History, Haile and Hippos
Georg Hegel, a German philosopher who died in 1831, 65 years before the events that shaped last week for us, once said “We learn from History that people learn nothing from History.” [i] I don’t think Italian governments and armed forces read much Hegel. In 1936 the Italians occupied Ethiopia, but were defeated and evicted from the country in 1941 by Ethiopian forces assisted by several other countries including the British, under General Orde Wingate.
Emperor Haile Selassie returned to rule the country and Ethiopia has remained independent and sovereign since. Had the Italians listened to Hegel and learned from history, they might have hesitated to try to invade Ethiopia for a second time, after what happened 40 years before on 2nd March 1896. As Africa was being carved up by colonial powers, not wishing to be left out in 1895 Italy tried to annex Ethiopia. Big mistake. They were repelled on that fateful day in 1896 by Emperor Menelik II at the battle of Adwa, in which 7000 Italians and 5000 Ethiopians were killed. So we celebrated this historic victory on the “Battle of Adwa” public holiday - 2nd March. While celebrations took place in the centre of the city, Chris and I along with another couple headed south into the rift valley for a couple of days of relaxation and fresh air by Lake Ziway. (Thank you, Bingham, for closing on Friday as well, to make a lovely long weekend.)
Haile Selassie may have been the emperor to defeat the Italians back in 1941, but his almost-namesake Haile Gebreselassie, one of Ethiopia’s most successful athletes, is now a very successful and no doubt extremely rich businessman who has amongst other things built a resort hotel on the banks of lake Ziway. It’s in a lovely position by Ethiopia’s third largest lake teeming with birdlife (which we watched), lake fish (which we ate) and the odd hippopotamus (which we narrowly avoided). The resort is of a good almost “western” standard overlaid with Ethiopian quirkiness and a notable inability to use a spirit level. Had they used one, our bathroom toilet wouldn’t have been at a jaunty angle, and the water from the shower would have drained into the drain, not out under the door into our bedroom.
Lake Ziway also has a number of islands that boast some more fascinating Ethiopian history that’s perhaps slightly less reliable than the details of the battle of Adwa. Early in the morning after a breakfast that could have, had we so wished, included cold peas, we clambered into a metal boat and set off across the lake to visit one such island. Constantly pursued by a flock of white-winged terns darting into the wake of the boat, we landed on Debre Sina island where Chris could gather the small smooth pebbles she needed for some sort of mysterious educational purpose for 4-year-olds. A small church, a couple of monks and a small financial donation later we discovered the claim that the Ark of the Covenant reputedly rested here briefly in the 9th century before being moved to Debre Tsion island while war raged in Aksum in the north of the country. There are icons and relics that supposedly travelled with the Ark that need a museum building – hence the donation. Intrigued and fascinated we re-boarded our boat and returned to Haile’s Resort for coffee, via a bloat of rather reluctant hippos.
Regular readers will recall we have been to Ziway before. Gary and Peggy Ifft, now returned to the USA, built a bridge to the village of Bochessa to stop people being killed by hippos, and then set up some schools in Ziway and neighbouring Adametulu. “Samuel’s Home” is a lovely warm family environment for ten orphaned children that Gary and Peggy also started, and we decided to pay the children a visit. Ethiopians love to be dropped in on, so overcoming our British inhibitions about unannounced visits we popped in on Saturday morning with some goodies for them. The welcome was typically wonderful. The children were all out at a church event involving choir practice, so their house dad hurried round to the church to bring them to see us. Ten minutes and ten hugs each later they are in the lounge singing to us, after which I recorded a greeting video to share with Gary and Peggy. They all remembered our last visit over a year ago – the first and probably only time a quadcopter will ever be launched from their compound. They recited Bible verses for us in English and Amharic; we prayed together, then waved goodbye taking with us a lovely warm feeling that here was a real demonstration of genuine Christian love in action.
Our journey home was punctuated not only by a lovely Italian meal that included proper ice cream, but also by burnt-out trucks by the side of the road, more potholes than you could count, quite a few camels, and a mini “twister”. Never a dull moment.
Here’s just under 90 seconds of our 4 hour return journey. See if you can spot two burnt out trucks from last October's unrest, a truck in a ditch in Ziway, the mini-twister/large dust devil, and a group of camels eating a tree. Oh, and count the potholes…
[i] Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, The Philosophy of History, Batoche Books, Kitchener, Ontario, 2001, p.19 : "Rulers, Statesmen, Nations, are wont to be emphatically commended to the teaching which experience offers in history. But what experience and history teach is this — that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it."