Ethiopia, March 24, 2003
Beauties and Beasts of Ethiopia
|It's morning, and I'm on my way to the airline office to change my flight, so I can leave Ethiopia a day early. Now this has nothing to do with the US invasion of Iraq, for the Ethiopians are actually kinda glad to see a 'Christian' country kicking a Muslim one, but more to do with my inability to take any more of the constant begging, rip offs, scams, and outright incivility I've found in this country.
About one half the population finds it completely normal (and justified by their poverty) to beg incessantly from the moment I leave a hotel, until I retreat back into it, going so far as to wait outside shops and museums for me to reappear.
And if I deal with any of them, from 'official' guides to hotel employees, they will promise one thing, like a good view of a church or a fast ride to the next town, and deliver something else, like their brother's tourist shop or a slow bus to the wrong town.
Or they scam me, by charging me 3 to 1,000 times more than the actual price, which can mean an overcharge of a dollar or fifty, but averaging about $2 per transaction. Last but not least, they can just be outright rude, yelling at me if I don't buy them drinks, give them huge tips, or fall for their scams.
Oh but please don't get the impression that all Ethiopians are like this. No, only half the population is so worthless and crude, which is why when someone was robbed on the slow bus to Gondar, only they were searched for the missing money.
The other half is breathtakingly beautiful, and since they are always covered from wrist to ankle, their beauty is enhanced by their mystique. Tall and thin, with sharp Western features yet luxuriously dark skin, they captivate me with a grace and flair not seen anywhere else in sub-Sahara Africa.
Now while these two completely different peoples populate Ethiopia, I didn't come here only to be robbed by the men and awe-struck by the women. I came for the history, religion, and food of the only country in Africa not to be colonized.
The amazing castles of Gondar, the only true indigenous stone castles (vs. forts) in all of sub-Sahara Africa, were a historic sight to behold. They rose up from the highest hill in Gondar, commanding an unparalleled view of the countryside and churches that makes Ethiopia's landscape so picturesque.
And those churches! From the amazing cherubs staring down from the church in Gondar, to the awe-inspiring rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, this country, second only to Armenia in adopting Christianity as the state religion, is steeped in religious artifacts.
Artifacts like the amazing monolithic rock-hewn church Bet Giorgis, which should really be called Bet Gorgeous as it is perfectly and artistically carved from solid stone, almost justify the trip regardless of the crap I have to go through here daily as a mzungu.
As much as I don't want to admit it to myself, as much as it pains me even more to say it to you, I really do not like Ethiopia. Even the food here, which is so spicy and good in DC's Ethiopian restaurants, fails to impress, as its fasting time (Easter is coming) so the portions are skimpy and meatless, and the spice lacking.
So I am leaving Ethiopia early, and sadly, in my mind it's a place I'd rather not return to.