Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Christmas in Ethiopia

Okay, the title of this post is a bit misleading, as I learned that Ethiopia celebrates Christmas in January! (They also have 13 months in a year, and their calendar is about seven years behind ours! Isn't that cool?)

Anyway, we spent a long Christmas weekend in Ethiopia. It seemed everyone I know who has been to Ethiopia told me that one weekend is nowhere near enough, and that you need to fly to Axum or Lalibela. Although it's true that we missed many of Ethiopia's wonders this time around, we still had a chance to experience enough amazing things that I would argue the trip was entirely worth it.

We spent a day in Addis itself and visited the Red Terror Martyrs Museum, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, and the National Museum. (We didn't visit Africa's largest open-air market, called Mercado, because M gets very tense in crowded environments like that.)

The Red Terror Martyrs Museum was a true gem, and it was free. I wish there had been more of an explanation of the historical context, as it seems the exhibits assumed some knowledge of Ethiopian history. Nevertheless, I found the art depicting the pain and suffering of the Red Terror very moving. For instance, the photo above is of a painting depicting the agony of a mother whose four children were slaughtered in one day.

After that, we were off to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, which was a lovely church that looked like it could have dropped out of Europe (above). The contrast was made even more stark by the fact it was right next to another beautiful Ethiopian church in a completely different style (below).

Then, we made our final stop for the day at the National Museum. It was smaller than I expected, but I was delighted to have the chance to view the main attraction: a cast replica of the bones of none other than Lucy the Australopithecus herself! (The real bones are also stored in the museum but aren't on public display.)

When traveling in a modernized East Africa, it's easy to forget it's the location of humankind's birth. (That is, if you support the "replacement theory", also known as "African Eve", which states that humans came out of Africa and overtook near-hominids in other parts of the world. A competing theory suggests that humans evolved in multiple regions simultaneously. You can read more about the two theories here.)

We were reminded of that the next day, when we visited the ancient sites Melka Kunture, Adadi Mariam, and Tiya. Melka Kunture is an archaeological site with an attached museum sharing some of what we know about human evolution. We visited an excavated area (pictured above) that contained remnants of civilization 800,000 years ago!

Similarly, Tiya - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - contained ancient grave sites and standing tombstones that tell us a lot about our ancestors. For example, they carved swords on the tombstones to represent the number of enemies the person buried there killed. Also, Christians were buried horizontally west to east (in preparation for resurrection upon the Second Coming of Christ), while Animists were buried upright.

I was especially grateful we were able to see Adadi Mariam, the only one of the famous, Lalibela-style rock-hewn underground churches easily accessible from Addis. From far away, the church itself looked like a grassy hill. Up close, though, it was clear the rock inside the hill had been cut to form the church and stairs leading down into it.

Inside Adadi Mariam, there was a preacher delivering a sermon in Amharic that sounded beautifully musical and many worshippers were gathered there, as we went on a Sunday. We concluded that these sites are a must for history, religion, and science nerds.

We spent our last full day in Ethiopia taking a day trip to Wenchi Crater Lake, formed in a dormant volcanic crater, which was breathtaking (as you can tell from the first photo of this post)! We hiked, rode horses, and took a boat across the lake to an island monastery.

We saw all kinds of cool things, including a waterfall, actively bubbling hot springs, a traditional water mill (above), and plenty of wild horses.

Of course, we also made time for authentic Ethiopian food (and we ate properly with our hands), with a bonus of traditional music and dance performances at Yod Abyssinia. All of the performances were amazing, and it was a full house the entire time we were there. The hours flew by as tourists and locals alike drank, ate, and were merry together.

Although it was tough to spend Christmas away from family for the first time, having such a wonderful trip made it at least a little bit better.

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