Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Ethiopian Airlines flight landed smoothly and on time and as we stepped out into the sweltering heat of Dire Dawa a man with a sign saying “Welcome Marian and Howard” immediately packed us into his minibus and drove us up into the much cooler mountains lush with crops and intricate stone terracing. I was pleased that “Howard” aka “Howie” decided to join me on this expedition – he is a Canadian volunteer who’s been here for about 3 months now. He has lived in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean so it was fun to share this experience with a seasoned traveler who also happens to be a “foodie” like me! He and his housemate Mingfei Sun, a young IT volunteer from China, will be inheriting a lot of my kitchen stuff later on this week when I leave Ethiopia and I have no doubt this will advance their culinary adventures…mountain road  to hararMaize, coffee, khat are the major income generators in this area

hillside terraces en rout to hararHarar is located in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, about 525 km from Addis Ababa and 43 km from the lowland and very hot city of Dire Dawa. It take less than an hour to fly and 8-10 hours by road

lake along road to hararCloser to Harar we sped past a lake that is apparently great for bird life

narrow streetBiniyam, our terrific guide, met us at the gate to the old city of Harar, know as Jagul and led us down the narrow labyrinth of streets  to Rewda Guest House to drop off our backpacks

rewda's basket wallI had seen pictures of this traditional Harari house from other volunteers, but you really have to see it to believe it!

There are about 100 of these family houses still in operation in Jagul and each one has the same configuration with platforms at different levels for various household members to sit ( we won’t dwell on the male superiority embedded in this…). The walls hold the treasured baskets of the family, made by the women, some of the largest taking months to complete. A girl needed to make a certain number of various types, including” Mother-in-Law” baskets prior to marriage. A more recent addition is the colourful enamel ware from Asia that seems to blend in perfectly.

orignal harari carpet weavingThe carpets are imports from the middle east but Biniyam flipped one up to show us an original woven carpet underneath

pot "banks"The four large black containers on the shelf are the family “bank” originally containing coins, jewelry, incense and seeds

fine basket workWe flipped a coin and I got the upper room in the main house and Howie got one in the courtyard next to the shared bathroom

Rewda’s Guest House has about 3-4 rooms for rent within the family compound. Normally she serves a delicious breakfast but because it is now Ramadan we paid a bit less and ate out in the new town. Harar is considered the spiritual heart of Ethiopia’s large Islamic community and the fourth holiest city of Islam. Almost the entire population of Jagul is Muslim, although there is one Ethiopian Orthodox Christian church and one Catholic church in the city. We were treated to late night chanting (with a bit of excessive drumming in my opinion) but it did add to the authenticity of experience!

late afternoon lightEvery one of the hundreds of narrow streets offers fascinating views – it felt like going back in time (if one blanked out the electric wires and satelite dishes!)

making tibs at hirutTime for lunch at the atmospheric Hirut Restaurant where the chef puts on a good show in the open kitchen

special tibs at Hirut restairantVoila – Special Tibs, made with goat meat served with awaze paste and a basket of bread.injera to scoop it up

wall from aboveAfter lunch we took a tuk-tuk above the old town to get a birds eye view of the wall built in the 1560’s

big mosqueBiniyam estimates about 40,000 people currently live in Jagul

meskel flower close upOn the hillside I was pleased to get close up to some meskel daisies; these are sold for the September 27th Orthodox Christian Meskel celebrations all over Ethiopia but I had never before seen them growing in the wild

gateThen we proceeded down to the Buda Gate, one of the 5 main gates of the old city

downhill from gate marketHarari women dress very colourfully so every view is a visual feast

biniyam and berebere at marketShiro and berbere among the many tasty blends available by the kilo – when I asked for a small handful of Danakil salt and a bit of tikur azmut (black cumin) to bring home, they didn’t charge me because they consider these amounts too small!

bird on grain sackFire finches enjoy free samples too!

oily beans goolow for greasing injera makerBiniyam squeezed some beans (goolow) to show us how these oily beans are used for their greasing the traditional clay injera griddles. I was able to finally understand what Dirib had tied to explain to me in Woldia when she showed me how to make injera; at the time I had been confused when  she indicated that the grease she had in an old tin was from a bean!

woil containersThis market is huge – here a whole section is dedicated to re-cycling the ubiquitous yellow oil containers

man sleeping in marketWhen you are fasting from sun up to sun down an afternoon nap can be very tempting!

women carying woodWomen carrying heavy loads of wood

women walking past green buildingI saw many more women carrying things on their heads here than anywhere else I had been in Ethiopia

woman with large plastic bag loadHow heavy is this?

wall coloursLovely colourful walls presented themselves at almost every turn

blue mosqueHarar has 90+ tiny mosques as well as several large ones and is said to have the largest concentration of such shrines in the world

turqoise top mosqueEach one unique

upper level indian influenceThe Indian influence is seen on a number of houses with interesting balconies and roof finials

rimbuad museumThe Rimbaud Museum in a building restored with funds form France to celebrate the 12 years French poet Arthur Rimbaud spent in Harar in the late 1800’s

rimbaud museum stairsRimbaud poetry on the walls!

rimbuad top floor ceilingFrescoes on the ceilings

rimbaud artSketching journals

old photoAn interesting collection of old photos

view from rimbaud houseGreat views of the old city

bird of preyIncluding for the massive kites that circle overhead!

blacksmith shopThis is the Blacksmith area closed now for Ramadan

wall buildersAn old wall being restored in traditional fashion

Harar is a UNESCO World Heritage site and awarded a Peace Prize in 2002-2003 for being a role model of different cultures and religions living in harmony

UNESCO cities for peace prize

main  gateThe main Harar gate with the UNESCO and Peace Prize plaques

stiars and mosqueAncient stone steps lead to a mosque

coffee raoterIsn’t it time for some coffee?

roasted coffee spinningDivine aroma!

coffee packingGrinding and packing the buna  by the kilo – yes there is some coming home to Vancouver with me!

nure coffeeNure Roasted Harar Coffee – famous all over Ethiopia!

mosque detailTraditional basket replica outside a mosque

hyena guyAs night falls the hyenas come out. This has been a tourist attraction of Harar since the 50’s or 60’s

howie "kissing " hyenaHowie is kissed by a hyena!

howie with hyena on his backHowie and hungry hyena with meat in his mouth

feeding hyena with stickI decide its not that scary but ask for a longer stick

me feeding hyenaThen get braver and make him do tricks

hyena on my backBut realize that hyenas are really heavy (males weight 80-85 kg and females 85-90) and I don’t want it pressing on my back so say “Get this thing off me – beka (enough) and woraj (stop)” Hey but I DID it! His name was Willie I think – all these hyenas have names!

hyena place by dayIn daylight we see the site of the hyena feeding – a shine to a Muslim saint – these often are build with sycamore trees planted on top that eventually merge with the shrine as this one has…

harar fulNext morning Biniyam picks us up to go to eat ful at his favourite spot and I down a double makeeto in anticipation of another big day of sight seeing

khat buildingsWe hop a line taxi to Aweday about 5 km away and the site of Ethiopia’s largest khat market – that’s a typical khat bundle being carried on her head. The khat is wrapped in wet leaves to keep it moist…I decide the architect of the building on the left must have been chewing!

khat market entrance womenEntering the khat market into another world!

khat bouquet on headKhat must be consumed within 48 hours and this place bustles 24-7 with trucks speeding off to Djibouti and Somaliland with top quality khat. The fresh green leaf is a mild stimulant that is legal in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen and Somalia

girl who wanted her photo takenWe climbed up the stairs for a better view of the massive scene and this girl asked me to take her photo

men in room sorting khatRoom after room is full of chat being sorted and bundled by men

biniyam and top quality khatBiniyam displays a bundle of the best, costing about 1000 Birr ($60 CDN)

scene from above khat sortingWe were told that khat is a big income generator for Ethiopia and because it grows faster than coffee and is worth more it is taking over coffee production in the region. And no, I did not try any – my metabolism is already speedy enough!

rooftopBack in Jagul we continued to tour. This is a house that future Emperor Haile Selassie is said to have lived in until age 18

selaasie home detail rooftopNow being transformed into a museum to preserve/display the history of Harar

small mosqueFor lunch we met a couple of fellow volunteers, Helen and Mark Anthony, from nearby Haromaya University for a leisurely lunch at a local ferenji spot called Fresh Touch in the new town, then meandered back to Rewda’s to relax a bit in the courtyard and watch the kids playing.  When we got there a goat had just been slaughtered at the gate so we had to wait for the blood to be hosed away before we could get in…!

future hyena tamerA future hyena tamer practices on the cat with the freshly slaughtered goat meat!

Later on we wandered back to Hirut for dinner and conversation with Biniyam – since he knows every detail of his city and the history of Ethiopia and has become very well aware of many parts of the world from his interactions with tourists from all over, he is a great conversationalist. At 25 he has a bright future ahead of him I am sure. Every aspect of our visit was a delight; he seemed to know exactly what tell us and what to show us, tailoring the walks to suit our interests and ensuring we did not miss any highlights that if we were simply wandering about on our own we would surely have missed.

flour millLike a peek inside a flour mill

making fetireOr where to find the expert who makes fetira in this giant griddle

howie and breakfast fetire and chechebsaSunday morning we set off for another cafe to sample fetira with egg and honey and spicy chechebsa, both very tasty!

donkey basket with mangoesThen took a walk through the peaceful early morning streets to the mango market – it is mango season and donkeys are the main transporters using these attractive leather saddles

mango marketMangos galore

braying donleyThis donkey had a loud opinion!

wall sceneBack inside the old city past another one of the gates near the mango market

colourful houseInside a well known Harari  family compound attached to a mosque

tomb wall creatorFinally we arrive at the tomb of the man who built the Harar wall – Ibn Nur al Mujahadeen

Domes can tell you if the person was a warrior, politician, scholar or spiritual protector. They have 99 protrusions to indicate the 99 names of Allah and also for practical reasons to maintain the structure by allowing climbing for upkeep and painting.

tomb of wall creatorI had a scarf to cover my head and took off my shoes to see inside – this tomb is surrounded by other graves

boy inside tombThis little guy came in with me!

Late morning we hustled back to collect our bags for the drive back to the Dire Dawa airport and the flight home to Addis after a great weekend in Harar.

ras mekkonen on horseStatue of Ras Mekonnen, father of Emperor Haile Selassie and the man appointed by Emperor Menelik to rule Harar after defeating Emir Abdullah at the Battle of Chelenko in 1887

Final photo of us on HararFinal photo as we head back to the airport – thanks Biniyam for an absolutely perfect Harar tour!

NOTE: Anyone wanting to contact tourist guide Biniyam can email him at feresmegala@gmail.com or call 0911 076 059

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Rocky the pup, snoozing as usual on my doormat, perked up when he saw my packed bag at the door. He looked at me as if to say “and just where do you think you are going and who will be giving me my morning biscuit?”Rocky at my doorThe phone rang. Meseret was calling to say they were en route to get me.

collecting addisuShortly after her call the MoE SUV collected me and  we headed to Arat Kilo to pick up our colleague Addisu. Plans had changed and we were behind schedule but “expect the unexpected” is the norm around here so I sat back to enjoy the passing parade and take photos, as is my custom!

meseret and tshomeNext we backtracked to the Ministry of Education office to collect Ato Teshome from the legal department and he squeezed into the back with Meseret

MoE sign on SUVWe were on our way! Turns out that there was an issue with vehicles (as is often the case) so we were doubling up and taking Addisu and Teshome with us to drop off at Debre Zeit before we headed down the road to Adama. I sat back and enjoyed the views…reflecting on the dramatic juxtaposition of tradition and industrializtion

candle seller in wheelchairA typical scene in Addis: selling tapers to women wearing netellas of loose cotton who are on their way to church

road buildingHeading out of Addis, (likely this way for the last time since I leave in 2 months) I reflected on the rapid development in Ethiopia. Here road construction is a constant reminder of ambitious infrastructure projects, including a light rail system in Addis to help ease the congestion of almost 3 million people.

street cleanersModern transport systems are under construction but labour intensive garbage collection remains basic!

small shopsSmall shops setting up for the day

high loaded tuckFully loaded trucks crowd the streets

fully loaded donkeysAlong with fully loaded donkeys!

paint factoryPassing the paint factory and anticipating the dusty road jammed with lorries that leads south past many factories I was glad I had my usual scarf to hold over my nose when the bellowing black smoke/fumes got to me

egg truckYes, we are heading to Adama, the land of farm fresh eggs!

yegna bus“Look, its a Yegna bus!, I exclaim, seeing the Ambessa bus “wrapped” in the soon to be very familiar logo that is the brand of Yegna.

A few weeks earlier I had attended the launch of Yegna and just last week I had participated in a workshop organized by the Girl Hub Ethiopia intended to link up NGOs and agencies working on gender projects focusing on adolescent girls. Meaning “ours” in Amharic, Yegna is a weekly half hour radio drama, followed by a half hour talk show being piloted in Addis and the Amhara region. The show targets girls from 12-19 and is 70% entertainment and 30% educational messaging about girls’ empowerment. The five girls in the drama become friends because they share a love of music and each episode will have a new song. Funded by DFID (the British Development Department) and the Nike Foundation, Girl Hubs are doing innovative projects in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Rwanda using social media to reach out teenage girls and encourage boys to support gender equality at the same time.

buyilding with scaffoldSkeletal buildings abound as more and more hotels, office buildings and factories go up. The scaffolding is made from fast growing eucalyptus trees that were introduced about 150 years ago from Australia by Emperor Menelik.

addisu and tshome chacking inAt Debre Zeit we drop off Addisu and Teshome for their meeting

They are spending a few days with a group to develop sexual harassment policy for colleges, based on the already completed model document designed for universities. Eventually all levels in the school system will have sexual harassment policy. The next challenge will be enforcement as, by all reports, sexual harassment is widespread and a threat to girls staying in school. As the Ethiopian proverb goes ” Slowly, slowly the egg will walk”. This is a first step…

cows along roadPast Debre Zeit we breathe more freely as the congestion clears a little and I enjoy the landscape of the south as we head down the Rift Valley toward Adama

wrapped water containersAn innovative idea – wrap plastic jugs in twine to create a cooling thermos for truckers to store their water for long haul trips

industiral zoneA Chinese built “Industrial Zone” reminds us of the large investments China is making in Ethiopia

industrail zone buildingsAlong the route we pass steel and marble tile factories, tanneries, flower farms, food processing plants…

mojo portAnd choke our way through hundreds of lorries near Mojo, a “dry port” stacked with containers going to and from Djibouti

biscuit factory signAnd now a colourful sign for a Flour and Biscuit Factory – we are in Oromia and the language is Afan Oromo which uses the familiar alphabet but for some reason, they are big on multiple vowels!

adama signArriving in Adama ( also known as Nazreth) Meseret explains to me that this sculpture represents the “womb” and is meant to indicate that Adama is a growing town where many developments are being “born” at the numerous workshops, meetings and conferences that are held here

work roomOnce we get over the usual hotel room wrangle we meet late afternoon to begin our task – to complete draft #2 of a module on Gender Responsive Pedagogy (aka GRP) to be used in Universities and Teachers’ Colleges to train all primary and secondary teachers to be gender responsive as we like to say here in the “teaching-learning process”.

I am delighted at last to meet with these gender experts who are also university and teachers’ college instructors to review the first draft I have prepared on our MoE GRP module. This project has been in the works for over a year and I am thrilled to at last see things moving forward. We welcome as well the chair of the FAWE Ethiopia board who has been delivering GRP trainings at Teachers’ Colleges, based on the GRP Teachers’ Handbook developed by FAWE and used in 38 African countries. FAWE is the leader on gender work for schools in Africa and I have long appreciated their “made in Africa for the African context” resources.

mom baby meserat and azmeraAs always there are surprises – yes, Helina has come with her 11 month old baby and husband, who keeps the baby entertained while we work, an excellent role model for men here!

meseret and babyMeseret takes a turn with the baby at meal time

melkam and babyAnd Melkam shows her baby amusing expertise!

tech support!Another surprise – Melkam’s son shows up for dinner and is recruited to solve some of our technical challenges – turns out he is studying computer science at Adama university

part of groupLet’s have a group photo – OK! But where are the others? Bohala – we will do another later!

driver and finance ladiesAfternoon tea break time and the driver has brought 3 women from the Finance office to sort out the per diems and of course enjoy the snacks and shay/buna

azmerat and tigistWe ate all our meals at the hotel but Azmera and Tigest invite me out one night for a juice at the best juice bar in town – very yummy with lots of strawberry!

2 smiling sistersMulu and Helina both teach at Haromaya University and their smiles gave me a clue – yes they are sisters! With a rapidly expanding tertiary education system, most university and college staff are young recent graduates. Mule is already a dean and a role model for women where the gap is still wide in terms of women in leadership positions.

During our days together we worked hard to go through the draft step by step. I was delighted by the group’s thoughtful contributions, background knowledge and commitment to provide feedback that will ensure this module meets our goal of making the theory of gender responsive pedagogy come alive through active learning, continuous assessment, reflection and action research processes.The intention is that all future primary and secondary teachers be given this preparation so that the school system ultimately becomes more “girl friendly” and that the national goal of gender equality come closer to reality. Increased enrollment of girls in schools, coupled with retention and achievement, are key targets of the Ministry plan to address gender issues in Ethiopian schools. It is a massive task but this working group showed me that there is the will to succeed.

whole group at workFinally, a picture of the entire group. Left to right : Meseret from MOE, Leilet and Setu from Gondor Teachers’ College, Melkam from  FAWE, Azmera from Axum University and Tigist from Ambo University, Mulu and Helina from Haromaya University and guess who! We retire to the dining room for a last lunch and then head down to road again…

wind farmOn the way out of Adama we pass a wind farm, a reminder of new technologies for energy being developed to supplement the hyrdo-electric dams under construction here, all intended to bring electricity to a larger segment of the population

gas stationTime for gas – and of course a chance to add to my collection of photos of flag colours – red, green and yellow are never far for view!

buying watermelonsWatermelon and pumpkins by the tonne. Naturally we had to get some…road trips usually involve some shopping on the way home

eating watermelon ion carAnd some sampling as well…

oranges and mangoes on truckCloser to Addis vendors offere oranges and mangoes

plants for sale at debre zeitDebre Zeit is famous for the plants and flowers that grow so well in this climate

I appreciated the sights and scenery on the road home, already feeling a slight nostalgia knowing that I will soon be leaving it behind. I also had a sense of accomplishment that we had taken the next step toward this module getting finished.

But I am experienced enough now, after my three years in Ethiopia, to know the road ahead for this module is still long, winding and rocky. Several more drafts will need to be done, many more experts will weigh in, funds will have to be found to pay for validation workshops and printing. Then the cycle of Training of Trainers (ToT) will kick in and the “cascade model” will be enacted to reach the grassroots. Still, we have begun the journey…and my part is soon to end. I admit I had been apprehensive about how much we could get done in Adama but I came home feeling satisfied that we had done our best. I have prepared the next draft and am awaiting feedback to complete draft#3. Once my part is done, I trust that my colleagues will carry it forward.

titi and babyNaturally my welcome committee greeted me when I was dropped off at home, though they clearly had been hoping for something other than watermelon as their treat !

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In a country where even a football team is named “Ethiopian Coffee” (Bunna in Amharic, pronounced Boo Nah! with emphasis on the second syllable) and you can pick up coffee flavoured condoms at any drug store, you know the bean is pretty significant. Read the local newspapers and you’ll discover that coffee is much discussed, with everything from interviews with a local coffee guru to the coffee price fluctuations on the commodities exchange, or the football team’s latest score and even a “Miss Ethiopia Coffee” contest where the winners will be sent to key exporting countries to promote Ethiopian coffee.

This is no joke – coffee accounts for about half of Ethiopia’s exports and employs about a quarter of the population, directly or indirectly. The livelihoods of millions of subsistence farmers depend on coffee sales that are at the mercy of global markets and climate change here and around the globe. Coffee is one of the biggest commodities in the world and Ethiopia is currently number 3 after Brazil and Vietnam in coffee exports.

Being a major coffee fan, I was pleased to be offered a volunteer placement here a couple of years ago, knowing I would always be able to get a good cup of coffee. I have not been disappointed. In my travels, it has often been the case that in coffee exporting countries it is difficult to get a good cup of local brew and, horror of horror, often all that is on offer is Nescafe instant. But not here. Ethiopians love their coffee and it plays a significant role in their cultural as well as economic lives. Here half of the coffee produced is used domestically. Let me take you on a “cupping” of some Ethiopian coffee facts, figures and legends that may surprise you!

Cup # 1: Ethiopia is where coffee was first discovered

They say that in the 8th or 9th century a goat herder named Kaldi discovered coffee after noticing his goats getting very frisky from nibbling red berries off some wild shrubs. He chewed some himself and enjoyed the buzz. Next someone (possibly monks) tossed some coffee berries in a fire and loved the scent. Slowly coffee as we know it today began to be drunk. Arab traders took the beans home and by the 15th century coffee had made its way to Europe and cafe society was born. For an engrossing and  detailed history of coffee check out a fascinating 3 part Canadian documentary series called Black Coffee.

Unripe coffee beans

What the goats found growing in the wilds and decided to sample!

Goats do seem to have addictive personalities – here is one chewing khat (chat) a stimulant leaf that is legal here and also a key export for Ethiopia

Ripe red coffee berries ready for harvest. Ethiopian coffee is hand picked, much of it from wild plants and is very labour intensive since not all berries ripen at once

Coffee berries for sale in the market

Sun dried coffee berries – the green beans are inside…

Green coffee beans for sale in the Woldia market. Since I arrived in September 2010, the price of a kilo of beans has gone from 80 Birr to 140, almost double in less than two years! And certainly salaries have not doubled…

The Kaldi coffee legend displayed in a small Addis cafe near La Gare, the old train station

Cup#2: The “coffee ceremony” is core to Ethiopian culture and hospitality

It is unclear how or when it originated, but the coffee ceremony is a strong cultural tradition throughout Ethiopia. Important events are opened with a coffee ceremony. As well, people traditionally gather together over coffee to just enjoy conversation on a regular basis. Cafes will have an ongoing ceremony where one can enjoy a small cup any time.

Naturally, at our VSO in-country training (ICT)  one of our introductory events was a welcome coffee ceremony

Required items for the ritual include a charcoal fire, popcorn, small cups on low serving table, sugar, mortar and pestle to pound the coffee, frankincense, clay coffee pot, boiling water, green coffee beans, water to wash the beans and a long handled pan to roast them…and if it is not done on the grass, then fresh cut grass is spread on the floor, possibly to show an appreciation of nature. A modern adaptation is a cloth with ribbon “grass” attached that looks a bit like a Hawaiian hula skirt and why not, after all, no culture is static!

Once roasted the beans are shown around so people can appreciate the wonderful aroma by inhaling the vapours

Asrebab, our landlady in Woldia, would often do an impromptu Saturday afternoon coffee ceremony in our sitting room

We  were invited to a coffee ceremony at the home of our friend and colleague Wondale when his wife Muluwerk was ready to introduce us to their new baby girl Tsionaweet. Here a cloud of frankincense can be seen wafting through the room

While the roasted coffee is being pounded to a fine powder in a wooden mortar called a muketcha with a metal or wooden pestle called a zenezena, flakes of frankincense are tossed on the charcoal to scent the room. Then the coffee powder is boiled in a special clay pot (jebena) and poured into small cups (sini). Popcorn is usually served as an accompaniment. Coffee is drunk with plenty of sugar and traditionally one has three cups. The first cups is called abol and naturally is the strongest, the second cup is called huletegna and the third, which is also suitable for children due to its weakness, is called bereka.

Here’s to Ethiopian coffee in a Haile Selassie flag cup!

Cup#3: Starbucks and Oxfam had a “dust-up” over trademarking Sidamo

I had heard there was some issue with ownership of Ethiopian coffee names and was interested to find this online: “The conflict began in March 2005, when Ethiopia filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the names of three coffee-producing regions: Yirgacheffe, Harrar and Sidamo. It was an attempt to use tools usually reserved for corporations in developed economies to wrest profit from their distributors. By seizing control of these brands, the Ethiopian government planned to force those who sell its coffee into licensing agreements, eventually obtaining a larger share of the sales.

But in the case of Sidamo, Starbucks had got there first, with an application the year before to trademark Shirkina Sun-Dried Sidamo. Until that application was resolved, Ethiopia’s claim could not go forward. The country asked Starbucks to drop its claim but received no answer for more than a year, says Kassahun Ayele, Ethiopia’s ambassador to the U.S. at the time: “They said, ‘You have to talk to our lawyers.'”

Hope the lawyers don’t see this one!

Eventually Oxfam got involved in supporting the Ethiopians and there was some rumbling about a boycott of Starbucks. Starbucks backed off. After all about 2% of all Starbucks coffee comes from Ethiopia and they have invested in some development projects here for poor farmers. The whole thing could become a public relations mess. They still disagree with the idea of Ethiopia trademarking their coffee, suggesting instead geographic designations. However Ethiopia has trademarked Harrar, Sidamo and Yirgachaffe and offers royalty free licensing agreements to those wanting to distribute these specialty coffees, with the hope that branding will increase demand and raise prices to benefit farmers.

Cup#4: No Starbucks here but Kaldi’s coffee shops abound in Addis Ababa

“Miss Marian, what are you up to this afternoon?”  Amare, my neighbour asked when he saw me walking down Togo Street toward the Haya Hulet intersection.

“I am writing a blog about Ethiopian coffee and am going to Kaldi’s to take some photos” I answered.

“Get in and we will go together”, he said, indicating the passenger seat. So I hopped in!

We enjoyed a pleasant hour on Kaldi’s deck sipping our tall Americanos amidst the busy crowd whilst discussing the blog. He helpfully confirmed some of my facts and added that the word coffee originated in Ethiopia as coffee was discovered in a region in the south that was known as Kaffa way back in time.

Kaldi’s is frequented by the young urban Ethiopian professional crowd willing to pay way more then the prices charged in traditional coffee shops. I imagine a lot of newcomers to Addis are as surprised as I was to find these successful Starbucks knock-offs. It certainly shatters a few stereotypes people may have about Ethiopia…

The story goes that an Ethiopian woman approached Starbucks to set up a franchise and was told they were not interested. She set up her own shop, naming it Kaldi’s after the original discoverer of the coffee bean and she now has her own very successful chain of coffee bars in the capital city. The difference between Kaldi’s and Starbucks is that Kaldi’s has attentive and efficient table service and a very popular car service as well as a cafe menu featuring breakfasts, sandwiches, burgers, a big selection of cakes and ice cream. Staff in smart green aprons serve all the usual coffee variations (latte, cappuccino, Americano, machiato, espresso, etc.) but they are made exclusively with Ethiopian coffee.

Cup#5: In 2008 the Ethiopia commodities market began trading in coffee

For four decades coffee had been sold at auction but for the last four years, since 2008, coffee has been traded on the commodities exchange (ECX). While the new system seems to still have some kinks to iron out, it is making progress, especially in the more lucrative specialty coffee markets that have the greatest potential to increase profits for the farmers.

A woman named Elani  Gebre-Mahdin (PhD.) is the CEO of the Ethiopia Commodities Exchange (ECX). I often see her picture in the paper and am pleased that there are at least a few female role models around. The most recent photo of her accompanied an announcement that a memorandum of agreement had been signed on how to establish a commodities exchange with the Nigerian government. While this was lauded as a great feather in the cap of Ethiopia, she did hint at what one faces in a developing country: “Though the ECX has become a champion of the modern exchange market on the continent, its operation is hampered by the lack of infrastructure. Poor road accessibility to many ECXs warehouses and a patchy telecom network are among the challenges that beset the day-to-day activities of the exchange”. (Reporter, May 12, 2012)

“Ethiopian Coffee Production Exceeds Expectations” read the headline in January 19,2012 Ethiopian Business News. It claimed that with the current production of 9.8 million bags, Ethiopia now ranks third in global coffee production after Brazil and Vietnam. Since then the global markets have slumped and some issues with hoarding until prices rise, etc. have appeared in the news.

I don’t pretend to fully understand the complexities of the coffee market, but I do know that it is a key factor in the livelihoods of many people here. What strikes me when I read about it is the interconnectedness of the world markets, how complex and competitive this business is and what a key factor it is in the development of the economy. And certainly, despite the many challenges, the country is capable of producing some of the best coffees in the world.

Here are some facts about Ethiopian coffee

  • 95% of Ethiopian coffee is produced by over 2 million smallholder farmers
  • About half of the coffee produced is for domestic consumption
  • About 25% of the population is directly or indirectly involved in the coffee industry
  • Coffee is Ethiopia’s #1 export
  • Almost 2% of the world’s coffee comes from Ethiopia
  • About half of the coffee is exported to Europe, 1/4 to Asia and the rest to North America

So here’s your challenge dear reader – if you are not already familiar with it, search out some Ethiopian coffee where you live and give it a taste . If it’s not available ask if they can get some. If you already drink Ethiopian coffee, good for you! Please keep on sipping to support Ethiopian coffee farmers and help grow the economy.

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Glimpsing a modern building dominated by a huge sign reading “Red Terror” Martyrs Memorial Museum last September, while on our orientation bus tour of Addis Ababa during our VSO in country training, I did a double take. What was this about? Since then I have twice visited said museum and read a book that contains the reports of the period of Ethiopian history from 1974-1991 when the Derg  (also spelled Dergue) ruled the country.

The Day of the Martyrs was compiled by Gedion Wolde Amanuel in 2010. It’s a chronological selection of eye-opening reports written by foreign journalists about the Derg regime in Ethiopia, found on the Internet . While some reports are contradictory and there is much repetition, the overall picture that emerges is one of brutal tactics that included summary executions, individual assassinations, forced disappearances, torture and imprisonment of tens of thousands of Ethiopians by their fellow countrymen without trial. Amnesty International estimated that half a million Ethiopians were killed during the “Red Terror” that occurred between 1978 and 1979.

Last visit, I got into conversation with the museum attendant:

“Not many foreigners know about this dark time in our history,” he said

“Well for me, that’s true – I did not know until I started to read about Ethiopian history as I prepared to move here”. I agreed

“ I don’t know why no one outside the country knows, so many were killed…”

“Well, I will do a blog about it and a few hundred more will know”, I said

“Thank you.”

Emperor Haile Salassie’s reign had begun in 1930 and by the late 60s and early 70s, as he began to lose touch with the people and famine ravaged the land, a revolution was brewing. “Haile Salassie ..established a more modern state by creating a structured central bureaucracy, a judicial system that codified laws and a Constitution. Despite these accomplishments however, revolts, rebellions, droughts and famines marked his reign. His unresponsiveness to the economic development and the political needs of his people…is what scholars believe ultimately led to his downfall.”(P.6) Widespread dissatisfaction amongst soldiers over poor food and water ended in a mutiny that was unresolved and began to slowly spread throughout the military. General discontent increased as teachers, students, intellectuals and workers demanded higher pay, better working conditions, education, land reform and famine relief. This discontent culminated in the 1974 coup organized by a committee (Derg) of 120 military officers who abolished parliament, suspended the Constitution and nationalized all land, industries and institutions.

Haile Salassie was arrested and, in a final act of humiliation, transported to jail in a Volkswagen beetle, far from the style to which he had become accustomed. It is said that he was eventually smothered with a pillow, an old and frail 80-year-old man, though this is disputed by some.

The euphoria of the revolution soon turned to dread and fear as the Derg took forceful control. Within the first 9 months, as power struggles ensued within the Derg, 2 of the leaders were killed, along with 59 members of the previous government. The man who emerged as leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, ruled the country from 1974 until 1991.

“The period immediately following the overthrow of Hail Salassie was a time of open political debate. The new regime did not have a clearly defined ideology, but it was swept along by the growing radical discourse among members of the civilian left. Initially the Derg tried to win the support of the Ethiopian left by declaring its socialist intentions in a program statement, Ethiopia Tikdem (Ethiopia First). The economic and social policies articulated in the document were populist in tone and did little to co-opt the civilian left. Once it became clear the Deg had assigned to itself the vanguard role in the revolution, elements of the civilian left began to criticize the regime. Chief among the critics was the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP). By 1976 they had become engaged in a systematic campaign to undermine and discredit the Derg…. At the height of its activities the EPRP included students, intellectuals, teachers, merchants, and government bureaucrats. It even had sympathizers within the military.” (P.25)

As the people began to realize that the revolution they thought they wanted was turning into a nightmare, former supporters began to organize against the Derg. Consolidating into what was called the White Terror, it involved a number of opposing groups throughout the country. Mengistu fought back, launching a reign of terror (Red Terror) that is estimated to have killed from 300,000 to half a million Ethiopians over the next several years.

“Mengistu officially began his campaign (of terror).. with a speech which included the words “Death to counterrevolutionaries!” When he delivered these words he produced three bottles of what appeared to be blood and smashed them on the ground to show what the revolution would do to its enemies.” (P.33)

Loosely following a Marxist ideology, Mengistu was supported by the Soviet Union and at one point there were even Cuban troops in the country. At the same time Western governments kept the aid flowing…

“Reporter Peter Worthington visited an overrun Ethiopian army barracks in Eritrea where he found Western food aid was feeding Mengistu’s army. “ I went to the Ethiopian army kitchen and found, stacked against the wall, a number of 50-kilogram sacks of flour, marked CIDA (Canadian International Development Association), gift of Canada. When I expressed surprise, the Eritreans shrugged and said it was normal for food aid to refugees to be used for the Ethiopian army.” (P.46)

May 27th (Ginbot 20 in the Ethiopian calendar) is a national holiday to celebrate the downfall of the Derg and I happened to be in Addis Ababa en route to a workshop. It was also a celebration of 20 years in power by the EPRDF, the party that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union eventually  crippled the regime, already weakened by years of opposition. There was an air of optimism as people massed in Meskel Square using this opportunity to carry banners and flags in support of the current government campaign to build a dam on the Nile (Abay) river.

Woldia billboard showing Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in front of a drawing of the proposed dam which they say will be one of the 10 largest in the world.

We had been warned by VSO to avoid such large gatherings, so I was following orders and not planning to go near the Meskel Square site.

Fortunately though, I had a bird’s eye view of the parade from my hotel balcony so I could watch from a safe distance. Early Saturday morning busload after busload of excited and happy people spilled out onto the street below me and joined the surge toward Meskel Square, blending in with other cheering and singing groups to form a fluttering rainbow of red, yellow and green – the colours of the Ethiopian flag.

Turning on the TV I watched the crowds build in the square and an impressive military helicopter fly over, dangling flags from all the regions of the country.

After a rousing, flag-waving song and dance number by schoolchildren, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi gave a 6-minute speech to much applause. The Ethiopian national anthem was sung with gusto. I am not good at estimating crowds but one newspaper report said they expected a million people to show up for this very special 20th anniversary.

Huge Meskel square crowd on Gimbot 20

While the mood was celebratory last week, if one asks, many sad and horrific memories of the dark days surface. After all, anyone over 25 will likely have been affected one way or the other.

Ato Gubena, a pedagogy teacher in my class talked to me of the dangers of being in a youth movement to oppose the Derg. An 18-year-old friend, also in the resistance, was killed by the Derg forces, which relied on a vast network of informers.

Ato Abera , a chemistry teacher in my class, told me of his experience, spending most of his time as a young boy hiding from the soldiers. “The soldiers didn’t catch me, I was lucky. My brother was caught up in the church by the soldiers (he was in training to become a priest) and they took him for national service and still now I don’t know if he is alive – the probability is almost zero.”

Ato Tegene, who works for Save the Children UK,  said he was a schoolboy in Addis when he saw 3 dead bodies lying in the street. “I was so shocked, I had never seen a dead body. I couldn’t eat for 3 days and I have never forgotten that sight.”

The Museum has been able to search out many photos of the people who were killed because“Under Mengistu the secret police had Soviet and East German advisers, and they encouraged meticulous record-keeping.” (P 127)

Reports say that every night bodies were dumped on the streets of Addis Abeba with notes painted on them saying things like “This is an enemy of the people”. Relatives who wanted to claim the bodies for burial were made to pay for the bullets used to kill their loved ones. It was also “not uncommon to see students, suspected government critics or rebel sympathizers hanging from lampposts each morning.” (P.139)

Ato Abate, an administrative officer at our college, told me he was in grade 7, living in a very remote rural area, when Haile Salassie was overthrown and witnessed the “Land for tillers” movement that saw land taken from owners and given to peasants. He said that while religion was not banned outright, it was discouraged. In the rural areas, landless peasants who received land were happy to get it, while the disowned landlords joined in the opposition to the Derg.

Religion (Ethiopian Christian Orthodox and Islam) pervades all life here in Ethiopia and I asked history teacher Nejashi about what happened to religion during the communist Derg. “While they did not ban it outright, the Derg did not allow anyone who practised religion to become a member. They would hold meetings on Wednesdays and Fridays when the Christians were fasting and serve meat which was forbidden to Christians on those days.”


Every time I take the bus to or from Dessie, just north of the town, I see a stark reminder of the Derg – two large rusted old Soviet tanks appear dramatically atop the hill perched beside the road. I asked Ato Kebede, one of the pedagogy teachers in my class, about his experience of the Derg days and he overwhelmed me with an outpouring of information. As a boy of about 17 he and many friends were thrown in jail in Dessie, accused of being counterrevolutionaries. Of the seventeen close friends jailed with him, ten died.

“I still suffer from the torture from four years in jail – dirty rags stuffed in my mouth, toenails pulled out, sitting on an electrified chair. I suffer still from having my side kicked in, my wrists squeezed with tightening metal bands until I bled through my fingers; for 8 months after my left hand was dead. Tuesdays and Thursdays were the killing days and they killed between 60-70 a day, slitting their throats with knives. Children between 5-12 even were accused of being in the resistance and thrown in jail, 70 were buried in a mass grave. There are so many stories I could tell…” Eventually, as the Derg powers began to wane, a judge ordered his release and he went back to school, completing a Bachelors and Masters degree.

Mengistu was convicted in absentia of genocide and sentenced to death in December 2006. He remains in Zimbabawe, reputed to be living a life of luxury, supported by the Mugabe government, who steadfastly refuse the extradite him to Ethiopia to face his sentence.

Wondering what a young person today would make of this history, I asked Henok, our 18-year old Amharic tutor, who is about to write his grade 12 final examinations next week, what he made of it.

“It is a difficult question. They were very cruel, the Red Terror, killing without any reason. They killed so many people who would have made our country more developed,especially high school and university students.”

I would encourage anyone who travels to Addis Ababa to visit the Red Terror Martyr’s Memorial Museum. It is just off Meskel Square, free of charge and the people working there are very willing to answer questions.They also have a library on the upper level for people to use for research.

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