A couple of days ago, after writing what I think will be my next to last Ethiopian Adventure blog post, I decided to get in the holiday spirit and bake. For years, each year about this time, I make the pumpkin bread recipe written in my mom’s (Barbara Lewis Duke Lightle) hand writing, a recipe she gave me decades ago. The recipe card looks a bit worn, but the results are as yummy as ever. Sift together 3 cups flour, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. nutmeg, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. cloves, and 1/2 tsp allspice. In a large electric mixer bowl combine 1 cup cooking oil, 3 cups sugar (this is the original she used; however, I only use 2 1/3 cups sugar), and 3 eggs. Beat well. Add one small can pumpkin, 1 tsp. baking soda, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Mix well. Finally, slowly add the flour mixture. Pour into three well greased and floured coffee cans–each 1/2 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 min. to one hour. Her original recipe calls for adding 2/3 cup walnuts or pecans. I want to have three kinds of bread so I pour 1/3 into the first can with nothing added, then I add nuts to the rest and pour 1/2 of that into the second can. Finally, I add 1/2 cup golden raisins and pour the remainder into the last can. Cool thoroughly before removing from the cans. It helps to loosen the sides with a knife. Enjoy, share.
My friend’s parents live in Nazret or Adama, depending on which Ethiopian language you speak. Nazret is the Amharic name and Adama is Oromo. After relaxing a couple of days there, we headed toward Awash National Park for a day trip. What a contrast to the previous part of our journey. Intense green and cold totally gone. What we saw here probably fits more with what most Americans picture when they hear the word Ethiopia.
On the way out of town into the country, we passed fields of various crops including this sugar cane field.
We also saw fields cultivated for sowing teff. Since I had seen teff fields previously in the green, high mountain country, I came to the conclusion that teff successfully grows in a wide variety of climates and altitudes.
This is volcano country. Although most are extinct and have not erupted in hundreds to thousands of years, at least one in sight of the highway has erupted within recent history.
Throughout the trip we saw small villages of traditional round houses with thatched roofs, most with rock walls around them. These walls provide protection from predators such as hyenas. And then suddenly we were there, a place I so wanted to see, the Great Rift Valley, the place where the oldest totally intact hominid skeleton was found, Lucy.
The Great Rift Valley goes for thousands of miles from farther south in Kenya up through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. I was very surprised to discover they grow grapes here in Ethiopia and produce wine. We decided to try it; the merlot was good. A series of unique lakes lay in the valley. I would like to go back and visit all of them. Some are filled with so many chemicals, you cannot drink the water and no fish live there. An example is Metehara Lake. The fish are delicious, but the water cannot be safely drunk. The most amazing thing about this lake is that it grows approximately four inches annually. In the last few years, the road had to be relocated because of it.
First glimpse of the lake. Then we had a flat tire which delayed the trip a few hours because not only did Dino and his dad have to change the tire, but we had to stop in the town of Metehara to buy a new spare which entailed bargaining and more bargaining. Dino’s mom hiked down the road to get rocks to keep the vehicle from rolling. If I had realized what she was doing, I would have done it myself. She is in her 70s.
A little adventure occurred here. First, while they were working on the tire, a man came along and offered to help. His truck (this is a major highway between Adama and Djibouti) had broken down nearby. Then an Afar teenager came along and looked around, saying nothing. I realized he had a dagger in the back of his clothes when he walked off. Finally, an Afar man, maybe in his late 40s or 50s came along. The Afar are a nomadic people who have lived in East Africa for thousands of years. The men are noted for their ferocity. Their lifestyle has changed little; instead of spears, they now carry assault rifles slung across a shoulder. They herd cattle, goats, and camels. He walked around the vehicle and came up to me. Neither of us knowing the others’ language, the tiny conversation consisted of gestures. Dino suddenly told me to get in the car. At first I ignored him. A couple of minutes passed; he loudly repeated the order. I got in the car, wondering why. When I asked, he told me one never knows what the Afar are going to do and pointed out just how close the man had stood. I never noticed; I have no personal space.
Tire changed, we drove toward the town close to the lake.
Crossing thèse lava beds would be difficult. As we dropped lower, we drove on the new road by the lake. You can see the old road crossing the middle of the photo below. It is nearly covered with water.
We missed the entrance to the park, realized we had gone too far, turned around, and headed back. The entrance to the lodge is more like what most people think of when they think of Africa.
This was one of my favorite places: it was warm, almost hot. I saw lesser kudus several times, but they seemed so ordinary to the others that no one stopped so I could take a photo. The lodge was delightful and the shiro some of the best I had. Loved it. I even asked for the recipe. The resident ostriches, however, looked rather pathetic.
Here the Awash River is full of crocodiles. Our first glimpse was through binoculars from the lodge restaurant.
Dino’s mom posed with me while we waited for lunch. Then we hiked down to the river and the falls where we saw even more crocodiles.
The falls are so large that I could take a photo of only a portion of them at the top where the hike down begins.
The green between the two sections of the falls was totally covered with water a few weeks later when Dino’s brother travelled there with his family.
I loved walking along the river banks, careful, however, because of the crocodiles. They may look slow, but they can really move rapidly when they choose to do so.
Crocodiles like basking in the sun.
Along the highway, camels graze, boys herd large flocks of goats, and a totally different species of acacia appear.
If you look at the background of the photo below, you can see long lines of corrals–for camels to export to Yemen and other areas where camels are eaten. If you live in Amarillo, Texas, and order in advance, you can eat camel at the Somali restaurant on Amarillo Boulevard.
Unlike most of Ethiopia where we had previously travelled, here we saw fences especially around villages. They bring the livestock in for protection from not only hyenas but also lions. Yes, lions live here. I asked if they ever see them. I was told, “No, but you sometimes hear them roar at night.” They also told me that the lions like to go down to the sugar cane factory, but no one knows why.
When I want an Ethiopia “fix”, I listen a audio/video of Awash Falls.
Usually, I plan my posts, write them out carefully, sometimes even proof a couple of times. Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. Even though I know all about the historical lies to cover up the truth about the supposed original Thanksgiving, I continue to think this is a useful and fun holiday for several reasons. Thankfulness, gratitude, remains the primary source of a happy life. The list of things for which I am thankful seems nearly endless:
-living in a place filled with natural beauty
-my son, even though we talk only occasionally and he lives far away
-my students, one of whom posted on Facebook this morning that he is grateful that he had me as a teacher ten years ago
-the friends who took me with them to Ethiopia this past summer
-all my other friends locally and from all over the world
-the exchange students who have lived with me and from whom I receive messages regularly
-my parents for whom I owe eternal gratitude for teaching me values, independence, tolerance, a love of beauty and knowledge, and a sense of wonder
-my ability to sing
-wildlife, nature–here where I am so fortunate to live
-my ability to write
-all the people who love my book of poetry and tell me they do–I might also include the people, mostly men, who find it shocking
-happiness and the choice I made to be happy all those long years ago
I could go on and on. However, it seems best to end with this fantabulous morning on my own little rim of wonder and say I am thankful for a life filled with so many astonishing events and experiences I never expected and for which I am endlessly grateful.
This recipe makes good sized portions for two people.
2 talapia filets
1/2 red onion, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper chopped into bite sized pieces
1 medium sized beet, thinly sliced
2 handfuls Swiss chard–if large pieces, take a knife and separate the middle spine from the leaf part
Chop the spines and add to the onion
Cover the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil. Add the onions, chopped Swiss chard spines, and beets–I cut the beet slices in half. Saute until the onions are somewhat caramelized and the beets almost tender. Add the peppers and 1-2 tablespoons bebere or to taste. When the peppers are half done, add the filets. Sprinkle extra bebere over the filets. When they are almost tender, add the Swiss chard and sauté until the Swiss chard wilts. Serve over rice.
Note: I grow my own Swiss chard in a large pot in the house. This enables be to have my own supply. However, the leaves are tiny compared to the large leaves in the market, making it unnecessary to cut the green leafy part away from the center spine. Bebere is an Ethiopian spice which is slightly hot; it has a wonderful, unique flavor. You can use whatever spices you prefer.
Once again, we drove through rain and clouds and endless fields, some of which had been cultivated ready to plant and some all green and growing.
I realize this is not what most people in the United States think when they hear the word Ethiopia. I kept thinking of photos I had seen of Ireland.
The ancient grain, teff, produces extremely tiny seeds which are ground to flour to make injera, an Ethiopia staple. It is used much like people in India use chapatis or like people in Mexico use tortillas. However, it looks nothing like either of these. It is thicker and a bit spongy like crepes but huge–more than a foot in diameter. The man in the photo below is sowing teff.
Teff fields stretch almost as far as the eye can see.
Villages are frequently set along side the good highways.
Major highways are excellent. The only really bad road we traversed was in Simien Mountains National Park where they keep the road that way on purpose. Well, that and the streets in Addis.
As we came closer to the Nile Gorge, it became more mountainous again.
First sight of the Nile Gorge.
All major bridges seem to have a resident guard. Unlike the guard at the bridge in Bahir Dar, this guy told us we could walk around and take photos.
If there is a guard, he has to have a guard house.
And a house.
Even though by this time I had not only floated down the Nile but also crossed it in a boat a couple of times, I remained entranced. We walked across the old bridge built in 1948. Actual traffic now crosses the new bridge built by the Japanese.
Personally, I did not see anything wrong with this old bridge and wondered why they thought they needed a new one.
A couple of signs written in several of the languages spoken in Ethiopia commemorate the old bridge.
As we climbed out of the gorge, we saw common baboons begging. They are neither as pretty nor as friendly as gelada baboons.
I could not resist taking a variety of photos looking back down into the Nile Gorge.
Dino could not resist stopping for one long, last look at the Nile.
When we asked the name of this waterfall, we were told that it was just an ordinary waterfall and had no name.
The final switchback before we became immersed in the clouds.
The last of the grass eating primates–all others are now extinct–gelada baboons are found only in Ethiopia above 1800 meters. The first I saw ran up and down the cliffs at Menelik’s Window. Because the people in this area use large tufts of grass to make house roofs, boys patrol the area, attempting to keep the baboons from eating this particular type of grass. Perhaps because of their experience being chased persistently by humans, these baboons were hard to photograph up close because they ran off. The boys who guard the grass pass time by making hats and other items out of the grass the baboons want. If you look closely at the following photo, you can see a couple of baboons running up the slope. Although you can see gelada baboons in several places in the high mountains of central Ethiopia, their major sanctuary is Simien Mountains National Park. Here they are protected from hunting. Unlike those at Menelik’s Window, these did not run off especially if one walked along quietly or stopped to watch. Unlike other species of baboons, these are not aggressive. The males may appear to be boss because of their big manes, red-hearted chests, and size, but such is not the case. In the world of gelada baboons, females rule. Females even choose the one male that shares up to six or so females. The male may try to fight off contenders, but in the end the females choose. Because I found many of the 2000 feet cliff drop-offs a bit daunting, on the hike I chose to go higher with the guide. A fortuitous choice for sure. We found ourselves surrounded by a huge troop of peacefully grazing baboons complete with babies playing in the trees. Gelada baboons spend their days sitting on their fat humanlike buttocks eating grass. Except for humans they are the most terrestrial of all the primates. They climb down the steep cliffs at night to sleep in tight groups. This helps them escape predators, e.g. leopards and hyenas. Probably their safest habitat is Simien Mountains National Park because to enter the park every visitor has to sign in. Everywhere you go, an assigned guard with an assault rifle accompanies you. Because of the rainy weather, he slung his assault rifle over one shoulder and held his umbrella in the opposite hand. We did not see any more gelada baboons until several days later on the last day of our road trip when we stopped to visit a sort of inn/hotel owned by a German woman. Experts estimate only one to two hundred thousand remain. Habitat loss and hunting males for their manes threaten their survival. They are listed as a threatened species.
After coffee and a walk around the grounds at Kuriftu Resort and Spa on Lake Tana–see last photos of previous post, we headed south. This was not the kind of trip where I could stop whenever I wanted to take photos so many of the photos you see on these Ethiopian posts were taken from a moving car. A typical house along the roadside. Eucalyptus may be invasive; nevertheless, its uses here seem endless–the house, the fence. A new housing development along the road all framed in eucalyptus. In fact, nearly everything is made from eucalyptus except the metal roofs and the final coats of mud on the outside. I wondered about the advisability of the modern use of metal. Since no one heats or air conditions, metal can be both hot and cold whereas the traditional roofs act as insulation. Of course, they take a lot more work for upkeep. The land immediately south of Bahir Dar is flat. Farmers grow eucalyptus commercially. They use irrigation canals and grow onions and tomatoes as well as other vegetables. If you want to drive in Ethiopia, you must learn to dodge people and animals because the highways remain the primary transportation routes for everything, not just modern vehicles. Although the houses may be mostly mud plastered with dirt floors, nearly everyone has electricity. So many rivers nearly overflowing during the rainy season, it is hard to keep track of which one is which. Even the official map does not contain all the rivers we crossed. This one is often referred to as the Little Nile (Lesser Abay). Some even claim it is the real beginning of the Nile (Abay) because this river feeds into Lake Tana from which the Blue Nile flows. However, the Lesser Abay is not the only water input into Lake Tana. Few overweight people can be found in Ethiopia. Why? They walk; they carry heavy loads. Bridge over the Little Nile. For most of the day we drove through heavy rain. This huge rock suddenly appeared, sticking up among the grass and fields. Except for water everywhere, it reminded me of things one sees in the western United States. When I tell people that I have never seen so much green and rain or experienced so much cold in a three week period in my life, they seem amazed this occurred in Ethiopia. We stopped at this lovely lake, not only because it is beautiful but also because Colobus monkeys live here. I tried to photograph them and gave up; they fly through the trees with incredible rapidity. Lake Zegena between Injibarra and Bure at 2529 meters altitude. Here it even rains during the dry season. The incredible number of plants and mosses growing on the trees made me think of Costa Rica where as many as 150 different species of plants can grow on one tree. Dino and Alemu appeared very excited to see this for sale. Yes, it is edible–tiringo. They cut up slices and ate them with big smiles on their faces. I tried it; too sour for me. The flesh is somewhat like an apple but tastes more like lemons. However, I am not a fan of citrus fruit–these are a type of citrus–so was not surprised to find I could do without this one. In this area charcoal is made and sold commercially everywhere along the road. We stopped to buy a bag of limes from these girls. Most of the day we drove through lush agricultural country. We arrived in Debre Markos in the perpetual rain. Although the hotel where we stayed was only two months old, not everything functioned. I had to change rooms and even then, the bathroom door would not shut and a tile was missing just above the door. By this time, I had come to the conclusion that the really old things in Ethiopia, not unlike elsewhere in the world, were better made than new construction. The 1000 year old churches in Lalibela still function perfectly. This hotel definitely will not last 1000 years. Like everywhere in Ethiopia, no heat existed anywhere in the hotel. Aesthetically, the hotel received a very good score. Beautiful linens, lovely decor (everything had been painted by Dino’s sister’s company with the exquisite paint she imports from Italy), a well stocked bar. I hung out in the bar a while with Dino drinking sambuca romana trying to get warm. It failed to work. Sleep seemed impossible–too cold. Finally, after lying in bed cold for over an hour, I arose, put on two pairs of socks and tried again. Finally warm enough to sleep. The view out my hotel room in Debre Markos demonstrates a typical Ethiopian city view–the contrast between the new and luxurious and the elemental.
My Ethiopian friend with whom I travelled asked me about a week ago, “Where would you like to go back to if you go back to Ethiopia?” With a little hesitation while various places flitted through my mind, I answered, “Bahir Dar.” Why? Bahir Dar’s climate suits me perfectly, tropical but not all that hot, lush flowers everywhere, Lake Tana, the Nile. What more could one ask for?
You can drive down streets that look like this and go to restaurants along Lake Tana with beautiful scenery and gardens plus a lake view.
And I could drink the only beer I have ever tasted that I actually liked.
Saint George Amber Beer. Yes, Saint George is everywhere, even beer.
To get to the Nile Falls, you have to drive through the countryside on less than fabulous roads and park in probably the dirtiest, most dismal village I saw in all the places I visited in Ethiopia. Part of the dirty appearance, I know, was due to it being the rainy season with puddles and mud everywhere. Once I walked away from the village on the path to the falls, lush farmland lay before me.
Fields of beans and corn. Off and on all my life, I have raised corn. This corn is as good a crop as I have seen anywhere.
On the path to the Nile Falls, youngsters show up everywhere selling various items. This young man walked all the way to the falls and back with me. I bought this flute for my grandson. We have all tried to play it, my daughter and grandson, and I. We cannot make a sound. This young man made it sing.
He also spoke very good English which he learned in school. He could explain all the crops, when they plant, everything as we strolled along.
The falls, although impressive, failed to meet my expectations. After seeing numerous photos of them, I expected something grander. They used to be. Now, 80 per cent of the water is diverted from the Nile before it reaches the falls. Ethiopia produces enough hydroelectric power to export it to nearby countries. 85% of the people in Ethiopian have electricity. As you drive by villages, you can see dishes for TVs on rooftops.
We were told that the falls used to be so large they covered everything where we stood.
My friends took a different route to get to the falls than I. I crossed the Nile at another location to get there. They hiked around some large hills and crossed this footbridge made by the Portuguese years ago.
Children of varying ages crowded around us selling various types of items. My friend, Zuriash, is in the middle with the hat.
Twice that day I crossed the Nile in this boat.
The morning we left Bahir Dar, Alemu took us to this restaurant at a fancy resort on the lake. The owner’s story remains one of those success stories one hears off and on in Ethiopia. He came to the US, worked for a big hotel here, learned the trade, saved his money, returned home, and built a couple of very successful luxury hotels. This is the restaurant at the one in Bahir Dar. All the rooms, the landscaping, everything deliberately duplicates African traditional architecture and gardening, a certain, special atmosphere.
These hand carved chairs may look uncomfortable but they are not. Somehow they fit the human body perfectly. The following is a view of the pool and some of the rooms.
Of the 37 islands on Lake Tana, 20 shelter churches and monasteries, very old monasteries, many of which remain in use today. While some are closed totally to women, we visited Ura Kidane Mihret with no problem. It is part of a larger complex, the Convent of Mercy founded in the 14th century. Various buildings date from that era to more recent times. To reach the monastery you have to climb in a boat and ride across Lake Tana to the Zege Penisula. We boarded our small boat at the far end of this garden at the hotel–there were four of us and the helmsman–and headed across the lake. On the way we passed a number of fishermen paddling their papyrus boats. We also sailed past a couple of islands like this one where one monk lives alone. On another island lives a priest. Women are not allowed except on one, just at the edge near the dock. We did not go there. Once you arrive at the dock you hike up a hill past various vendors selling everything from religious paintings to hand woven scarves. This young man used all natural materials to paint small replicas of the paintings found in the monastery itself. In retrospect I wish I had purchased at least one; I never saw anything quite like them again. Like most religious buildings in Ethiopia, all the buildings in this complex are round. The only place in Ethiopia where I saw rectangular churches was in Lalibela. Every piece of space on the interior walls is painted with religious scenes from the Bible and Ethiopian religious history. The current paintings date from 100-250 years ago when, as the paint began to deteriorate, they used a special process to repaint them. This particular monastery is noted for these incredible paintings. The tops of all the buildings are adorned with different symbols for peace. Sometimes they also represent the disciples of Jesus as well or other religious symbolism. A new visitor center remains under construction; it seemed nearly complete. The visitor center is the rock building on the left, the monastery the building in the rear. On the path back to the boat dock vendors sell scarves and jewelry. I bought several scarves, one of which was totally different from any I saw anywhere else. If I had only known just how unique it would be, I would have bought the other one–she had only two. These scarves are hand loomed and in some cases the yarn is also hand spun. Finally, back near the dock we stopped for coffee, indulging ourselves in the totally Ethiopian experience of their coffee ceremony. You have not truly sipped coffee until you participate in one of these. There is nothing anywhere quite like it.