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.
There are aspects to life in the community that foreigners are rarely aware of. Take “berbere” for example - a spice essential for Ethiopian cooking. In the month of “Hidar” (the third month of the Ethiopian calendar - 10th November to 9th December) many women make it – from scratch! The only awareness a temporary resident here may have that something unusual is taking place is the slightly increased price of garlic and onions.
When somebody who is either mentally ill, high on something or both attacks your car whilst in a traffic jam and rips the door mirror off, it’s easy to think “I’ll blog that”. Blogging about the difficult, the troublesome and the crazy things that happen here is fairly easy, and it’s tempting to think that’s what will grab our readers’ attention.
The cannons going off in the middle of Addis Ababa at 5am or so were very faint. But it wasn’t that that woke me up. It was the Imam in the local mosque who had cranked his PA system volume up to full and was calling the faithful to prayer through the loud speakers on his minaret. It was like he was in the room with me.
“Spider urine”. Taking my eyes off the pot-holed road ahead full of minivan taxis going in seeming random directions, I looked askance at Haile as he was driving. “Spider urine? For impetigo? Really?” Noting my raised-eyebrowed, wide-eyed expression (something he takes great joy in producing) he chuckled. “Yes. You rub it on.”
I don’t know if this is true in any other country, but here in Ethiopia we buy cake by the kilogram. While we were here in 2007 Chris ordered a 2 kg birthday cake for me that turned out to be quite a large partially defrosted Black Forest gateau, brought to me on a trolley in a French restaurant with fireworks blazing from the corners. It was accompanied by two Ethiopian waiters trying somewhat unsuccessfully to sing “Happy Birthday” to someone named on the cake as “Dr Phlioig”.