Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Description of Ethiopia

I thought I would start by bringing all the emails and little bits and bobs which I have been saving for ages because it is about time they found a permanent home. These are thoughts and descriptions by myself and some of my friends about different places are at different times. This is for the armchair travellers amongst us, or just for the merely curious.

This is an email extract from my friend Maridel describing her first impressions Ethiopia. I think about her in contrast to the winning couple of the Amazing Race 6, where the woman was panned when she was looking around Senegal and saying "look at the poverty, these people should stop breeding" or something along those lines!!


Dear all,

I am for the first time in Africa and I could have not landed in a better place: Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Soon you will understand why. Not only am I living in a different continent but also on a different date. Here today is 28th October (second month of the Ethiopian calendar) of 1997!!!! Sort of nice to come back to the past and be 7 years younger, isn't it? If this was not enough, Ethiopians also have a different timing. At 6 am, when the sun rises, it is 0 pm. At 7 am, it is 1 pm. And so on. At 6 pm, when the sun sets, it is 12 pm. I think this type of timing makes a lot of sense. It is plausible because Ethiopia is very close to the equator and hence the sunrise and the sunset are about the same time all year round.

You might be wondering what on earth I am doing in this different planet. Some of you already know. I am working for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). It is pretty exciting to work here. There are people from all over Africa. I am working in a UN compound with about 3000 people!! My task is quite challenging and I am learning a lot. I am participating in the writing of the poverty chapter of the Economic Report for Africa 2005. I have to analyse poverty reduction strategies of about 30 African countries. Such a responsibility!

Addis is the third highest capital in the world. It is about 2500 meters above the sea level, in a mountain area. This, together with the fact of being located very close to the equator, makes the weather here fantastic. The Tourist Commission of Ethiopia portrays the country as having "13 months sunshine" (the Ethiopian calendar has 13 months). Except for the rainy period, it is almost always sunny in Ethiopia. The temperature in Addis ranges from 5-10 degrees in the night to 22-25 degrees in the middle of the day. During the day it is hot but not very much and, unlike other equatorial countries with unbearable humidity, the climate is dry. During the night is quite cool and so you can sleep very well. And this climate is about the same for the whole year. Over here they do not need neither heating nor air-con. It is like an eternal spring. This climate is also great because there is no risk of Malaria.

Ethiopians are extremely religious. About half of the population here is Christian Orthodox and the other half Muslim. They live together in perfect harmony and peace. Every morning I weak up at about 6 am with the praying and signing of the Christians. I do not need any alarm clock. They pray with loudspeakers for about 2 hours plus and also later in the early evening. And on Sundays they go and pray in the church for four hours starting at 5 am. When they finished, it is like a procession. Hundreds and hundreds of people dressing in white get out of the church and walk towards their respective houses or their home street places.

The Muslim community is equally religious, especially now that it is Ramadan period. You will not believe me, but I went to a football stadium to watch a match between the two leading Ethiopian teams and, in the middle of the game, a very significant proportion of the spectators (the Muslim ones) went down the terracing very politely and orderly and they started their praying on the ground while the football match was going on. As an outsider, what they were doing seemed to me more yoga or aerobics rather than praying. They kept moving all the time up and down in a very synchronised way. Moreover, some of them could not resist the temptation of keeping an eye on the match. Ethiopian men love watching soccer (e.g. they know all the names of the Madrid and Barcelona football players!). Although half of them were fasting and the other half had very little food in their stomachs, they did not stop singing and supporting their teams very vigorously.

I think the example of Ethiopia gives a lot of support to the hypothesis of a strong and positive correlation between poverty and religion practice. The direction of causality (some LSE friends of mine will understand while I am using this terminology, je, je...) is not clear, though. Many of us would think that poverty makes people more religious as poor people need religion to pray and hope for a better and wealthier life. When you are rich and you have the possibility to have a lot of material things that make you happy, religion becomes less of a necessity. But some people here have told me that it is because Ethiopians devote so much time to religion that they are "materially" poor (i.e. as when they are praying they do not work or they do not look for an income-generating opportunities). From what I have seen in the street, I think it is a sensible "partial" explanation of poverty in Ethiopia. However, one could argue that they are NOT overdevoting time to religion, as arguably material things are not the only priority in life. Maybe it is we in the developed world that think too much about material things and about getting richer. As a matter of fact, precisely because the people here are so religious, they are admirable in their honesty, hospitability and values. In spite of having a large amount of poor people and beggars (which could give raise to violence, crime, robbery, etc.), Addis is an amazingly safe city, even during nighttime. It is actually one of the safest cities in Africa. And this has certainly to do with religion.

[edited for length- get in touch with me if you want the full article, it's good but long]


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