Ethiopia – roasting coffee, stones at our site and rock-cut temples

Etiopijos zmones. | Ethiopians.

So we are successfully in Ethiopia, after having made northern part of Kenya. If Zambia and Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania share some sort of borther-like features, Ethiopia stands out alone and say ‘folks, I’m seriously different’. The country lives according to the calendar of Julius, meaning seven years and three months behind. The sun rises at six, so that’s when the day commences, hence one o’clock when is our seven, but that’s actually in several more East African countries around Equator. However, their facial features are more Caucasian (narrow longer nose) and the skin colour slighly lighter too. They proudly say – Ethiopia is a homeland of Africa. And they might be right, the human journey might have just begun here and spreading across Yemen up north to Europe and the other wave to Asia tens of thousands years ago. Despite having 81 languages in their melting pot, the main one is Amharic, having artisticly looking script too. It sounds mild and soft with some tzak tzak along the lines. If the radio is on, nevermind you don’t understand a thing, but the melody lures you into song mood. Men use lots of body language, particularly eyes and forehead, and we didn’t notice how we ourselves began using it as well.

Ethiopia is the country in Africa which avoided any colonization apart from suffering a huge deal from Italians and having some sort of socialistic impact from USSR, so no wonder why Ladas are still there serving as taxis in Adis Ababa. Well, at least Italians repaying there forefathers mistakes and have built a good quality road in some parts and doing a dam too in the Nile part (that’s where in fact the Nile begins).

Ethiopian people, particularly women are beautiful and gracious, walking lean and dressed in their colourful scarfs. In the capital young ladies braid their hair in such fancy way so you think their going to the ball right from the early morning. Some women used to (like twenty years ago) tattoo their forehead with a cross and a chin with a some lines. The drivers told us it is not fashionable anymore, so they stopped doing it. You often see the the priests dressed in colourful bliss clothes and shiny umbrellas collecting the alms for their survival. Ethiopia is numerous, and there is a huge variety of people but the numbers are not scary. In fact, we felt pretty safe here.

Agression vs. friendliness


The border. We are calm to have received visa in Nairobi, so very quickly we are stamped – done and dusted, and ready to pack up and go. The officer who served us all of sudden comes out and slaps the guy standing next to us for reasons we will never know. It was pretty shocking, and you might just start wondering whether it is a common practice elsewhere as well. So we start observing closer the people on the streets. In fact, we encountered several more occassions. The policeman in the streets whips few times harshly some naughty (perhaps) by-passers. Even among the women you can feel a bit of agresiveness, as we witnessed one slapping a man in public, and quite a few pushing each other. In fact on few occassions kids have been thrown the stones at too, but locals say it might be only a way to attract the attention. After having observed all that, you may draw a conclusion, that they are pretty agressive people.

Hands down though – after the rest of Africa we have just passed through, they have been so genuinely nice to us, that you may get confused between these two character features. You see often men are hugging, holding hands, smiling and laughing. Pretty happy people. Rafi, an Ethiopian who grew up in USA and now came back to live in Ethiopia recounts us. When he lived in USA and used to go to nightclubs, he constantly felt unsafe. He felt he will always will need to defend himself, and on several occasions even lost his friends to death. But here, he says, he has never felt any threat. On the contrary, people are very friendly. When he came back to Ethiopia for the first time and saw guys holding hands, he thought he entered the big gayfriendly street. Homosexuality is forbidden in Ethiopia, and holding hands is only the sign of attachment and friendship. We observer after all, that the majority of northern hemisphere suffers a great deal of coldness and emotional remotness.

Mus pasisveciuoti priemusi draugija. | The welcoming family.

The relationships between parents and kids are vital and certainly close here, as in all African countries. That is how all human needed to survive – to stay close and help each other. But being from cold baltics, we ask how they manage to keep it peaceful even living together. Aparently parents only tell what to do to their kids until they are out of university (or at similar age) but then they fully responsible for their lives. Advices may come from parents, but they would never expect their kids to behave the way they think its necessarily. Kids is not their property anymore, but some sort of partners. As Khalil Gibran once told, that kids are only arrows to be let into the world. But that does not mean, that if you take your own decisions, parents or sibling wouldn’t help anymore. That’s often an ambitious case in Europe – ‘you are under my roof so I command you’. Everyone feels they help each other if someone is in trouble. For instance, Ashenafi has completed his studies and became a vet. It’s not a rich profession, you get only 80$ per month. But it seems that living in the community has its beauty, everyone helps each other.

The food oasis

Ndzera. | Njera.

The food is glorious once again (feels like being back to Asia) as the meals in previous countries were blunt and only to provide some sort of nutritions. The Easter is coming, so on the roads everyone is offering eggs and roosters. The fasting time is about to end. They haven’t had meat or dairy for two months. But for us it was a good time as we are not meat fans at all. So the variety of vegetable or bean meal (sherou) with njera (local bread that looks like a massive sour pancake). But vegetarians aware, in many villages after the fasting is over, it is hard to find anything else but meat. After having three times one day (thanks to our hosts) we decided to pursue unmeaty options. We have also tried a sour milk with a smoky taste in the village – quite an interesting drink (as the drivers called – local icecream).

Roasting coffee and incense

To exchange money near the border it is a big hassle and a sure loss. So we go a bit further to change the money and in the random shop it changes at a nice rate and the ladies host us with our first Ethiopian coffee. But what a taste! Your brain will first get kicked and then slowly melt, and you will feel you don’t want that tiny cup to finish. Ethiopians are so proud their coffee to be ecological, and they smile humbly when you say it’s the best coffee ever. They know it. A shepherd some time ago found out the coffee effect by accident, when he saw his sheep getting really excited after have eaten the leaves from that magic bush. Now the ceremony takes place at least three times per day and it takes time to prepare a good coffee, and they can be very particular about it. Firstly they roast the beans. No one in Ethiopia would use already roasted ones, and definetely not the instant one. So the excitement starts with roasting it and seeing the colour change from green to dark brown. They can tell from the aroma if is ready yet. Then they ground it with a wooden utensils until familiar consistence. They boil the water and put the coffee in the clay coffee pot straight on the charcoal. The pot has to be in certain position to let the coffee settle down in a correct way. The coffee is poured to small cups which already loaded with sugar. No wonder, why many people here have diabetes – the drink is rather sweet. But certainly delicious, and we could not resist each time people invited for some coffee or we had it ourselves whenever it’s possible! We ate with local bread and… sweet popcorn too, apparently it is a common practice here.

Chat – a way to drug yourself up

Kava. | Coffee

In Kenya massive sacks of kat – drug plant – are quickly transported to the airport to get that as quickly as possible to Somali or some countries in Europe. In Ethiopia the same drug plant is widely used and is called chat. Everyone – particularly drivers and youth – like cows with their green full of plant mouths eating apparently energizing plant. Yet their eyes get somewhat unclear eventually. The world does not differ after all. Lithuanians run madly to get their beer before the ten o’clock in the evening strikes or secretely produce their vodka in the forest, some africans drink horrible white beer, europeans (and many others) smoke desperately, bolivians chew coca, arabs smoke shisha, and here everyone is crazy about chat. Even a goat sneaks in the tiny coffee shop and steals a branch of chat lying on the ground, and quickly happy gets out. Some do that because their life is too poor, and some because they lost in riches, and many try to escape their lifes, their upsetting never-to-satisfy realities. Later on we saw the people chewing some sort of little sticks – is that some sort of new drug too? No, apparently they brush their teeth like that – massagging their gums and cleaning out things with the sticks.

Rytas kavineje. | Morning in a Coffee shop.

Observed ethiopian life on the road

When you are traveling the southern part of Ethiopia, you cannot miss tall natural red towers. Some of them are as tall as trees or even houses. Apperently termite ants have created so many of those, but they never stay in those castles. You actually start wondering how genius and hardworking they are, knowing that this is not the only masterpiece in their lifes. The hills in the south grow huge in the north, and the beauty is truthfully splendid. Both – south and north. You can still feel the old fashion way of living – riding donkey carts, camels with hurdles and the cattle is not only in the countryside, but in the capital too! Sometimes they butcher the sheep straight where they are so you can still see the inside out on the sideway. Some people say hyenas like to come and take their part. People (even young women and kids) carry their big loads of wood or water. Even if tons of kids and grown-ups asked us for money (we call it instinct and not a need anymore), generally they looked pretty happy despite their unluxurious life.

Lalibela – rock-hewn temples and a naughty priest

Etiopijos bezdziones. | Ethiopian monkeys.

We came to Lalibela to see the fascinating rock-cut temples, a pride and beauty of Ethiopia. We don’t often go to touristy places, but thought this could be worth to pay a visit. Indeed, the work that has been put to make the rock look like a temple is extraordinary. And the mystery in getting inside those dark dimly lit buildings is overwhelming. The tourists were not abundant at all, so we always managed to find our space to sit silently in there somewhere in front of old icon-like paintings of saint George or Mother Mary with Jesus.



But one day before to visit the masterpieces I thought to spend sometime with myself, to pray and stay in silence. I got off the main road, and walked the path less travelled towards the mountain, where the massive panorama of mountains and busy village merge together. Finding a brisky shade, I finally sad down by myself hoping no one will come to disturb my so needed peace. I had to send off some of those who thought their presence will make my day brighter. Sometimes you have to be very direct. I put my headphones on to cut myself away from the living creatures. But no later than five minutes another one arrived waving to me as if I desperately lacking of a company. ‘I’m praying’ I said hoping he will respect my peace and move away. But he just stood nearby. Eventually he started to hum something, and I just made my headphones louder. ‘I only need five minutes’ he insisted. ‘Ok, five minutes only’ I lost the battle thinking that the conversation will be clear and cut. ‘I’m the deacon in one of these churches’. He showed one of the temples. ‘These are my clothes, and the prayer book. I just wanted to say that I’ve never met a person who came to pray in the mountains. White people only come to see the temples but they don’t care about God. ‘ He just got so excited and that grew like on the yeast, but I was still struggling not being able to trust him completely. I was rather short in answers, gave half a smile only. But why cannot I trust, I wondered. Whether it is because we had hundreds cases before and the conversations (apart of the ones when we hitchhiked the cars and couchsurfed in Adis) ended up in asking for something. He continued to enjoy this encounter, and eventually sang some ritual songs and showed the prayer place on the mountain. I blamed myself for being overly sceptical and continuously struglled between trying to listen to what he is saying and my own eternal fight. But so far so good. It’s time for me to go home, I said. ‘Can I ask you something’. That is exactly what I was afraid of. ‘Can I ask for love?’ What? You know, love. Love? Yes, love! You must be joking. We have just been talking about spiritual things, he was singing and so, and all of a sudden he just kicked the last drops of trust completely out of way. Later in conversations with Karolis, he suggested that this perhaps is a very natural thing for them. To ask for love as if to ask to drink tea with someone, and seeing no trouble in that. My trusting part has lost this time.

We are slowly heading towards Sudan. The drivers praise it, they say no one asks for money in Sudan, and they look after the guests very well. Despite the fact, it is going to be hot as hell, we have now great expectations about the country.

Dictophone #27 – Kenya and Tanzania

Kenya and Tanzania by Itervitae on Mixcloud

Kenya – with a gun through the desert, hyenas and the baptized Masai

Leaving a country of idyllic nature and crazy drivers, we are now heading there, where some people advised us to be more cautious and not to expect too much of friendliness. But hitchhiking at times reveals unpredicted corners, so we are looking forward to a new challenge.

Father Renato – I was drinking blood too

Mus prie kelio pasitikęs dramblys. Su tokiu nesinori susidurti, tad ir mašinoje užtaisomas ginklas. | The giant elephant we saw by the road. No one would like to get in trouble with this one, therefore the gun in the car is loaded.

To receive Kenyan viza is as easy as Tanzanian, so in a quarter of an hour we are already walking on the road. Tanzanian beauty is perhaps seriously contagious, so now Kenyan south seems to carry on the same nice valleys and hills. It is somewhat clear now, why these countries are quite popular to visit. There are a number of game parks, where gentlemen in sand colour attire and bowl-like hats are there to complete ‘I’ve seen it’ list. But we are a bit of different breed because we are coming here at out of season time. The rains are about to swing in their abundance, so you cannot see neither Kilimanjaro nor mount Kenya.

The first vehicle is somewhat surprised, why on earth we are not in buses, but stopping cars and not even thinking of paying, bringing us to the police check point. So we recount the same old story about traveling through continents. ‘But in Kenya we pay for the ride’. ˜Well, in many countries do too. But that’s our way of traveling, we crossed now blah blah…’ In fact, we didn’t see we are going to convince or impress them, so we were about to walk away. Unexpectedly the police stops the Asian looking guy and immediately starts to praise what a wonderful thing we are doing and how we are going to be safe and amiable companions for the journey.

Chat - lapus, populiarų lengvą narkotiką, kramtantys draugiški vietiniai, siūlę pavaišinti mus kupranugarių pienu. | Chat leaves - very popular drug here - chewing friendly locals.

Renato – or Father Renato – is a Filipino missionary here. He works with Masai people. Masai is one of those well known tribes, still holding their culture as it is. They live in the savannas and are shepherds to the goats mainly. ‘Why would you like them to become Christians?’ we ask, and Renato says to expand their faith experience. They believe in mountains or trees, and so now they can have a broader way of believing. On the other hand men are rarely seen in the church as they think this religion is for women and kids. So father Renato tries to lure them by maybe taking a photo of a man at work and including the photograph in the presentation, so people are curious and see themselves on the screen. But also Father Renato in christian way of includes local rituals like blood and milk. ‘Oh yeah, I’ve tried drinking blood too, it’s impolite to refuse’. But he builds the church and nursery together with local people, already knows Masai language and feels here very well.

Nairobi: stories from Somalia

In Nairobi we had a task to get Ethiopian viza, as without it we can not proceed up north. They say it’s difficult but one should try. So we lodge ourselves at our new couchsurfer host Waqas, and go straight to the Embassy.


Embassy smells of coffee. The Coptic cross tattoo on the female consul’s forehead, the she goes through all our visas, hears our plans and seems she is ok with us passing Ethiopia, so in couple hours we already have a visa.

Waqas is our host in Nairobi. He is Pakistani raised in UK, and in Kenya he is temporarily for his missions to Somalia. He runs some support projects there, and we got a short glimpse of how things in the country, where even a sound of it gives shivers. It seems that the clans conflicts brought country to real shatters.

Waqas was perhaps the most keen to hear our travel stories, and that is unsurprising as he himself done very similar experience – hitching and living a very basic life in South America, like Brazil. At times for him was even much harder to find a place to sleep as he is a Pakistani Muslim from UK, which hits all the tick boxes of being a potential terrorist. So even some mosques refused to let him pitch his tent. He knows of what does it mean to travel with very little. We actually had a really good chance to reflect on our character development throughout our journey of life during those days.

Nanyuki – Kenyans that are coming back home

From Nairobi to Nanyuki our journey goes smoothly, as in all our sub-Saharan odyssey. We met two Kenyans that day who have returned to their country after years of living abroad. Theresa is still having family in Switzerland, says she is so much more happy in Africa as here she feels more freedom, community spirit and people friendliness. Johnny as well came back from London to develop his business here. When one passenger in his car asked us to bring him to Europe at least for a day, Johnny ironically remarked that they all think in Europe is heaven where you don’t have to work.

Ketvirtą kartą kertame ekvatorių. | Crossing the equator for the fourth time.

Even though some people warned us that people being that so kind, we actually meet quite a few to host, help or invite for a coffee people. So we guess Africa knows not only how to get but to look after guests too.

To Moyale – with a gun through the blossoming desert

Even if we couldn’t see mount Kenya or Kilimanjaro because of the clouds, rainy season reveals a spectacular side of the desert being all in bloom. ‘So you are going to the north of Kenya? It’s pretty dangerous out there’ people tell us. Still up to this date people who need to pass that area focus and prepare, some even having security on board. Somalia bandits often attack the peaceful drivers, often robbing them of their possessions, but first shooting with their AK47 to stop the vehicles. As the writer Theroux in his journey through Africa told (Dark Star Safari) that at times not so much the money that interest them but shoes or other possessions.

The situation has improved, as now even buses get people to Moyale, but for hitchhikers the trucks perhaps are still the best option. We have been lucky to hitch a ride with a 4wd with a security on board (Rendele tribe man with a gun) up till Mersabit, a town in the middle of of desert up on the mount.

Kupranugarių kaimenės. | Camels.

We sat down on the sacks of charcoal and prepared for the long 4 – 5 hour drive through the desert. At first the road is a smooth tarmac, but after 100km drive it stops and then the real ride begins through potholes. From time to time we look around to see if anyone suspicious is around, but instead we see a red-coated elephant, who perhaps was rolling in the red mud.

Rendele and Samburu tribes are the main people living in the region, and the same as Masai they still preserve their lifestyle. Now the desert is abundant of water, so you can see people happily washing their clothes in puddles and drying them on the bushes. Women wear exciting numerous necklaces and men in their minimal clothes. Despite the exotic sights and maybe the first aww at the beginning, we sort of loose that feeling soon. After having seen now many cultures in various clothing across the globe, we see them more of ordinary people with a simple lifestyle and courage to keep their own culture. As long as some government will not come and force them to move to some city ghettos where they would loose freedom and nature as for instance happened in some parts in Brazil.

Mersabit – listening to the lullaby of hyenas

Kelyje link Etiopijos automobilyje reikalinga apsauga, nes pasitaiko iš Somalio kilusių banditų, Sifta. | On the road towards Ethiopia some protection is always good as there are some Somalian Bandits called Sifta.

We finally reach Mersabit, a town on the hills in the middle of the desert. We arrive here pretty late, and immediately pitched the tent at the exit of the town. ‘It is going to be cold here’ one girl warns us. Hope it will be ok, we are tired and not caring for anything. ´Any hyenas?’ we inquire. ‘Yes, some walking around’ the boy was right. These animals sounds were an intro to the long night. They stopped at around midnight, but then ‘mazungu mazungu’ we hear close to our tent. ´We here, we hear you’. So they leave, and the strong stormy rain starts with no compassion to us, finishing just in the morning. You get out of the tent and see some kids already staring at strangers and a man in a gun. He stares at us for some moments and then leaves. Nice morning sight. Everything is in the mist, we are in the mountains after all.

Ilgas ilgas laukimas viduryje nieko. | Lonk long wait in the desert.

We are back on the road as soon as possible with no breakfast, as the vehicles are not frequent here. In fact in early days it was even worse, but now you see some overcrowded 4wd with Kenyan and Chinese who are working to bui the future road which will bring prosperity. Until it will be needed to fix it again. After seeing the fourth country with Chinese work results you somehow wonder what is their interest here. It seems that they far beyond the western cultures who still has an immense impact but perhaps not for that long.

The desert is long with a terrible road ahead of us. Ethiopian road work supervisor gives us a lift further away, so we have only hundred kilometers away from the border. But we are there in the middle of nowhere, just a camp of Chinese and no one goes Moyale way. So we sit there not knowing how and when we will be able to get out. The herd of camels are passing us, and to be honest we even enjoy being stuck somewhere in some surreal environment, in the middle of the desrert. A total different reality.

Dulkėti, duobėti ir sunkiai pravažiuojami keliai šiaurės Kenijoje. | Dusty, bumpy and sometimes hardly passable roads to the north.

But some hours later we were lucky enough to stop another 4wd with some Chinese again, who observed the future road more than the blooming desert. We rode long hours through the muddy roads (who said it is a desert), but finally after the sun set down we arrived to Moyale. Ethiopia, we are so close to you.

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