Easter in Ethiopia? Most of my friends raised their eyebrows and muttered something along the lines of “Hmm, that’ll be different” and how right they were. The country is, quite simply, stunning; the sites are like nothing I have seen elsewhere and the people are warm, friendly and welcoming. I had no preconceived idea of what to expect, but everything is a far cry from those desperate images beamed to us during times of their terrible famines.
Throughout the trip we continued to be amazed at the wondrous sites, be they the breathtaking scenery of the countryside and mountains, the awesome rock hewn churches with their intricate murals or the colourful, crowded markets, so very different to our own.
For me personally, it was the people who proved to be the very best feature of Ethiopia. They live in little more than shacks of varying quality depending on region, they have virtually no possessions, the clothes they stand up in are, quite probably, the only ones they own yet they have the most wonderful smiles and seem happy with their lot (or little).
Little children run excitedly to greet us, attracting our attention with cries of "firenji" (foreigner). Most of them are willing subjects for photographs and the joy of seeing themselves on our digital camera display screen is heart-warming.
However, Ethiopia is not for the faint hearted. Poverty is always evident, beggars are commonplace and both towns and villages alike are generally a collection of ramshackle ‘huts’ shared by families and their animals who have a daily battle to control the dust. It is certainly not for those who like nice clean pavements, street lighting, asphalt roads and shops to browse.
A visit to Ethiopia is enlightening. It opens the mind and evokes thoughtfulness about the contrast with our possession orientated, materialistic based culture.
Whilst I didn’t always appreciate being covered in dust, I certainly feel privileged to have visited a small part of this incredible country.