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Blog category: Ethiopian culture
6th Jul 2015
Written by Cecilia
For Muslims Ethiopia has historically been the land of freedom from persecution and emancipation from fear.
Ethiopia is considered “the heaven of the first migration or Hijra”. In 622 CE, some of the Prophet Muhammad’s followers, given the persecution they were subjected to in the city of Mecca, undertook their migration or journey to Ethiopia, where, there was a King who “did not wrong anyone”. Ethiopia was known as a land where its King Negus – or Al-Najashi – was a person in whose hands religious rights were respected and whose land was ruled with justice. The migration to Ethiopia that has laid down the foundations on which Islam was built, was the first migration in the history of Islam. Ethiopia is therefore a land that means freedom of expression and protection.Click to expand
Today Islam in Ethiopia is the second most widely practiced religion, after Orthodox Christianity. It is possible to count over 25 Million Muslims in Ethiopia – around 34% of the population. Ethiopia is also home to Harar. It is regarded as the fourth Holy city of Islam and is home to 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century, as well as 102 shrines. UNESCO designated it’s old walled city – Harar Jugol – as a World Hertiage Site in 2006.
In the first half of the 20th Century and especially before 1991 – the date when EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) took power from the Socialist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam – Islam had been subject to oppression and marginalization from the state. But since this period, there is a new climate of religious freedom and tolerance.
Christian-Muslim relations in Ethiopia have generally been considered peaceful, although there have been minor episodes of tensions related to the construction of churches and mosques or public celebration of religious holidays.
On July 17th, Muslims around the world will celebrate the end of Ramadan and the fasting period with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr. It is an occasion to thank Allah for the help and strength that have supported them throughout the previous month of fasting. The festival begins with the first sights of the new moon in the sky. Muslims adherents are invited to wear their best clothes, celebrate meals together and decorating their home, in an atmosphere of charity and forgiveness. During the Eid al-Fitr celebration last year the President of the Addis Ababa Supreme Council of Muslims called for the day to celebrate hope and progress and called on Ethiopian Muslims to participate in peace-building and development activities.
2nd Feb 2015
by Hannah Dillon
What strikes Ethiopians most when they visit London? The answer is not what you might expect. In fact, many are surprised to see that everyone is reading. On the tube, in the park, in cafés… as Londoners we take this fact for granted. Many educated Ethiopians are concerned about the lack of reading culture in the country. However, there are only few who are actively doing something about it.
On Friday, we had the privilege of meeting Ephrem, a graduate of Gondar University who has dedicated his time and his own money to creating an outdoor library for the people of Gondar.Click to expand
With the support of friends and acquaintances – among them a lawyer and a newspaper editor – Ephrem has set up Nisir (eagle in Amharic), an organisation for social change. He has acquired the use of a small park in central Gondar for his library, and thanks to the canopy of trees it is a shady area in which benches are provided for reading. There are also ladies selling coffee and there are plans to provide Ethiopian food and even WiFi to encourage more people to visit.
The organisation is the talk of the town because not only have they found a practical solution to a social problem, they are also funding the venture from their own pockets and from local benefactors. Link Ethiopia was asked to donate English language books for the collection, which we did so gladly.
The donation was of 30 works of English and American literature, 10 non-fiction books and 15 popular science magazines. We are hoping to continue to support this venture with donations and to find different ways of working together in the future.
As for Ephrem, he has big ambitions for the project. He plans to expand it in the near future, adding sites close to the University and in nearby Azezo. In turn, this would mean creating jobs for new librarians and widening access to books across the town. It will be exciting to witness the expansion and the ways in which it will create more spaces for casual reading.
20th Nov 2014
Written by Rory & Hannah
It is a time-worn cliché that you never visit the famous sights of the place where you live, focussing instead on the day-to-day necessities of life and saving the money to visit famous sights in far-flung places. Of course we are in Ethiopia so this does not quite apply, but it did take us a few weeks to get around to seeing some of what Gondar has to offer to tourists. Inspired by previous volunteer Ben’s excellent blog, Addis in a Day, which we used to navigate Addis Ababa last month, we decided to compile some up-to-date information on Gondar for visitors and volunteers (the prices have increased considerably since the publication of the latest Lonely Planet).Click to expand
Running at the Stadium
We started our day at an ungodly hour, tentatively stepping out of the Link Ethiopia compound in our running gear. The day was breaking and there was a slight chill in the air: the perfect time of day for a jog. Unfortunately, half of Gondar was also out on the streets going about their business; they were without exception heartily amused by the sight of four farenjis hurtling down the hill towards the stadium. We followed the Tarmac road as it snakes down around 1.5km, dodging sheep and chasms in the pavement as we went. Needless to say to those who know me, we did not run all the way and walked the last part into the football stadium opposite Fasiledes Secondary School and next to King Fasiledes bath house (more on him later).
The track is dirt but it is nice and flat and the surroundings are quiet and calm (at least not on a match day). We were joined by other running clubs and individuals putting us to shame but it did not dissuade us from our training for the Great Ethiopian Run next Sunday.
*Fundraising plug*… Please sponsor our team here.
Breakfast at New Day Café
This seemingly unremarkable café can be found by walking up past the main entrance to the Quara Hotel from Piassa, passing by the traditional nightclubs and the petrol station on your left and then when you see the Mega Book Store on your right, you should find it on your left. New Day was close to the previous Link office and therefore a favourite haunt of many a volunteer and we have discovered why. The makiato is top-notch and we also filled up on the typical Ethiopian breakfast foods, full (a spicy bean stew served with fresh bread) and fetira be mar (a thick pancake served with honey). Delicious!
Tour of the Royal Enclosure
Gondar’s town centre is dominated by the fortified walls of the castle complex (also called the Royal Enclosure). The walls serve to conceal the six castles built by a succession of kings in the seventeenth century who made Gondar their capital. Entry for tourists costs 200 Birr per person (just over £6 at the time of writing) and I would recommend a guide for the day, which will set you back 400 Birr, and can be arranged within the castle walls and will stay with you to guide you around all the day’s sights. We were impressed by the interior of Fasiledes castle (the only castle fully in tact), the display of traditional lime mortar being used to renovate Mentawab’s castle and by the tales of royal folly retold by our guide. If you were on a tight budget, you could forgo the guide, but the Lonely Planet (other guidebooks are available) would be indispensable because no information boards are provided.
Traditional lunch at Camelot House
Guided by our stomachs, we proceeded to Camelot House, which can be found in the old Italian Art Deco cinema on the left-hand side as you head back to Piassa from the castles. The interior is dark and traditionally Ethiopian with small tables and also grass strewn on the floor. Unanimously we decided to eat shiro, a stew containing chickpea flour and berbere, but the controversy came when deciding between tegabino (thick) shiro and feses (runnier) shiro (better than it sounds). So we ordered both and very tasty it was too.
King Fasiledes Bath
Next we decided to stroll back down the hill to our next sight. You can take a bajaj (price negotiable) but if you have eaten two types of shiro you might appreciate the walk (which was around 2km). The bath and its bath-house offer calm surroundings (we were the only tourists) and the tree roots growing over the sides of the bath are an incredible sight. I should mention that entry is included in the price of entry to the royal enclosure.
At Epiphany the bath comes alive as it is filled by river water (using an ingenious damming and pipe work system) and it becomes the site of a mass public ceremony. We are looking forward to witnessing this in January when we return from the UK (it is sure to warrant another blog post).
Debre Birhan Selassie Church
As we left the bath-house, a bajaj was ready and waiting to take us up to the church on the other side of town. We negotiated 40 birr for the four of us but I am sure you could get it cheaper with some hard haggling. It was a scenic drive around the hills of Gondar to the Debre Birhan Selassie (Trinity and Mountain of Light) church. Entry to the church costs 100 birr, which you pay at the kiosk opposite, and the beautiful wall paintings inside certainly make it worth this. Our group was momentarily separated as men and women are required to enter by different doors and all are asked to remove their shoes. Our guide was still with us and this was invaluable because he was able to tell us the story of the church and its paintings.
The day was drawing to a close and we were feeling tired but satisfied as we made our way down the hill back in to town. The options for dinner are too numerous to list but we settled on Coffee House for its proximity to our accommodation (just near Atse Bekafa School) and for its excellent and piping hot chips (we had had enough shiro for one day!).
21st Sep 2014
Written by Lauren Eliot
“I’ve recently returned from a five week volunteering placement with Link Ethiopia, based in Gondar, teaching Grade 11 students at Fasiledes Preparatory School, just outside of town. Before embarking on my journey to Ethiopia, I was anxious and unsure of what to expect from this enigmatic country, but now I can confidently say that volunteering for Link Ethiopia has been a truly memorable and fulfilling experience.Click to expand
Upon arrival in Gondar, I was shown to my volunteer accommodation which shares the same building as the Link Ethiopia office. It was ideally located close to Piassa, in the centre of Gondar, so it was possible to walk to most places in town. The following day I visited my school for the first time and was shown around the grounds, which were a little overwhelming at first, as the school was massive – over 2,000 students!
During my stay in Gondar most students were not attending school due to it being the summertime, but Fasiledes School ran an optional Summer School programme for its students. My class was an advanced English class which took place on weekday mornings and was free and accessible for all students at Fasiledes Preparatory School. This meant that any student could attend and benefit from some extra tuition. It felt particularly rewarding to see so many students coming into school in their free time and purely from their desire to learn.
Teaching within an Ethiopian school was certainly very different from any teaching experience I’d had previously in the UK. My students were very enthusiastic about improving their English skills and were impeccably behaved. Most of my lessons would focus on the various tricky English grammar rules, as well as teaching natural, conversational English, as the lessons were for advanced learners.
I was also invited to teach one class at the local Atse Bekafa Elementary School, to over 60 students! The students and their regular teacher were really welcoming and eager to have a native English speaker teach them – something that’s really important when many Ethiopian English teacher’s haven’t had many opportunities to practice their English with native speakers.
The day after my final teaching day at Fasiledes, I was instructed by my students to come to school for a ‘surprise’. So that Saturday I went back to the school in the morning with some of my fellow volunteers and Link Ethiopia staff. I was slightly overwhelmed to see that my students had organised a leaving ceremony/party for me! In fact, one of my students had been collecting money that week so that they could bring in materials to play music and have a coffee ceremony. It was by far my best day in Ethiopia. It was a great morning with all of my friends together to see me off – I held back tears all day!
One of the fantastic elements of a volunteer’s life in Gondar are the evenings and social life – I never once felt bored during my time in Ethiopia and always managed to have a good laugh. The shared accommodation was also home to several other Link volunteers and volunteers for other local charities. And being alongside the Link Ethiopia offices meant there was always people around in the evenings to eat dinner or go for drinks with. The building also backs out onto a lovely local café, named Valentine Café, where we all spent a significant portion of our time each day, eating what is now my staple Misr Wot (lentil stew) and to drink local Dashen Beers. (Ethiopia is a fab destination for veggies, by the way!)
After I finished my teaching, I had a few days to relax in Gonder, and then I spent a further two weeks in country, travelling to Lalibela, Harar, Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa before returning to the UK. By doing this, I saw both the green, Christian North and the drier, Islamic East of Ethiopia, underscoring what a diverse and fascinating country this is.
Now, I’m back home in the North East of England and upon further reflection, my time in Gonder felt really short – I am so, so glad that I did this, particularly with Link Ethiopia, but I wish I’d been able to go for longer. That being said, I’m already planning on coming back next year! They can’t keep me away.”
18th Sep 2014
An Investigation into the Barriers to Female Education in Link Ethiopia Schools
Written by Emily Gretland
“Roughly two months ago, with a 20 hour journey ahead, the time had finally come to travel to the Link Ethiopia offices in Gondar to undertake a study and produce a collaborative report on barriers to female education in Ethiopia. Equipped with very limited knowledge of Ethiopian history and culture and zero prior experience with this wonderful country, the thought of the task at hand was daunting.Click to expand
Upon arrival, it was clear that my prior sentiments were understated. My first encounter with the results of Link Ethiopia’s data collection was a slightly unsettling experience. The questions had been drafted and the results collated in such a way that it was logically categorised into themes. However, any law student with limited experience with excel, maths and numbers in general would find the nature and volume of this information perplexing at first glance. The data that had been collected was the result of quantitative and qualitative responses of 360 students, 120 parents and 40 teachers from 9 Link Ethiopia schools, to questions directed at understanding barriers to girls’ education in Ethiopia.
The wheels of the girls’ education study have been turning for a year already, due to the initiative and dedication of various people involved in this ambitious project, and my role was to produce help produce the report that would inform the nature of the project which will start this academic year.
Having overcome my initial bewilderment and comforted by the helpfulness, experience and kindness of my new Gondar family; the Link Ethiopia staff and volunteers, it was time to start processing the results in a more systematic way. The questionnaires were scanned for patterns and trends. The underlying question, which I had written in bold on an electronic post-it note on my desktop, was, “what factors, social, cultural, economic or otherwise, seem to be the most disruptive to female education?” This effort in the context of having undertaken secondary research, including the study of statistical evidence, academic articles, government documents and previous fieldwork studies into girls’ education in Ethiopia, was to lay the foundations of our focus groups.
I was drawn to the opportunity to work with Link on this project, not only because of their philosophy as an education charity but also because of the element of primary research involved. As a student of international human rights law, confined to a desk most of the time, my ears certainly pricked up by the sound of fieldwork. In hindsight, I am so glad I did not hesitate to jump on this opportunity.
The focus groups we conducted, made possible through the hard work of the Gondar staff, definitely fulfilled my student daydream of first hand research through engaging directly with individuals. I am so grateful to those involved in facilitating the interviews of girls, boys, their parents and teachers at Grargie School. The fourteen young girls who had volunteered to share their opinions with us impressed the whole team with their openness, honesty and maturity in answering questions which touched on sensitive topics such as their family situation, their hopes and ambitions for the future, the status of women in their community, marriage and menstruation.
These interviews added nuance to our understanding of the issues and I would go as far as to say that it completely altered my perceptions of some problems, such the burden of household chores. I am glad to say that the wonderful feeling I was left with at the end of this day was only slightly tainted by the nauseatingly bumpy bus ride home. In the end it was worth all the while. Their ideas and opinions feature prominently in the report.
The research process was briefly interrupted by a one week adventure spent travelling with my indispensible fellow researchers Ben and Taz, in a minibus through the North of Ethiopia, covering the Simien Mountains, Axum and Lalibela. Invigorated by our experiences from our travels, which included seeing wild Gelada monkeys in the Simien Mountains, sharing a bar with an unsuspecting cow, relieving ourselves in a variety of imaginative places, and we returned to Gondar with new energy to begin the write-up of our report.
This part of the process was to take three weeks, with ups and downs, endless disagreements and countless coffees and ‘Dashens’ (local beers) to see us through. Yet, August 15th, the day before my departure, the report had been completed: More than 60 pages written, a front page with the names Emily Gretland, Ben Robinson and Tasmia Baig on it (for better or for worse) and an individualised Link Ethiopia logo for girls’ education.
My two months working on this study has been an invaluable educational experience. This is all thanks to the excellent Gondar staff and my fellow volunteers who have generously shared all their knowledge and expertise to benefit the project. I feel relieved and happy that the study has been completed but I certainly feel sad to have left Ethiopia and my wonderful Gondar family.
I will miss you.”
12th Sep 2014
Written by Ben Robinson
Many volunteers are able to spend just one day in Addis at the beginning or end of their stay in Ethiopia. Here Ben, a previous volunteer, outlines his recommendations of where to eat and what do with that day. One option in Addis is to stay at Leya Hotel, and these recommendations are written from there.Click to expand
Breakfast – Sunbird Cafe
“Go out onto the main road outside Bole Mini and cross over the road. Turn right heading back towards the airport and go past the NOC petrol station. Just past here almost on the roundabout you will find Sunbird Cafe on the left. Its on the ground floor and has big glass windows and the name is massive so you can’t really miss it. Both the fatira and pancakes are good here as are most things on the menu.
Lunch – Taitu Hotel
For lunch go to the Taitu Hotel between 12 and 2.30pm. It’s situated in Piassa and is very well-known so you can always ask people. Get the vegan buffet as it’s a nice mix of Ethiopian and Italian style food. The hotel is also the oldest in Addis Ababa (and probably Ethiopia) and is a very charming and beautiful building. Also a good, comfortable place to stay, though not as inexpensive as some other hotels. If staying the evening in Addis, check out the ‘Jazzamba Lounge’ Jazz club, which is attached to the Taitu Hotel and is a fantastic place to catch some amazing local music – funky jazz, classical Ethiopian folk and more.
Dinner – Lime Tree Cafe
From the hotel go back onto the main road outside Bole Mini and stay on this side of the road and turn left. Walk for about 5-10 minutes, you will go past Kaldis Coffee, Friendship Supermarket, Parisien Bakery, and lots of cafe’s in buildings set back from the road. Once you are past all of these you will see a 3/4 storey glass building set-back from the road with a sort of car park down below. There is also a large Zemen Bank building to the left. You go down the ramps to the car park and into the glass building. There is a hotel lobby on the ground floor on the right. Lime Tree is on the second floor, and there is a cocktail bar on the first floor and Kiriftu Diplomat restaurant in the building as well.
Things to do –
Red Terror Museum:
If you were to do one thing in Addis this should be it. It’s a small museum about the oppressive Derg regime. No entrance fee, only donations (we donated 50 birr each). To get there go out onto the main road and cross over to the other side and flag down a blue and white minibus. All buses should go to ‘Stadium’ but you can always just check my simply asking ‘Stadium’. Take the bus all the way until it pulls into the chaotic ‘bus station’. The bus costs 3 birr.
Stadium is the central bus station and you can get anywhere in the city from here, so if in doubt just get a bus back to Stadium and go from there.
The bus station is essentially on Meskel Square which is the central square in the city – its worth climbing up the steps for a bit of a view of the city. To find the Red Terror Museum walk through Meskel Square to the opposite end to which the minibuses parked and back up the main road (stay on the same side of the road) that you came down for a couple of minutes. You will go past a cafe and then you will see the museum.
If after the museum you want lunch then you can just walk back to the bus station you can ask for the bus to Piassa (3 birr) and then find the Taitu Hotel from the bus terminal in Piassa – just get out at the end when everyone gets off.
If want to do more sightseeing before lunch then you can go to the Ethnological Museum which gives a good history of Ethiopia and has lots of traditional Ethiopian artefacts on display too. Take your student cards for a discount.
To get there go to bus terminal at Stadium and ask for ‘Arat Kilo’ (3 birr). At Arat Kilo then ask for the bus to ‘Siddist Kilo’ (1.5 birr). This has the ‘Yekatit 23’ monument in the middle of the roundabout. Then from here you carry on walking up the road, over the roundabout, straight ahead (Algeria St) for about 5-10 minutes. The museum is within the University Campus so if in doubt just ask for the university. Once you go through the main university entrance just keep walking in a straight line through the campus all the way to end, but once in the campus if you ask for the museum people will point you in the right direction.
If you are then going for lunch at Taitu (the buffet stops at 2.30pm) walk back to Siddist Kilo, take the bus to Arat Kilo (1.5 birr), and then take the bus to Piassa (3 birr). If going to the museum after lunch take the bus from Piassa to Arat Kilo (3 birr) and then go to Siddist Kilo.
St. George Cathedral, Derg Hammer & Sickle Monument and Lion of Judah
If you have time you can also go and see the St George Cathedral in Piassa There is also the Derg Hammer and Sickle monument on the main road from Piassa to Stadium if you are interested. At the bottom of this road you will find the Lion of Judah monument – the symbol of the Ethiopian monarchy.
If you are in Piassa then you can find buses that go all the way back Bole (5 birr). These are the ones with the Orange signs on top. You just get out when you see the Bole Mini sign on the main road. Say ‘waraj’ to stop the minibus. But if you can’t see then all the conductors know Bole Mini so you can always ask them.
If you are at the museum and are trying to get home from there, then walk to Siddist Kilo, take the bus to Arat Kilo (1.5 birr), then take the bus to Stadium (3 birr) and then from there take the bus to Bole (3 birr).
Of course if you don’t fancy the bus you can always get a taxi (the blue and white cars). From Piassa to Bole shouldn’t be more than 150 birr, medium trips e.g. Bole to Stadium, Stadium to Addis Ababa University should be around 100, and shorter journeys e.g. Siddist Kilo to the University about 50. Prices are a bit higher at night.
Going to airport
Aim to arrive at the airport 2 hours before your flight. Remember to go to the right terminal – the International and Domestic are close together, but make sure you’re not waiting in the wrong one. There may be queues to get into the airport, but don’t worry security is at the entrance, and its just one big queue to get through security and check-in and there shouldn’t be any queueing at all after that.
The man at Leya Hotel can arrange a taxi for you from the airport – arrange it with him the night before. We paid 70 birr.
I hope you enjoy your visit to Addis, and that your time volunteering goes well!”
6th Jun 2014
The Gelada old-world monkey is endemic to Ethiopia and only found in the highlands, with large populations residing in the Simien Mountains, in the North. The Gelada’s have adapted to the cooler climate; with their thick coats these rugged mountaineers are protected from the cold.Click to expand
Interestingly they’re the only monkeys on Earth that survive on a meat-free diet, feeding predominantly on mountain grass. The lack of calories in their diet means they spend most of their day grazing and sitting down to save energy. Appropriately, the literal translation of ‘vegetarian’ (in relation to animals) in Amharic is ‘Sar bel’ or ‘grass eater’!
Geladas reside in large groups and are some of the most sociable and peaceful of primates, preferring to settle internal disputes by pulling faces rather than through violence. The male Gelada can be particularly stunning, and is in possession of a golden mane and heart-shaped red patch on their chests.
Our tour of Northern Ethiopia provides the opportunity to see the Gelada Baboons in their nature habitat (alongside a host of other incredible sights, sounds and smells); the Simien Mountains – so you can enjoy watching them eat grass and puff up their ‘heart-shaped boxes’ in macho face-pulling contests:
9th May 2014
Written by Ben Robinson
Arriving in Ethiopia, the senses are most definitely overwhelmed. Little sleep on the flight, mainly due to lights going off at 2am and back on at 4am UK time on the flight definitely contributes, being surrounded by an alien language doesn’t help, the natural disorientation of somewhere new, and coming to terms with the idea that life (restaurants, cafés, shoe-shining and hawking, and above all conversation) takes place on the street can be a little daunting at first.Click to expand
However, the office in Bishoftu definitely marks a peaceful retreat. Just a five minute walk of the main road, its leafy balminess is reassuring. Within a few days a routine develops, largely based around an excellent macchiato, fūl (which resembles a bean stew and is a popular Ethiopian cuisine) for lunch from Kuul Caffee, just a ten minute walk from the office, and picking up a bottle of water and a St. George’s beer from the local corner shop all help one settle in, not to mention the welcoming nature of the Bishoftu team.
Despite the main road, which is in essence the ‘raison d’être’ of Bishoftu, as an established town south of Addis the surrounding scenery is charming. Whilst trucks pile through the town – clear evidence of the rapid growth that Ethiopia is seeing (and the Chinese number plates indicating where that investment is coming from) – the backdrop is beautiful. Rolling hills surround the area, and it’s a 20 minute Bajaj ride to the tranquillity of the crater lakes.
In essence Bishoftu is a town typical of modern Ethiopia. The beautiful scenery is changing, but the town is rapidly developing. The evident investment and ubiquitous wooden scaffolding offers great optimism, and the resorts dotted around the crater lakes tell a story of growing tourism and the emergence of a wealthy elite based in Addis. A bypass around the town is currently under construction and only a year or two from completion. This will again alter the nature of Bishoftu, and this state of flux perhaps typifies Ethiopia at this time.
1st May 2014
Written by Julia Wathen
The tourism industry in Ethiopia has long been left trailing behind other African nations, yet it seems people are beginning to appreciate and embrace the culture and wonders of this amazing country. The visitor numbers are growing by 10% each year, the Simien Mountains National Park (a prime tourist site) has experienced a huge increase in the number of tourists from 5,000 in 2007 to 24,000 last year. Read more information about tourism in Ethiopia here.
Ethiopia is a beautiful country with warm friendly people and we offer guest tours to introduce you to the country. The tour provides exposure to the richness of Ethiopia – its culture, music, food, religion, historic sites, wildlife and of course it’s hugely welcoming people. At the same time you are supporting the education of children in the country with all proceeds from tours going directly to our work in Ethiopia. To find out more about the 12 day tours we offer click here.