Intro – Welcome to East Africa
My Easter break this year took me to a fascinating country, for a long-awaited trip that I had postponed since December 2018.
Happy to finally visit the country that in my childhood was referred to as ‘the mysterious land of Abyssinia’, linked to my grandfather’s memories, but also, unfortunately, to a dark period in Italian history.
I am glad that the Italians, almost a century ago, couldn’t win over this country that can proudly stand today as the only country in the African continent that has never been colonised by westerners. Like the Abyssinian black mane lion – that I hope one day to get the chance to see in Bale National Park – Ethiopia rises as a particularly rare gem in the rich African continent.
One day, when I was about ten years old, Salvatore, one of my mum’s cousins – another gypsy soul in my Sicilian family – brought a jar of an intense-orange coloured powder that from that day was used to add a spicy, and yet vivid, twist to the vegetable soups and broths that were cooked in our kitchen. Together with that little glass jar of berberè was also delivered a sense of wonder, and a deep love and fascination that the Sicilian traveller had grown for those lands. And I became unexpectedly emotional when I found the same orange powder in my Ethiopian host’s kitchen cupboard.
Thinking about it well, Ethiopian gastronomy was also one of the first African cuisines I ever tried, and I still remember very clearly the bitter taste of the injera bread eaten with my hands from the shared plate held in the traditional colourful basket used as a table at that typical restaurant in central Rome, during my first year at Uni.
Besides the sporadic memories accumulated over time, I was not expecting to become so attached to a land I knew so little about, especially in the short time I spent on its soil. But I suppose that one of the reasons for the mellow feeling that permeated the layers of my skin and soul so deeply, is that I had such incredible human encounters and connections that my defences utterly collapsed during those charming experiences.
Hospitality and kindness, which surrounded me constantly, together with a palpable and deep-rooted spirituality running through the veins of the people, combined with a vibrant mixture of cultures and living traditions, were waiting for me at my arrival at Addis Ababa’s international airport that Sunday morning, and they didn’t leave me until the last day of my stay.
The mixture of different ethnicities is reflected in the variety of languages – between 45 and 86 spoken languages, according to Translators without Borders – of which Amharic is only the second most spoken language in the country – by 29.10 per cent of the population – after Oromo, which is spoken by 33.80 per cent.
The picture that emerges is a very diverse one, that makes it impossible to define Ethiopia in a monochromatic way. A country that differs greatly in all of its four corners, not only for the dramatic changes of the climatic conditions, or for the diverse contrasts in the flora and the many endemic species of fauna, but also for the different music and dance traditions and all the cultural manifestations of the several ‘nations’ that populate the country: a general peaceful cohabitation of differences that strikes one visibly in the town of Harar.
The bright colours on the city walls of Harar were the visual soundtrack to my long walks through the old city, and they played the role of a canvas for the astonishing combinations of colours of the women’s dresses. The tasty food was a delicious discovery too, especially considering that when I arrived it was both the fasting period for the Orthodox Christians and the period of Ramadan for the Muslims.
Whichever ‘fasting combination’ I tried, the food was always kindly made and offered to me with a warm smile, both in the houses, as well as in the streets, by my host, as well as by complete strangers met in the labyrinthine alleys, who kindly invited me into their homes for a coffee or a freshly made meal.
Smiles along the streets constantly wrapped me in warm and sweet hugs from a respectful distance, and not only to ask for some change or a memorable picture, but simply to share their greeting “Welcome to my hometown, enjoy your stay”, which was more than a simple polite phrase, but a repeated gesture of kind hospitality combined with humble pride.
I was indeed made very welcome and looked after, and I left way richer than I arrived, full of lovely memories that will soon become new stories, and they will be accompanied by incredible pictures, which I was gifted with the opportunity to capture through my lens, and I cannot wait to share with the world.
With my heart overflowing with joy and love for life I salute this incredible land in the Horn of Africa, grateful for the opportunity and eager to return soon to continue my exploration of its marvels.
Thank you, Ethiopia!
Follow the stories of my trip to Ethiopia