The short bus ride from Awasa to Addis included a stop in Shashemene, a place with an interesting history as the ‘homeland’ of the Rastafarians. Wikipedia provides a brief description of Rastafarianism:
The Rastafari movement (also known as Rastafari, or simply Rasta) is a new religious movement that accepts Haile Selassie I, the former Emperor of Ethiopia, as God incarnate, called Jah or Jah Rastafari. He is also seen as part of the Holy Trinity as the messiah promised in the Bible to return. The name Rastafari comes from Ras (literally “Head,” an Ethiopian title equivalent to Duke), and Tafari Makonnen, the pre-coronation name of Haile Selassie I
And then later on explains the connection with Shashemene:
Haile Selassie I had already met with several Rasta elders in Addis Ababa in 1961, giving them gold medals, and had allowed West Indians of African descent to settle on his personal land in Shashamane in the 1950s. The first actual Rastafarian settler, Papa Noel Dyer, arrived in September 1965, having hitch-hiked all the way from England. Haile Selassie visited Jamaica on April 21, 1966. Somewhere between one and two hundred thousand Rastafari from all over Jamaica descended on Kingston airport having heard that the man whom they considered to be God was coming to visit them. They waited at the airport smoking a great amount of cannabis and playing drums. When Haile Selassie arrived at the airport he delayed disembarking from the aeroplane for an hour until Mortimer Planno, a well-known Rasta, personally welcomed him. From then on, the visit was a success. Rita Marley, Bob Marley’s wife, converted to the Rastafari faith after seeing Haile Selassie; she has stated that she saw stigmata appear on his person, and was instantly convinced of his divinity.
Read the rest of the Wikipedia article here.
Several dozen Rasta families still call Shashemene their home. As Tedy explained, most Ethiopians these days think the Rastas are a bit silly to consider their former king a divine figure and frown upon the cultivation and use of cannabis. Since we stopped in Shashemene for only an hour or so, I didn’t get the chance to meet any locals.
When we arrived in Addis, Tedy took me to his parents’ home in the outer eastern district of Altad. Although he referred to the area as a village, it was completely urban. He led me through several dark unpaved alleys on the way to his place. I’ll admit that I was feeling a little nervous about being led into an area where foreigners rarely tread by a stranger whom I had just met the day before, but everything turned out fine.
Tedy’s place was three small, externally identical, free-standing concrete rooms in a little yard sealed off by a corrugated steel wall. I greeted his mother, his father, his sister and her husband, and played with his little niece. They set out some pillows and a blanket for me on a sofa, which was pushed into the corner of one of the rooms underneath a large shrine to the virgin mary, complete with electric candles. I dropped off my bags, then we set out for dinner and a night on the town.
Tedy took me to a part of town nicknamed “Chechniya” (he couldn’t explain why nor could i figure it out). Its a safe but slightly seedy district and thus perfect for cheap drinks a late night out. We hit a few bars and then went to a restaurant hosting an Ethiopian singer and some traditional dancers. We split a bottle of tej - a traditional Ethiopian drink made from fermented honey, like mead.
One of my favorite things about going out in Ethiopia is that Ethiopians have no fear of being first on the dance floor. If their song comes on, they’ll just get up and start shaking it. I often saw people at restaurants just stand up at their table, dance for a minute, and then sit down. And the way they dance! Like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Here’s someone else’s video of a Tigrinya “headshaker”.
We drank and danced until late.
I’m not feeling very inspired to write at the moment, but I’ve got a 70-page notebook full of notes from my 5 weeks in Ethiopia and I would like to put it aside so I can start writing about Sudan. I have so much to write about but its just piling up and I’m not going to be able to take the time and type out entries for everything.
So, instead of some stories, here is a list of some things I loved about traveling in Ethiopia:
- Coffee - Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. According to legend, a farmer discovered it thousands of years ago while tending to his sheep. He noticed that they became very active when they ate the berries of a certain bush. He brought them to a local monastery where they eventually figured out that you could brew them into a drink… Modern Italian espresso machines are found in even the smallest, least developed towns around the country. A cup never costs more than 2 or 3 Birr ($0.30 at the most). Served strong and sweet!
- Fresh Juice - Also found nearly everywhere throughout the country are little bars serving fresh juice. The best thing for breakfast or after a day walking around in the heat.
- Food - I love Ethiopian food.
- Language - The official language of Ethiopia, Amharic, is unique in many respects. It is a semetic language, but uses its own syllabary (alphabet). When I first arrived in Gonder I bought a children’s schoolbook and over the next few weeks managed to teach myself to read and write using the Amharic and Tigrinya syllabaries. They have some notable connections to Hebrew and Arabic and even share a couple of the same letters.
My apologies for the most boring post in a while.
In the meantime, I am in Khartoum, Sudan. I finally got my visa from the Sudan Embassy in Addis! I’ll be here for 10 more days before I cross into Egypt and make my way to Cairo for the great reunion with Gartholomew J!