Ethiopian Journey–The Castles of Gondar


When my friend told me we were going to visit the Castles of Gondar, I thought he was kidding.  It sounded too much like a movie title, plus castles in Ethiopia?  Seriously.  Then I looked it up and sure enough, there are a lot of them, built by a series of kings, fathers and sons, and a queen.  Some remain in reasonably good repair at least on the outside.  Others crumble in the rain and humidity.  All are in a sort of compound arranged together.

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This castle is near the entrance and in rather good condition.  Restoration work is most complete here so it is safe to walk to the second floor.

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The view from a second floor window.  Because of the altitude and moisture–contrary to popular opinion, a large portion of Ethiopia is mountainous and green–especially during the rainy season, upkeep is not easy.

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The same castle, looking out the door onto the balcony which can be seen in the first photo.  The floors have been restored.

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Looking in the opposite direction from the first castle, several castles and the ruins of others show the layout of the compound.  Our hotel was near the top of the mountain in the distance. Many locals roamed around when we were here.  It is popular to take wedding, anniversary, etc. photos here.

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This photo shows the first castle–in the background–from another side.

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The style of some of the castles, like this one, is more intricate than others.

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This building housed the royal lions.  Tradition for keeping lions goes back several centuries.  The last Ethiopia emperor, Hailie Selassie, was often referred to as the Lion of Judah, the latter referring to the Ethiopia tradition of believing that they are descendants of Solomon and Sheba.  Ethiopian lions are a different sub-species than other African lions, smaller with darker, sometimes black, manes and tails.

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These castles provide a perfect venue for photography.  You can see my friends sitting on the stone wall.

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The royal stables obviously housed many horses.

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The royal dining hall currently receiving restoration work.

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The path to the exit.

The news the last couple of weeks from Gondar has not been pleasant.  Many people have been protesting the government which they view as tyrannical and favoring one ethnic group over the others.  More than ten protesters were killed during the first protest.  Just this past week thousands came out in another peaceful protest.

Gondar (sometimes spelled Gonder) is a business, commercial, and education center.  It is a main route for commerce between Ethiopia and Sudan.  For more detailed information about Gondar, the castles, and the surrounding area, see my blog posts from Aug-Sept. 2014.

 

 

My Ethiopian Journey–Simien Mt. Natl. Park


No way was I prepared for these mountains.  Do you think of numerous peaks over 13,000 feet when you think of Ethiopia?  Probably not. There are even a few over 14,000 feet.  The whole area is often referred to as the Roof of Africa.

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There is only one road into the park.  To get in, a tourist must stop at the park office, sign in, passport number, address, etc.  Plus, you will be assigned a guard and a guide.  Our guard in the photo above carried an assault rifle.  No, it is not to protect people, it is to protect their rare animals from people, from poachers.  Wonder why he is wearing all these clothes?  It is cold at 12,000 feet even if you are near the Equator.

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The drop offs are terrifying, thousands of feet, the vistas endless.  Even though I have lived and been all over the Rocky Mountains and been to the Himalayas in both Kashmir and Nepal, I have never seen anything like these mountains for beauty, green, and endless vistas.

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My friends near the cliff are much braver than I.  In the foreground stands our guide, Michael, who spoke excellent English and was super funny.  He had us laughing all the time. People live and farm in these mountains–if you look closely in the middle of the photo, you can see fields.  However, the government is slowly relocating people in order to make the park a refuge for rare wildlife.

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The above photos were all taken on a hike early one morning.  Everything was wet because it was either raining or misty or we were in the clouds.

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Because I kept slipping and sliding, I decided not to walk along the cliff with my friends and the guard, who spoke the same Ethiopian language as my friend.  Michael and I took off across a meadow and suddenly here we were in the middle of all these gelada baboons, who paid no attention to us at all.  They were very afraid, however, of a predatory bird that decided to fly over. How do I know?  They suddenly started “talking” to each other in frightened voices.  Experts now think these primates actually have a language and do talk to each other.  Gelada are the last primates that are herbivores.  They eat grass.  All other herbivorous primates are extinct.  Gelada live only in the high mountains of Ethiopia and no where else on earth, a reason for a guard.  At night they climb down the cliffs into caves to protect themselves from hyenas and leopards.

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If you look very carefully in the middle of this photo, you can see several duiker which are considered so common it seems no one thought to stop to really take a look so I took the photo as we drove along.

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Here we are above the timberline where some very unusual plants thrive.

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And some exceedingly rare animals whose camouflage makes them almost invisible until they move.  At this point we are about 14,000 feet just under one of the highest peaks in Africa.  Look carefully in the middle and you will see walia ibex.  People come from all over the world to see these endangered animals that live only in this park.  Sometimes the fog rolls in and no one sees anything.  We were lucky; we saw more than twenty of them. And then the fog rolled in.

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These giant lobelia thrive above timber line.  Some were considerably taller than I am.

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If you grow red hot pokers in your flower beds and think they are semi-arid flowers, think again.  Here they are growing wild.

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You can see red hot pokers in the middle of this photo by the stream.  These mountain streams run down to and often across the road, making the road a muddy mess.  Without 4-wheel drive and an expert driver we would have gone nowhere.  In fact, at one point we did have to stop because two stuck trucks blocked the road, one of which had a flat tire.

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The highest waterfall in Ethiopia is hard to hike to unless you are not at all afraid of heights.  My friends did hike there. Look a bit to the right of the groove through which the water actually falls.  You will see a sort of flat area.  It is only a few feet wide with a drop-off on each side.  Yes, that is where you hike.  When I saw this view, I was rather glad I decided to wait, look for birds, and chat with the driver.

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The fire pit at the highest bar in Africa is a very popular place on a cold night.  Even though we had beautiful rooms, with no heat at 12,000 feet it is not exactly warm.  Even the guides and guards were bundled up.  The only people who seemed toasty were Scandinavian tourists with their heavy wool sweaters.  The hotel staff gave us hot water bottles to put in bed with us at night.  Actually, it works.  Nevertheless, when you get up in the morning, it is really cold.

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The guards and guides live near the park.  We dropped off the guard here and watched him walk toward his house down where the trees are.  We dropped off the guide near his house in the town when we left the park.

 

Ethiopian Journey–Ancient Churches of Lalibela


In the 12th century the king of Ethiopia decided to build a New Jerusalem.  Eleven churches were carved out of solid rock on the mountain top in the village of Lalibela.  A UNESCO World Heritage site, these churches remain intact and in use.

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They were all carved from the rock top of the mountain down into the earth so that they remain invisible unless the person is only a few feet away.  This protected them from the vision of potential invaders, usually Muslims from what is now Sudan.  The above is probably the most photographed of these churches and stands separate from the others.

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My friend is standing near where the stairs lead down to the bottom where visitors and worshippers can enter the church.  Visiting all these churches in one day is not an activity for the faint of heart or for one terrified of heights.

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This is the first church we visited.  It still mystifies many as to how such incredibly intricate structures could me carved by hand out of solid stone.  Even these columns are carved out of the rock.  The “official” Ethiopian Orthodox Christian story relates how angels helped the builders.

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This and most of the other churches are connected by “waterways” where in the rainy season a sophisticated system of drainage keeps all of them from flooding and makes it possible for visitors and worshippers to walk along from church to church.

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Everything in the Christian churches in Ethiopia  symbolizes something related back to Jerusalem and the Bible.  Even though the guide explained it all in detail, keeping up with all the symbolism proved a daunting task.  Notice the swastikas.  They are ancient symbols of the eternal circle of life and death.  Hitler turned them backwards and into a totally different meaning.  There are also many different styles of crosses there, two of which can be seen in the windows of this church.

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This is a fertility pool.  In the past a priest got in the water–it is very deep–with a woman who could not conceive and bless her in the water.  At one point when it began to fill too much, they cleaned out the bottom and found many treasures buried there, apparently dumped into the pool to protect them from enemy invaders.

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The inside of the churches are intricately carved and sometimes painted.

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Two types of basalt exist on this mountain, soft and hard.  Churches carved out of the soft basalt have begun to deteriorate and as a consequence are covered.  As can be seen here, people still come to these churches to pray and attend services.

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Our guide lead us from church to church through these narrow passageways which are, as previously mentioned, used to drain water away from them in the rainy season.  If Ethiopia had a national color, it would be white.  It is not only worn to go to church and for religious purposes but in daily life as well.  It mystifies me as to how they keep whites so very white.

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The slit dug in the rock is part of the system of drainage.  The grass in the foreground grows out of a pool of holy water.  While we were there, a boy filled a plastic bottle with the water and left.

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St. George and the dragon are everywhere, not only in churches but also on beer.  He is the patron saint of the country, symbolizing the triumph of Christianity over paganism as symbolized by the dragon.

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The carving in many of the churches reveal a sophisticated knowledge of how to work in stone.  It is difficult to believe that this was carved by hand downward into solid basalt centuries ago.

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The road to Lalibela is rather daunting, climbing  higher and higher with no guard rails, nothing.  As you can see from this photo, patchwork quilt  fields cover even the mountainsides.

 

 

To learn more about Lalibela, see detailed information and explanations of their River Jordan and other religious symbolism, go to my blog posts from August 2014.

Ethiopian Journey–From Addis Ababa to Debre Birhan


Addis is the second highest capital in the world.  Only La Paz, Bolivia, is higher.  To a large extent, altitude determines climate in Ethiopia.  Addis and the surrounding area, much of which is high altitude farmland, receives a lot of rain this time of year and looks totally unlike what a lot of people think of when they hear the word Ethiopia–not desert but rather miles and miles of green.

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We had not driven far from Addis when we crossed a river, an area of which is considered healing.  Many people had come for priests to bless them and to experience the healing power of the water.

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I saw only three tractors in ten days of criss crossing farmland.  Why so few?  One reason is rocks.  Many of the fields remain rather full of rocks in spite of many having been removed.

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Therefore, they farm the “old fashioned” way; horses or cattle pulling plows with a human behind.

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Houses in the villages in the farming areas demonstrate old ways alongside new.

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Winnowing the way we did in the USA a century ago.

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Much of the farmland is a picturesque patchwork quilt of browns and greens.

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Before dropping down to lower country, we drove by Menelik’s Window.   The drop off here is steep and far.  I did not go near it–I had not yet become used to the endless drop-offs or even realized that I would need to do so.  This is one of four places in Ethiopian where you can see gelada baboons.  They are extinct elsewhere. Menelik was an Ethiopian emperor.  This “window” allows one to look from the high country for miles and miles to the landscape beyond.

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The large tufts of grass provide food for the gelada which are grass eating herbivores, the last of the grass eating primates.  All others are extinct.  This same grass is used by the locals for roofing material so boys stay in these areas all day chasing off the baboons.

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To keep themselves busy they weave woolen baskets and hats to sell which they display in the grass.

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This ten year old boy happily donned the hat he had made.  I bought it for my grandson who was the same age when I took the trip.

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Except for the different vegetation, driving down the mountain looked a lot like driving through Colorado.

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Down from the mountain the landscape appears quite different and considerably drier.  We drove through several smaller towns on our way to Debre Birhan where we stayed the first night.

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Driving in Ethiopia requires navigating around animals.  Everyone drives their cattle, camels, horses, all livestock down the road whenever possible.  The roads are generally very good.  Many, built by the Italians, have stood the test of decades.

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Along the road we saw many of these “apples”.  My friend told us how they played with them as a child.  However, the adults all warned the children not to touch their eyes when they did–it will make you blind.  They are called Apples of Sodom–so many things in Ethiopia have symbolic meaning.

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These fruit could be seen all along the road and even on the road.  After driving through this drier area we rose above a huge valley with miles and miles of grass.

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A semi-nomadic group brings their immense herds of cattle here in the rainy season to graze.  When we drove further on above the valley, I saw the first tractor working a field as big as this grazing land.

 

 

 

Ethiopian Journey–Addis Ababa


We spent a couple of days in Addis staying with my friend’s sister who lives there.  Addis traffic is incredible.  In a city with millions of people I saw only one traffic light and it was not working.  Most intersections are giant traffic circles and getting through them is a rather daunting task.  On the way to my friend’s brother’s house one day, we sat stuck for nearly one half hour–we could not get through the circle.  Finally, the passenger in the car to the right of us jumped out and stopped the traffic so we and his driver could get through.

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Additionally, it rained often, streets and buildings were under construction, and mud and potholes showed up everywhere.  This is a nice traffic circle.

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A nice day with little traffic.

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They were building a new rail line across the city hoping people would use the train instead of driving.

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This is a typical residential street in a newer part of the city.  A gate with a guard can be found at each end of the street.

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In other parts of the city, houses have walls around them and you back your vehicle out into a street like this, then go to the main street.

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Walls around houses are not bare.  Lush tropical vines and flowers cover many of them.

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Many of the fancier, famous hotels, like the Hilton here, contain fountains and gardens. My friend and I could not resist a photo in front of the pool and fountains.

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After wandering around the Hilton we drove to see the grounds of another famous hotel where foreign diplomats often stay.  The plants in the foreground are papyrus.

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These extensive gardens take a while to walk around.  Many of the plants and trees are labelled.  From here we could see the Addis skyline.

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We stayed in Addis a couple of days.  Before we left on a ten day road trip, my friend’s sister took us to a traditional restaurant.  I expected it to be filled mostly with tourists–was I ever wrong.

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In addition to traditional food, this restaurant features traditional dancing.  Many locals came to compete, to try to out-dance the professional dancers.

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The lady on the left, one of the professional dancers, and the lady on the right having a little competition.  The lady on the left is dressed in traditional dress.

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In the background locals try to out-dance the professionals.

 

Ethiopian Journey–The Beginning


Two years ago today, two friends and I flew from here to Dallas to Dubai.  The final destination:  Ethiopia, where I spent nearly three weeks with them and my friends’s family plus a road trip through the north.  Ethiopia was nothing like what one sees in the news, in famine photographs, nothing like the image most people in the USA have of it.  My main goal when I returned home was to show people photos and inform them what it really looks like, how incredibly beautiful it is there.  This mission continues two years hence.  For the next several weeks I plan to relive this journey and share it on my blog here.

It is a short trip from Amarillo to Dallas via air.  In order to carry the baggage allowed on Emirate Airlines, we first flew via Southwest to Love Field, then took a taxi to Dallas International.  If you plan to fly long distances, I highly recommend Emirates Airlines.  Compared with all the others I have experienced even coach class is wonderful:  bigger seat room, more than a hundred movies to watch, good food, an area where you can help yourself to fruit and snacks, unlimited wine and beer, and an international group of flight attendants.

From Dallas to Dubai is fifteen hours of flying.

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People wonder why they fly over Greenland, Iceland, northern Europe to get to Dubai.  Do not look at a flat map.  Get a globe and trace the route.  It is the shortest way to go.  Dubai is not like many think here.  No, I did not see endless lines of Lamborghinis and Ferraris.  In fact, I do not recall seeing any at all.  Tomorrow, photos of Dubai before heading on to Addis.

Ethiopian Wolves


When I went to Ethiopia a year and a half ago, I missed seeing these incredibly endangered animals.  Less than 500 remain in and around Bale Mountains National Park.  Unlike other wolves, they do not hunt in packs, perhaps because they do not bring down big game, but rather eat the large, big-headed mole rat.  The wolves use their extremely long noses to get the rats out of their burrows.  Another hunting tactic includes hiding among the herds of gelada baboons, the only remaining grass eating primate in the world.  These baboons, like the wolves, live only in Ethiopia.  The wolves and the baboons live peacefully together while the wolves hide among the grazing baboons, sneaking upon the unsuspecting rats darting from burrow to burrow.  Although the baby gelada are not much bigger than the rats, the wolves refrain from eating them.  Like the situation with many other wild animals, human activity ruins their habitat through subsistence farming and cattle grazing.  Rabies, caught from domestic dogs, further decimates the population.  For more information on these rare wolves and conservation efforts, go to:

http://www.ethiopianwolf.org

 

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gelada baboons–I took this photo summer of 2014

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Image from ethiopianwolf.org.

The Highest Bar in Africa


We sat around the fire

ALL of us

on The Roof of Africa,

the sign stating

“The Highest Bar in Africa”

at 3,260 meters.

We sat around the fire

All of us,

the British owner gone,

forbids natives to sit

with tourists.

We sat around the fire

ALL of us.

Shades of brown, black, cream,

peach, humanity.

I, for one, grateful for

the owner’s absence.

Whose country is it anyway?

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My Ideal Audience


The fourth assignment in my newest experiment, Word Press’ Blogging 101 class, is to write a post for my ideal audience. My immediate reaction was, “There is no such person; I do not have an ideal audience.”  I might be able to come up with three or four persons, some of whom might like the recipes, others might enjoy the travel posts, and another group might react to comments on the environment, international politics, and sundry controversial topics.  Finally, a few, perhaps more, might relish the occasional poetry pieces.  After all, my haiku posts attained more readers than I ever expected.  The challenge then might be to write a post combining several of these but how?  Here we go on another adventure.

My idea reader would enjoy literature, especially the serious and more especially literature from other countries and cultures, like to eat hot foot from diverse cultures, travel to other places besides here and Europe, care about the environment, follow international politics, and, even though not previously mentioned, like horses, prefer the country to the city, and enjoy a wide variety of music.  Do such individuals exist?  Where are they and how do I find them?

Here is my first attempt at covering at least two of these topics:

Last summer, as former followers know, I traveled with friends to Ethiopia for three weeks via Dubai.  Because I love the stuff, I brought back an entire kilo of berbere.  Mine follows the special recipe of my Ethiopian friend’s mother.  She had it made special just so we could bring it home.  Actually there were three kilos in my bag but only one for me.  My new favorite salmon recipe involves the use of berbere.  Unlike some, hers is more rich and spicy rather than really hot.  This will serve one to two, just increase the amount of all the ingredients to suit the number of people you plan to feed.

1-2 portions wild sockeye salmon–you could use any type of course

4 medium to large brussel sprouts, coarsely chopped

1/2 purple onion chopped coarsely

Several broccoli florets

1/2 ripe bell pepper, seeded and chopped

Olive oil

Berbere

Cover the bottom of a skillet with olive oil.  Add onions and sauté until translucent.  Add the brussel sprouts and sauté until nearly tender.  Add the peppers and broccoli.  Sprinkle a light layer of berbere over all the vegetables as you cook them.  Stir occasionally.  Add the salmon, skin side down.  Sprinkle berbere over the salmon so the salmon is covered but only lightly.  You can add more to taste.  Continue cooking until the salmon flakes.

I serve this with rice.  The rice in the photo is basmati.  See previous posts for the special way I cook rice.  Sometimes I vary the vegetables using poblano peppers, carrots, Swiss chard–whatever I happen to have or feel like eating at the moment.  Pick what you like.

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This, honestly, is nothing like real Ethiopian food in part because I do not have teff and do not know how to make injera.  The photo below shows me and friends in a restaurant in Gonder, Ethiopia, in my idea of food heaven.

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My Ethiopian Adventure–Final Days


It took me a while to post this because I did not want the adventure to end.  Of course, it will never end in my heart and mind.  Nevertheless, this last post about my three week adventure brings a feeling of termination I have apparently attempted to avoid.  I spent the last few days of my trip, staying with my friend’s parents in Adama.  They took me on the wonderful adventure described in my last Ethiopian post, the day trip to Awash National Park.  Later, we went shopping for gold, silver, and textiles, ate, wandered around, visited, relaxed.  We listened to the Muslim call to prayer and the Ethiopian Orthodox chanting.  One day I heard another voice over the loud speakers and asked, “What is this one?”  The Pentecostals competing–three types of churches all on loud speakers, calling people to worship.  Because at least two of them start before dawn, it kept my friends up.  By this time in the trip, I had earned to sleep through it all.

I like the climate in Adama, especially after being cold for most of the first half of the trip.  It seemed I could put on multiple layers and still shiver.  Adama is nice and warm, hot, but not too hot.  Flowers and tropical fruits thrive as in the photos below–my friend’s mother’s lush garden and her elegant table.

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The plates are an Ethiopian design apparently only available there–Ethiopian figures in a circle. Even breakfast is a work of art.

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The neighbor’s grape arbor amazed me.  I have never seen anything like it.

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Zoning remains unheard of here.  Next to a new, well built, modern house where one or two families may live is a place like this or the one on the other side of my friend’s parents’ house where both cows and no one knew exactly how many people live.

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In the dark space in the middle of the above photo live two cows–if they have not been slaughtered by now.  From this vantage point I could see a minaret, a modern wind farm on the far hill, cows, goats, an empty lot, a luxurious looking house being built on the other side of this adjoining lot, everything from the most modern to the ancient.  Every bedroom possessed its own little patio.  The photo below shows the view from mine.

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So we would not have to make a mad rush to get me to the airport through Addis traffic, we went back to Addis the day before my flight out.  I took a few photos from the front of the Addis airport before I left.

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Due to the kindness of a complete stranger, I made my flight.  When I was about to go through the passport line, I discovered I had my friend’s passport which meant she had mine.  In Bahir Dahr, we had to show our passports to the hotel before getting keys for our rooms.  Apparently, the young man switched them when he gave them back to us.  We took them and put them away without looking.  My phone did not work in Ethiopia.  I experienced a major panic.  I had my Ethiopian friend’s phone number but no phone.  I explained to the guy checking passports the problem.  The man standing in line next to me heard and offered his phone.  He actually got out of line to help me.  I did not recognize his accent and have no idea his country.  He called the number for me.  The call failed to go through.  He waited, tried again.  Eventually, it all worked out and I made my flight, all due to this man’s patience and kindness.  When I finally made it inside the airport, several people who had heard the problem actually came up to me and told me they were worried I might not make it.  I knew none of them; yet they cared.

With a six hour layover in Dubai, I had a lot of time to wander, drink coffee, explore the airport, which is huge, really huge.  I bought some perfume–Muslim perfume with no alcohol in it.  I like it so much, I will have to figure out how and where to order it when it runs out.  Many of this airport’s shops are opulent.  People stood in line to buy gold, high end cosmetics, designer everything.  It is cosmopolitan, clean, efficient, fancy, welcoming.

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In this airport, I saw one of the women who was relieved to see me inside the airport at Addis after my passport scare.  She unfortunately experienced a frightening incident during the flight and they had to give her oxygen.  We chatted, she seemed fine finally.  As I write this, what do I remember most of those last 36 hours of the trip:  the kindness and concern of total strangers.