For the past few weeks, I’ve struggled with how to summarize my recent trip to Ethiopia for several reasons. One of which is that I spent most of my time in a westernized hotel conference room discussing geology and 3D models. Unless you are into those sort of things, it’s pretty boring. Another reason is that I don’t want to misrepresent an entire country I really know nothing about.

Last night, my husband and I finally made the time to go through my trip pictures. After enduring the 100th picture of the back of a horse cart (we were only half way through!), he moaned and complained about the sheer number of photos I managed to take in the brief moments I had outside of the conference room. He informed me that a professional photographer he knew went to Africa and came back with a total of four (yes, that’s 4) photos he was willing to share.

I defended myself, stating that our impromptu slide show hadn’t allowed me any time to edit my photos. Still, he was right. I take way too many photos. And it occurred to me, like a good photographer,  I could sum up my two-week experience in Ethiopia in just four photos.

So, here they are (never mind that I’m cheating with that picture at the top of this post).


At present, Ethiopia doesn’t have an official state religion, but in the 4th Century, the then Kingdom of Aksum officially accepted Christianity as a state religion and it still features large in Ethiopian culture.

Before dawn near the Medhane Alem Cathedral
Before dawn near the Medhane Alem Cathedral

My visit happened to coincide with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christian Easter celebration – which seemed to last months. I didn’t get all the details, but essentially there’s a lot of fasting (40 days?) prior to Easter (which fell on the weekend after our visit, also a week after Easter is celebrated in the U.S.). However, it is not a full fasting, but rather just an abstinence from eating meat.

Yup, you read that right. This vegetarian managed to land in a country where most of the population wasn’t eating meat. Score!

Everywhere I went, there was a fasting menu for those opting to not eat meat for religious reasons. All I had to do was say I was fasting (if the servers spoke English) or point to the fasting menu (if they didn’t). It was great. I didn’t have to feel like a privileged westerner unwilling to eat the local fare, while getting the chance to eat the dishes specially prepared to meet local tastes.

And the food was excellent. I’ve had Ethiopian food before (there’s an Ethiopian restaurant in my town and there might be in one yours), so I knew I would love the lentil and vegetable dishes along with their famous injera (food of the gods, I tell you). I wasn’t disappointed with any of the dishes I had during my visit. Everything was exceptional. In a country known for its starving children, I gained weight.


Building construction on a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Building construction on a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The picture at left isn’t the best example, so I’m cheating again and providing two pictures for this topic. Actually, I could fill an entire album with the amount of buildings under-construction just within walking distance of my hotel. They were everywhere.

Eucalyptus scaffolding
Eucalyptus scaffolding

But the oddest thing: no one was working on them. Occasionally, I’d notice someone cutting re-bar in the street. If you look closely to the picture at left, there’s rubble on that chute. But for the most part, this section of Addis Ababa (near the airport) could easily pass for the set of some pre-verging-on-post-apocalyptic movie. It was a bit surreal being surrounding by 10 to 20 story unfinished buildings – with no one working on them. Of course, I asked my hosts what was up with the half-finished buildings. Most shrugged and said, “Developers.” As if that explained everything. Maybe it does.

Regardless, did you notice the scaffolding? All made out of sapling Eucalyptus. Like most places around the world where Eucalyptus is not native, it runs rampant. And Ethiopia is no exception. While one of our hosts admonished the woody-weed, the nation’s builders make good use of it.

Build it, and they will come

Well, not necessarily. In keeping with the building construction theme above, China is investing heavily in many African nations, including Ethiopia. As any developing nation will attest to, infrastructure is key to propelling a country forward. However, I wonder about the pace of road building in Ethiopia. I don’t have pictures of all the road construction (too dusty), but I do have a picture of the finished product:

Toll road going into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Toll road going into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Notice something other than the smooth pavement, modern signage, and excellent paint job?

It’s empty.

My hosts took me on a trip down to Lake Ziway. We took the new expressway west toward Djibouti before turning off to go south to the lake. And the entire time we were on it (there and back), we pretty much had the road to ourselves.

The importance of having reliable transportation to a port town cannot be understated. As one of the most populous land-locked nations in the world, Ethiopia would benefit enormously from a smooth highway when all the other roads are shared with folks like this:

Horse drawn cart with kid and driver
Horse drawn cart with kid and driver

(I know, there’re going to be way more than four pictures in this post. Get over it and accept that I lied to you.)

But, if no one can pay the toll to get onto that nice, new expressway (paid and built by the Chinese using imported labor and materials), it makes one wonder whether the expressway may be a bit premature. Maybe, programs to help those farmers with carts purchase a vehicle would be funds better spent.

People Everywhere

Whenever I went out and about, I took my camera with me, but I pointed it mostly at landscapes and buildings. I didn’t take very many pictures of people, because I was too shy to ask folks if it was okay for me to take their picture. I regret that.

Ethiopia is full of people.

With an estimated 2015 population of 90 million, Ethiopia is one of the most populous nations in Africa. That’s roughly 83 persons per square kilometer. For comparison, the U.S. population density is about 33 persons per square kilometer. (The most populous nation in the world is China with a population density of about 21,000 145 persons per square kilometer. Which, really, is in a class of its own and why did I even mention it at all? EDIT: that 21,000 estimate was for Macao SAR, China.)

Anyway, suffice to say there are many people in Ethiopia from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and since I’ve gone way over my self-imposed photo limit, I’ll leave you with a few snap-shots of the people of Ethiopia.

Until next time, safe travels.

13 thoughts on “Ethiopia

    1. That’s actually for Macao SAR, China (which is a small peninsula east of Hong Kong. For the entire country, the number is more like 145 (which is still pretty high, but not as high as, say, India at 421).

  1. This was a fascinating read. I love getting an inside peek at other cultures, and this is a country I don’t know much about. When I saw your picture of the empty expressway, I thought, wow, you must’ve been driving really early in the morning. Such a shame to see such a lovely highway not being used.

    1. lol – here in the San Francisco Bay area, seeing a highway like this in the middle of the day would mean the apocalypse had indeed come (or a major accident). But not in Ethiopia! Admittedly, it is a new highway. And I’m not saying it needs to be open to all those horse carts, but that’s the point. All those farmers need vehicles (and tractors), not highways. However, I think this is mostly for trade with the ports in Djibouti.

  2. Great writing and fantastic photos Nila. You really ought to write more of these travelogues. I feel you could make a trip to the local Qwik-E-Mart exciting. Beautiful looking country and Ethiopian food has been on my ‘must-try’ list for awhile. Thanks for sharing with us!

    BTW, I’m of the ‘it takes 99 bad photos to produce 1 good photo’ school, so I know your plight.

    1. Thanks, Phillip. I blogged one of my trips to New Zealand a few years ago. No one read it! Well, that’s not true. My mom and sister read it. But thanks for the kind words on the writing. I’ll post more soon(ish).

      1. Why, yes, I have visited Hobbiton. But I meant an entirely different blog for a different trip. My husband is from New Zealand and I have been to NZed a number of times and we usually go for a month or two. For one of those trips, I blogged the entire trip (8 weeks!). I think I exhausted everyone with all my green pictures (NZed is literally green).

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