Jul 312014
Four years

On 31st July 2010, I’d just arrived in Ethiopia. Everything I’d imagined happening during the rest of my life had vanished. I was unemployed, homeless, and didn’t really know who I was any more. But I was also alone, footloose, and free of responsibilities. There were many pieces falling through the air, but also a clear space for them to fall into. What a difference four years make. At times, it can feel that the settled demands of a steady life are closing me in, that I’m becoming stuck – or unstuck. But it pays to think back. It makes me remember there are always unseen options; that fear and Read full post >>

Aug 282010

One thing I forgot to mention before was something I have been reading: “First Footsteps in East Africa” by the Victorian explorer, Richard Francis Burton, whose exploits in making the hajj to Mecca and exploring Muslim East Africa in disguise both fascinated and scandalised Victorian England.  The book is an account of his overland voyage to Harar in 1854-55, and makes fascinating reading.  Burton was famous for his knowledge of many languages and his deep knowledge of Muslim and Hindu culture, and he took great personal risks to make his voyages.  He is a fantastic travel writer, observant and descriptive, and on some level seems to have been quite sympathetic Read full post >>

Aug 242010

So, it’s nearly time for me to go home.  I’m on the midnight plane from Bole airport tonight, and arriving back in London in time for breakfast tomorrow.  It hardly seems like a month since I got here. I spent a good two days after my last post from Harar.  On Saturday I mostly slept, to recover from my chat-induced insomnia, and then on waking, walked around the market with a couple of French giants (I exaggerate not – 2m5cm and 2m10cm, or 6’8″ and 6’10”), who met each other in Lalibela and have been travelling around Ethiopia together, scaring the living crap out of small children.  On the minibus from Harar on Read full post >>

Aug 212010

Harar is very different to the other parts of Ethiopia that I have visited. It is very much a Muslim city, and governed itself under its own Emir until Menelik II defeated the last Emir, Abdullahi, in the 1880s, as part of his campaign to expand and consolidate the Ethiopian empire. Menelik installed Ras Mekonnen, his close friend, to govern the city, and his son, Tefari Mekonnen, was born here and later inherited his Ras (prince) title and became Ethiopia’s last Emperor, Haile Selassie I. The guidebook describes it as Islam’s fourth-holiest city, after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, and if this is widely accepted then it is yet another thing Read full post >>

Aug 192010

Today Richard and I went up to Mount Entoto – the first part of Addis to be built by Emperor Menelik and his wife Taitu in the 1880s.  It’s a nature reserve of sorts, with beautiful views out over Addis, and is covered with eucalyptus trees, which were introduced under Menelik because they grew fast enough to satisfy the demand for firewood.  The story goes that Menelik travelled to Australia, saw eucalyptus seeds, stored them in his afro, and then when he brushed his hand through his hair back in Shewa, the Entoto forest sprang up.  I’ve read that Menelik never actually left Ethiopia, and that his Swiss adviser Alfred Read full post >>

Aug 162010

Yesterday I took a taxi to Churchill Avenue, near the oldest district of Addis (which was only built in the 1880s) and had a long walk back to Bole Road. On Churchill Avenue there are lots of shops selling Ethiopian handicrafts, many of which are beautiful, but where the owners come and hassle you with no respite. This kind of thing makes me very unlikely to buy anything. There were also some amusingly tacky and weird gifts, including keyrings with a photo of Ethiopia’s PM, Meles Zenawi and the caption “Long Life”, and T-shirts with pictures of Tewodros II, the emperor who was in fact a bit of a tyrant, Read full post >>