Getting a feel for Ethiopia’s cultural pulse

Friday April 20 2018

Ethiopian women use traditional charcoal burners to roast coffee at a roadside kiosk. PHOTO | EDGAR BATTE | NATION


Ethiopia had always been on my travel list. On a recent visit, we landed at Gondar Airport. The airport only handles connecting flights, yet it is busier than Entebbe International Airport in Uganda.

At the arrivals, tours and travel agents waited to receive visitors and show them the historical and cultural sites of Ethiopia.

One thing that caught my eye at almost every entry point was women fanning stoves on which they were roasting coffee. They crush the coffee on site and sell it for about a dollar per cup.

You have the choice of having your coffee light, mild or strong. The strong, aromatic coffee is served in small cups. While you sit and sip, you may hear to the tale of a man called Kaldi, the herdsman who is said to have discovered coffee.

It is no surprise that Ethiopia is one of Africa’s biggest producers of coffee. The taste of Ethiopian coffee will stay with you while you explore the arid countryside with its historical churches and monasteries.

Much of the historical narrative resonates with religion, mostly Christianity.


The country manager of Ethiopian Airlines in Uganda, Abebe Angessa, was our host. I got to enjoy some injera, Ethiopia’s national dish. It is a sourdough-risen flatbread made out of teff flour.

A trip across the Blue Nile and the Tana kirkos monasteries led us to one of many ancient churches and monasteries.

The broken walls are coated with algae, but you can still see the well-designed construction and designs that include Italian wide windows and fine chisel work.

Our tour guide, Yirga Fisseha, told us that ancient builders mingled with Greek and South Arabian merchants who were interested in construction.

This is evidenced by the striking similarity of the Yeha ruins and the extensive use of the disk and crescent pagan religious symbol on monuments, particularly at windows and doors.

Angessa, recommends certain places to visit when in Ethiopia: The National Museum of Ethiopia, Arch of Covenant, the “Historic Route” to Axum, Lalibela Rock Churches, Gondar Castle’s 16th century architecture, and the coffee origins in Kaffa.

You can also visit some of the local markets or shops for genuine leather and traditional attire. There are also some souvenir gold and silver markets.