Things that startled me in Ethiopia

Here, I enlist few things that were able to capture my attention and worth mention here during my time in Ethiopia.

  1. Get your shoe washed

Washed-Yes, you read it correct, its washed- not shined. Ethiopian men, I should say have an obsession for clean shoes. There are shoe shiners on the street side else where in the world too. They polish and shine your shoes, or cobblers who mend your shoes. But where else have you seen young boys with small buckets, soap and brushes who wash  your shoes for you.

A teenage boy with his shoe cleaning stall.


The rates do vary based on your shoe type and size. The biggest challenge for me, was not the rates they charged but the amount of time I had to wait for mu shoes to dry up, before I could put them on again.








  1. 2.  Brush your teeth, as you go

Many Ethiopians still use the tree branches, as their tooth brush. Mefaika the process of brushing in Amharic generally involves the tree stems specially from wera tree (Olive tree). One single twig costs 1-2 birr and can be used as long as the stub remains. So people, specially men, who go to work in the morning, get dressed and their mefaika happens all along their way to work.

  1. Display of arms

If you are early bird and decide to go on morning walks like I do. Don’t be shocked by people specially the night watchmen, walking back to their homes with Kalashnikov rifles on their shoulders.

Despite the governments major programs to control the number of domestic firearms, having an automated weapon and displaying it in public is a sense of respect, manhood and has been deeply engraved, specially in the rural communities.

Guards at the university guest house also carry big guns during their night shifts.

  1. We care, thats why we share
A traditional Ethiopian meal with Injera.

The traditional and most common form of eating is by sharing from a common plate. The friends and family gather round a table, food is served on a large, almost 2 feet plate. Injera, the sour bread with fermented dough forms the base and spices, lentils, vegetables are placed on the top.  Every one eats from the same plate, with their bare hands using injera as an edible scoop or a wrapper to form a bolus. The most surprising is gursha, that is an act of respect and love but involves feeding you, into the mouth.


  1. The never ending tale of Time telling

Their sense of telling time, no matter how hard I have tried to understand, still remains a confusion.

First hour of the day corresponds with the rising of the sun, and last hour is the sunset. Six o clock in the morning international time is 12 in Ethiopian time. The 12 hours distribution pattern in my logic should be made possible by their location near the equator- nearly 12 hours of daylight any time of the year.

Ethiopian national calendar is also distinct. It has 13 months, 12 lunar months as of  Julian calendar, exactly 30 days each. The last remaining month however has 5 days (6 in leap year).

This calendar began 7 years 113 days behind Gregorian (Western) calendar, hence the Ethiopian New Year is celebrated on September 11 and Christmas on January 7th.

  1. Meat lovers paradise- if you can dodge the fasting!

If you love meat, as much as I do then Ethiopia is your paradise. Meat is consumed in a variety of forms and cheap too. But if you are unlucky as I was, then you might sum up your time in Ethiopia in their endless fasting. During the fasting meat and meat products, including milk are impossible to find (except in high-end tourist restaurants).

Note-The Ethiopian orthodox Christian community fasts for  almost 200 days in a year. The longest fast, Abiy tsom, which literally translates to the great fast runs for 55 days. This ends with easter celebration on the last Sunday.

7. Streets ruled by bajajs

Bajaj, Indian three wheelers named after the company that manufactures it, are also called tuk-tuk else where in Africa. These are the easiest and swiftest, not necessarily the cheapest mode of transport in Gondar.

A bajaj undergoing maintenance in a funky pose!

I was quite surprised to hear the cost of individual bajaj though almost 6000USD. Much of it is blamed on the governments automobile tax and being landlocked.

Bargaining with 50 % from what they ask is the rule of the thumb. However, knowing what they pay for the three wheeler and comparing it with what they make in a day, its not an easy life for them either.

Remaining on the topic of locomotives, the number of two wheelers, motorcycles are also strikingly very low compared to other cities in developing nations.

The list can go on. After all Ethiopia is a very big nation, with hundreds of cultures, numerous languages, ethnicity and millions of years of history. It amazes me everyday and in every new interaction.



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