They provide tutoring on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Saturdays for 200 children ranging from 4-20 years of age.

Most evenings we relaxed and played games with our hosts and others who happened to be staying at their house.

Experience Ethiopia Tour – Part 3

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Our tour spent several days in the capital, Addis Ababa.  We visited the former Good Shepherd School.  This had been the Mennonite school in Addis for missionary children for many years.  The daughters of the missionary couple with us on this tour had attended here.  They were excited to be able to visit the site 40 years later; though disappointed in the absence of manicured lawns and many flower beds that they had remembered from their time.  The school was taken over by the government and is now being used for military training.

We also visited the headquarters of the Meserete Kristos (Mennonite) Church located in the former Addis Mennonite Guest House.  The offices are in the midst of a big building project.  We climbed to the top where we could look out and see the first Mennonite church nearby, now part of a school.  It is interesting to be up close to a construction project and see methods used here.  We saw other building projects all over Addis.

We visited Sabahar Enterprise which is a silk weaving project.  Worms are imported from India; local farmers raise them and bring the cocoons to the project.  The silk is spun, dyed, and woven.

Lunch one day was at Selam Children’s Village, an orphanage which has grown quite large.  They have occupational training for the older students.  One aspect is learning to cook, wait tables, and run a restaurant.  Every noon they serve a 6-course meal which they have prepared with products from their own gardens.  The delicious meal consisted of

            Appetizer – chopped eggs on toast

            Soup – cream of chicken

            Salad – lettuce, etc

            Entre – cooked vegetables, rice, and meat stew

            Dessert – a cream pudding




Another excursion was up Entoto mountain which overlooks the city.  When the capital first moved to Addis in the 1880’s, Menelik II built his palace here.  We toured the remains of the palace and saw the outside of the church where he was crowned.  We were not allowed inside.  We did visit the inside of Raguel’s Orthodox Church nearby which has beautiful paintings.

We enjoyed an evening at a restaurant with a wide variety of Ethiopian foods and music and dance.  We spent a short time in the National Museum where we saw bone replicas of “Lucy” – 3.2 million years old fossil.  There were also displays of everyday items from Ethiopian culture.  On the lawn outside the museum were a number of sculptures, including ones of Haile Selassie and an Orthodox bishop killed by the Derg (communist government) but now considered a martyr. 

Orthodox church inside

Orthodox church inside

Early Sunday morning we attended part of a service at the large Medhane Alem Orthodox Church.  The service was, of course, all in Amharic but it was good to be there.  Men and women sit separately and nearly everyone wears a white shawl.  Women must cover their heads.  Later that morning we attended the large Mennonite Church in Addis.  We ended our tour with a light supper at the MCC house, hearing about their program in Ethiopia.  Sally Jo also celebrated her birthday with the group.

Experience Ethiopia Tour – Part 2

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

After our trip towards the south we spent two nights in Addis Ababa (more later) and then flew north to visit historical sites in Axum, Lalibela, and Gondar.

Axum was the capital of a vast territory that stretched from Sudan across to Yemen for thousands of years (B.C.).  Axum is only 35 km from present-day Eritrea.  According to oral tradition, Ethiopia was settled by Ethiopic, the great-grandson of Noah.  Ethiopic’s son, Aksumai, founded the capital of Axum and also a dynasty of rulers that lasted for between 52 and 97 generations. 

Queen of Sheba palace ruins

Queen of Sheba palace ruins

The last and greatest of these monarchs was Queen Makeda who lived in the 11th and 10th centuries BC.  Today we know Queen Makeda as the Queen of Sheba.  The Ethiopian version of the story is an intriguing tale which suggests that Ethiopian royalty has descended from a union between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The Queen returned to Axum and gave birth to their son Menelik.  At the age of 22 Menelik returned to Jerusalem and stayed for 3 years.  There is a more lengthy story but, in short, when he left Jerusalem he “stole” the Ark of the Covenant and took it to Axum where it is now located.  The story of the Ark is very important in Ethiopian Orthodox as it has travelled to several spots in Ethiopia during times of turmoil.  Every Orthodox church has a replica which is brought out in the public during important days—but no one is allowed to see the original ark.  We visited Queen of Sheba’s palace and also her bath located 9 kms from her palace.  Another important person was King Ezana who brought Christianity to Axum in the 4th century AD from Alexandria.  The Axumite kingdom was also notable for introducing Ge’ez, the first universal written language in Africa.  This language was used in church writing and manuscripts until the 19th century and spawned the Amharic language.  The dynasty beginning with Menelik continued to Haile Selassie in the 20th century AD. 

On a hilltop about 2km north of Axum we visited two underground tombs of Emperor Kaleb and his son and successor Gebre Meskel who both ruled in 6th century AD.  We also looked in on the tunnel that these people had dug from Axum to the Red Sea—a length of 294 km with a shaft every 20 metres.

St Mary of Zion church

St Mary of Zion church

We visited the Cathedral of Tsion Maryam (St Mary of Zion) in Axum which was built by Haile Selassie in the 1950s.  It is on this compound that supposedly the Tabot or Ark of the Covenant is kept.  The wall frescos were beautiful.  They had an old Bible with beautiful paintings.  Near the Cathedral is the stelae field with enormous stelae, each carved from single blocks of limestone– some up to 25 metres high and up to 500 tons.  One wonders how they ever were erected.  They were built to mark tombs. 

Lalibela is an isolated town high in the mountains and is famed for its rock-hewn churches.  Lalibela was the capital of Ethiopia from the 10th century to the mid 13th century.  King Lalibela was inspired to carve these churches in a period of 24 years gathering craftsmen and artisans.  Legend has it that at least one of the churches was built in a day with the help of angels.  Other sources say it would have taken 40,000 people to carve them.  They were carved from the top down and some were quite intricate for stone carvings.

St George church

St George church

There is much symbolism in the churches and their placement.  There are three groups of churches—the first group represent the earthly realm, the second group represent heavenly paradise, and the third represents Noah’s Ark and is dedicated to St George.  “Jordan River” runs between the first and second group of churches.  To enter the heavenly group of churches one enters a 50-foot tunnel.  It was completely dark and we felt our way by touching one side of the tunnel.  The story is that one can feel how hard it is to enter heaven! 

 Gondar was the capital of Ethiopia during the 17th and 18th centuries.  We visited Fasiledes Castle built by King Fasiledes the founder of Gondar.  The complex contains six castles, some connecting tunnels and raised walkways and several smaller buildings.  Some of the buildings were partially destroyed during World War II and some were partially restored through UNESCO funding.

Fasiledes Castle

Fasiledes Castle

Fasilida’s Pool is a sunken bathing pool.  It is referred to as a swimming pool but is dry except during the Timkat or Epiphany Festival (18-20 January).  At that time thousands of white-robed worshippers converge around the pool where they are blessed and swim or are sprinkled with its holy water.  Banyan trees from Cambodia grow along several of the high walls.

There are said to be 44 churches in Gonder but most of the original buildings were destroyed in 1888 when Gonder was attacked by the Dervish of Sudan.  The only Gonderine church that escaped entirely untouched was Debre Birhan Selassie (“Mountain of the Enlightened Trinity”), saved from the Dervish by the intervention of a swarm of bees – so says legend. 

When we visited the Selassie Church a funeral was being performed.  Masses of people were chanting on the road (along with the casket) when we arrived.  Then the men went through the gate to the courtyard.  More chanting and a trip around the church carrying the casket.  During this time, a group of men with instruments were in the doorway of the church “singing.”  The

Gondar sunset

Gondar sunset

bright umbrellas were fascinating.  The church itself is known for the prolific paintings inside.  All walls and ceiling were covered with various scenes from the Life of Christ and of saints. 

Supper was at a hotel in Gondar above the town with a gorgeous sunset to the west and a full moon to the east.  (Sally Jo finds the history of Ethiopia fascinating and has a hard time being succinct!)


Experience Ethiopia Tour – Part 1

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

We took time out from our work with MCC to join the “Experience Ethiopia Tour.”  There are 12 participants plus 2 couples jointly leading it.  The group is varied.  One couple and two of their adult daughters are with them.  They worked in Ethiopia in the early 1970s and the daughters attended school here during that time.  We have been able to visit the hospital where they worked and the school they attended.  There is a young pastor and his wife from western Canada who have never been to Africa.  There is another woman our age who has worked with MCC in various parts of Africa but had not been to Ethiopia.  And then there is the couple close to our age who were very good friends with Ron’s parents; it has been fun to learn to know them.  

The first half of the tour was a bus trip to areas south of Addis Ababa emphasizing the work of the Meserete Kristos (Mennonite) Church and the history of the Mennonite missionaries in the area. 

entrance to college

entrance to college

We first went to the Bible College about 1 ½ hours south of Addis and stayed two nights.  The college moved to this spot from Addis in 2006.  We met professors and had lunch with students.  We climbed a hill behind the college and took a short walk to a nearby lake where there were hundreds of marabou storks and flamingos.  We had supper in one of the homes of the staff.

We continued traveling south to Awasa in the great Rift Valley and visited several more MK churches, heard about their work, and saw their building projects.  We stopped to see birds at a lake.  We visited an MCC-partnered project in reforestation.  We ate lunch in a small Ethiopian restaurant in a rural village. 



In contrast we stayed in a very nice hotel by Lake Awasa.  When we arrived at the hotel we realized that an interfaith conference was being held that included Orthodox, Muslims, and Evangelicals.  During the bus trip we were able to see life in the countryside.  We saw many “hay stacks” of the teff grain, a staple ingredient in enjira, the sourdough crepe-like bread served with most Ethiopian meals. We saw many of the three-wheeled blue and white “taxis.”

Our last day in this southern part of the tour was spent in Nazaret where Mennonite missionaries first began working in Ethiopia in 1945.  We visited the former Mennonite hospital and the former Bible Academy—both of which were taken over by the government during the DERG (communist government, 1974 – 1991) and have not been returned.  We attended church in the first MK church which has greatly expanded since the early days. 

We visited an orphanage run by members of the church where we saw them making ingera over a wood fire and were served coffee in the traditional manner.

Addis Ababa

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Recently we travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for EARM (East Africa Representatives Meeting).  These semi-annual meetings bring together MCC reps from Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, as well as our Associate Directors for East Africa.  Two administrators from Akron, PA  also joined us.  The meetings were good and productive.  It’s always good to hear what is happening in the other countries and know that we are not alone in our joys and frustrations.  (And Sally Jo got to hold the “newest” member of the EARM family – 6 weeks old.)

With meetings for two-and-half days we did not see much of Addis or the surroundings.  However, the view from our hotel room on the 5th floor did give us a small view of the city and our immediate neighborhood—including cattle and sheep passing by in the morning.  And did you know that Addis is at an altitude of 7,600 feet?  Our hearts got a good exercise every time we climbed the stairs.

Our final afternoon was free so we joined a group that took a short trip up the mountain behind the hotel.  On the way we stopped to see an MCC project in jewelry making.  This is an income-generating project for women living with AIDS.  It was a Saturday so the women were not there but we saw the beautiful jewelry which is sold through Ten Thousand Villages and also through some high-end U.S. stores.  The beads are made from melted-down bullet casings.  We then visited one of these women who made tea for us and spoke about her struggles.  We had a short hike up the hill and looked out over the city.

In the evening we went to an Ethiopian Restaurant with that wonderful spicy food served with injera, a thin light bread, for which Ethiopia is known. The food was accompanied by drinks that included Ethiopian honey wine and delicious Ethiopian coffee. It was all tops!  For our entertainment and enjoyment there was traditional dancing and singing.