IS ETHIOPIA STILL RELEVANT TODAY?

By Siru (Rose) Zhu
Staff Writer

In July, 2015, I embarked on a 6-month trip to explore and learn about the world. During the trip, I went to the UK, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Maldives, India, UAE, Indonesia, China, etc. Despite the countless similarities in people and the many differences among cultures, there was one question that no matter where I went, I was always asked: Where are you from?

I saw this as a good opportunity to spark conversations and shine light on some historical facts that few people talk about, so I decided to say that I was from Ethiopia, where the oldest fossils of our common human ancestors are found. Not long after I said that, people began to ask me all kinds of questions about Ethiopia because many of them had never met an Ethiopian before. I realized my lack of information about Ethiopia so I then decided to include it in my trip and see the country with my own eyes.

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(Pictures taken at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa)

 

I arrived in the capital city of Ethiopia – Addis Ababa. Staying in the capital city and visiting one of the oldest world-renowned skeleton fossils of human ancestors – “Lucy”- were on the top of my list. Lucy, also called “Dinknesh” in the Amharic language (which means “You are wonderful”), was discovered by the paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson’s team in 1974. Being “the first of its kind of that age with that kind of completeness” with 40% of the complete skeleton, Lucy can be dated back to 3.2 million years ago. Lucy is also well-loved throughout her motherland of Ethiopia. Even the Ethiopian national women’s football team is known as Dinknesh, in honor of her name. With more recent discoveries of other fossils in nearby areas, such as Ardi, “the world’s oldest and most complete skeleton of a potential human ancestor” that dates back to 4.4 million years ago, and the Ledi jaw, a 2.8 million-year-old lower jawbone mixed with “primitive and advanced features” that provides a good transitional link “between Lucy and later humans,” Ethiopia has established its undoubtable international status as “the cradle of humanity,” and presents proof of human beings’ common ancestry.

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(Holy Trinity Cathedral, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Besides the rich history in anthropology, I was surprised to find out that Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian countries in the world if not the oldest, and it has some of the most ancient churches in the world. Some sources say that the presence of Christianity in Ethiopia can be dated back to the 1st century AD, which was before that in Europe. In the 4th century AD, the country became Christian. Today, “roughly two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians.”

Holy Trinity Cathedral, as shown in the picture above, is “the second-most important place of worship in Ethiopia.” It is also the final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife Empress Menen Asfaw, and is also a commemoration of the war against the Italian occupation. Even though Ethiopia remained independent during the Scramble for Africa in the 1880s, there was a brief Italian presence in Ethiopia from the late 1880s to the mid 1890s, which ended with the defeat of the Italian army in 1896 that led to the independence of Ethiopia.

Being in the crowds and listening to the preaching at the churches in Addis Ababa showed me a face of Christianity that I had never seen elsewhere. There were usually two separate praying and worshipping sections for male and female devotees. Most ladies covered their heads and upper bodies with thin white clothes called “netela” that usually have decorated ends on them. Additionally, many ladies would also use netela or other similar scarves to wrap around their heads and upper bodies when walking on the streets.

Whenever there was preaching or chanting, churches were usually filled with overflowing crowds, and many people would stand outside of the churches praying and chanting due to the lack of space inside the churches. I also noticed that some people would pray to the outside wall of the churches while occasionally kissing the wall to show their respect and devotion. These were scenes I had never seen elsewhere.

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(Merkato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

I went to Merkato in Addis Ababa, which is one of the largest markets in Africa. The word “merkato” is influenced from the Italian word “mercato.” The market is said to be established during the time of the Italian occupation, and was originally called “Merkato Indigino” – market of the indigenous. One can find all kinds of merchandise here, including spices, herbs, cooking wares, vegetables, beans, flour, clothes, shoes, baskets, livestocks, plastic, metals, handcrafts, cleaning supplies, etc.

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(Merkato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

There were about six ladies sitting in a store chatting and laughing. They waved at me and invited me over for a cup of coffee. To my surprise, the coffee is salty. Later on, I learned that the traditional way to drink coffee in Ethiopia is with a pinch of salt, instead of sugar. To the knowledge of a few, the origin of coffee is actually from the Ethiopian Highlands. It was from Ethiopia that coffee spread to Yemen and the Red Sea Coast and later to the Ottoman Empire. Then, when it spread to other areas of Europe, Southern Europeans started to drink coffee. For centuries, people associated coffee specifically with Turkey. But, Turkey did not produce coffee. The biggest port for exporting coffee was called Mocha, which was on the Southern Arabian coast. Therefore, the term “mocha” became associated with coffee, and with a certain kind of coffee. [1]

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(Merkato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Among the many other things that I had never seen before were these stacked starch piles I encountered while walking in Merkato. A local Ethiopian put some of the “starch” on my hand and asked me to taste it. I put a little bit in my mouth and could not believe that people actually ate this. It tasted a little bit bitter mixed with other strange flavors while also leaving an unsmooth feeling in my mouth. It almost tasted like an unripe green banana, but with a more complex flavor. I frowned and spat it out.

Later on, I found out that this substance that forms the starch piles is called “kocho,” which is a fermented starch derived from a plant called “enset.” Kocho is often used to make flatbread. Before using it, people, usually women, take the amount needed out of the pit and then chop it up until there isn’t any unbroken fiber left in there. The “dough” is then often mixed with spices and butter, and later on formed into flatbread. The flatbread dough can be wrapped in enset leaves and baked with various cooking wares.

What interested me more was actually the information I came across about the enset plant, which some people call “the miracle crop.” It is deemed miraculous because every part of the plant can be used with different functions. For example: enset leaves can be used for making kocho and wrapping; the enset plant itself traps rainwater, which helps coffee to grow better; “enset groves accumulate plant matter and nutrients” while leaving the soil more fertile; enset leaves and fibers can be used for cooking, packaging, making ropes, baskets and roofing materials, some people even use the leaves as carpets, etc. Furthermore, enset is “typically more productive and sustainable than the cereals” that are brought in to replace it by the international agronomists. It is truly a “miracle crop.”

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(Merkato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

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(A restaurant in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Another “miracle” that I encountered was the national food of Ethiopia – injera. Injera is this thin spongy pancake-like food that tastes a little bit like sourdough. The picture above shows a common way of local people eating injera – by putting a small amount of different sides on the injera, ripping some injera off starting from the edge, using it to grab the sides, and then putting the whole small wrap in the mouth. Injera is a “miracle” because it is made by fermented teff flour. Teff has been produced and consumed in Ethiopia “for millennia,” and it may become the new “super grain” of Europe and North America, “overtaking the likes of quinoa and spelt.” This grain is high in protein and calcium, gluten-free and high in resistant starch which is “a newly discovered type of dietary fiber that can benefit blood sugar management,” and is also extremely prolific compared to planting many other popular grains such as wheat. “One pound of teff can produce up to one ton of grain in only 12 weeks,” and this minimal harvest time and seed requirements have protected Ethiopia from hunger when food resources were under attack from various invaders in the past.

I was fortunate to have come across some of the many “miracles” that took place in Ethiopia, and I am eager to find out more what this beautiful “cradle of humanity” has to offer mankind as a whole.

Citations

  1. HIAF 111 Winter 2016 Professor Jeremy Prestholdt, Modern Africa since 1880, Lecture 1/28/2016

Images by Siru (Rose) Zhu

WORLD MEDLEY: VIEWS THROUGH A LENS

By Rachel Ger
Contributing Writer

This is the fifth and final article in our 2015 Week of Photo Journals: Changing Perspectives. We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s presentation of the beautiful photography and travel accounts of UC San Diego students. Click on the images in the article to view the photos up close.

Kolkata street scene

A snapshot of the juxtaposition of two different generations in the streets of Kolkata, India. The bright colors of the faded paint on the walls don’t do much to shroud the fact that these slums are backed wall-to-wall by tall, luxurious buildings where the rich live and play – with the impoverished right on their doorstep. But somehow, in this moment, all of that doesn’t matter. This grandfather and grandchild have far more important things to think about right now, such as “what game should we play right now?” and “what memories are we going to make today?”

“We’re All Just People” at Centre Pompidou in Paris, France

My favorite part of this museum of modern art wasn’t the exhibits themselves (although they were extraordinary); it was the people-watching I got to do on the escalators between floors and on the landings of each plexiglass surrounded level. Each person or couple was so absorbed in their own little world – napping, lunching, even people-watching themselves, with a pair of eyes, unbeknownst to them, observing from above. There’s a certain sense of peace that comes with being allowed to peek into someone else’s life, a stranger whose world only collides with yours in this encounter and then continues on, completely unrelated to you beyond a moment of accidental eye-contact or a brief “excuse me” or “where did you get your top?”

Nighttime in the City of Lights - Paris, France

Nighttime in the City of Lights – Paris, France

Our long walk back to our Airbnb after each adventure-packed day always became a little tedious. We were all tired, hungry, and not looking forward to returning to the slightly sketchy area we were staying in. Always too tired to engage in the nightlife, on this night the nightlife came to us – we were met with lovely street music, lively youths, bright lights; reviving and energizing us and reminding us of all the little treasures this beautiful city has to offer.

A peek down a nondescript alley met by wary eyes in Kolkata, India

A peek down a nondescript alley met by wary eyes in Kolkata, India

A day in Kolkata seems to stretch for hours on end, punctuated by the hottest, most humid climate I have ever experienced in my life. Night comes as a brief relief to the excruciating heat that causes sweat to pour down our bodies during the day and makes us drowsy and sluggish. Revived by the coolness of the night air, we went for a nighttime walk around the dusty, bustling streets, filled with the sounds of socializing and loud vehicle horns protesting the packed dirt streets. I stepped away from the group for a moment to see what lay behind this corner, and was surprised to find that I wasn’t alone – I seem to have intruded on this little boy’s preparation for a sneaky night of great adventure and excitement.

Beautiful coastal town of Amalfi

A winter day feels just like summer in the beautiful coastal town of Amalfi in Italy. After waking up at the crack of dawn to take the long train from Naples to Sorrento in order to make it on time to catch one of the last three buses running to Amalfi for that period of time (there had been floods because of the rain the week before, and part of the road had collapsed… just in time to complicate our travel plans!). Speeding around the craggy cliffs of the Italian Riviera stopping every which way to pick up locals and slowing down to allow vehicles coming from the other end of this one-lane road pass, we finally arrived at Amalfi hours after we set out from our hostel. But all the hours of travel and transportation complications were worth it when met by the sight of this beautiful little beach town and the warmth of the Italian locals. The Amalfi Coast in every bend and curve possesses the kind of unparalleled beauty that can’t be adequately captured on camera.

 Impending rainstorm on Christmas Eve

Impending rainstorm on Christmas Eve – adventure in rural Italy

Our nonexistent knowledge of the Italian language paired with our inability to navigate tiny provincial streets inevitably and unsurprisingly stopped our quest to find the route to the famous
Sentiero degli dei (the Path of the Gods) right in its tracks. Without a single shop open on Christmas Eve and dead silent streets, it took the sight of these orange-brown clay topped white houses to help us keep our cool. It all turned out fine in the end and we got to where we needed to
be perfectly on time – and now we’ll always have a story that’s one for the books.

All images by Rachel Ger, Prospect Contributing Writer

SPAIN: FROM CITY TO WILDERNESS

By Hart Pitcher
Contributing Writer

This is the fourth article in our 2015 Week of Photo Journals: Changing Perspectives. Check back each day this week to see more beautiful photography and travel accounts from UC San Diego students. Click on the images in the article to view the photos up close.

Spain 1

I was exploring the city and came across this view at just the right time. You can get a sense of how much energy exists in the city just from how colorful, compact and elaborate each structure is. I think the architecture makes a nice contrast as it fades towards the mountains in the background. Spain has some amazingly beautiful landscapes, and this was my favorite sunset from my trip there.

Spain 2

After exploring the city of Barcelona during the day, we went and had dinner out on the harbor for sunset. It was amazingly beautiful, there was a lot going on – including a large pirate ship parked on the dock.

Spain 3

La Sagrada Familia is quite a breathtaking site from the outside. I had never seen anything like this kind of architecture. Then I found out it was a cathedral, and I was even more amazed.

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We hiked for hours for this one. Spain has such an active city life that a lot of people forget how much beauty exists in its wilderness. It is vast in nature, and twists and turns around canyons and rivers.

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Another perspective of Spain’s natural beauty.

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Spain 7

This view is of Park Güell in Spain. There was a lot going on here, hundreds of people going about their days and enjoying the same beauty as me. It was a beautiful, hot, blue-sky day, and we hiked up a long trail around the back of the park to reach this view – totally worth it.

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On the coast, I struggled to find a vantage point to look out at the city, but it was worth the search.

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I love this perspective of the Spanish landscape. It was a beautiful time of the year, when we could still see a faint brush of fall.

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Buildings on the mountain-tops hardly seem feasible, but people used to live in this tiny formation carved out of the mountain that used to be a city!