Monthly Archives: January 2015

Farewell Ethiopia …


Nearly four weeks have passed and now, the moment to say goodbye has come. The pick up is waiting to bring us to Mekelle. I hate saying goodbye! I still do and am sure I will never learn it ... Let's get over this quickly! ...

After far too many goodbyes we, finally, hit the road.


On our way to the main road, the students from my English classes run past the car and yell "teacher Mischa" (instead of the "Ferenji" some weeks ago!). The first few kilometres on the main road, everybody in the car is totally silent. We take in a landscape passing by the car's windows that was so new to us some weeks ago; now, it starts to tell stories to us, our stories! We pass by the crossroads leading to the foot of the mountain of Desta's village, we pass by the oldest synagogue in East Africa (no photo so far, unfortunately! ... we have to come back!).


But we are on our way back home ... home? Yes, certainly "home" is still "home" for us, but here in Ethiopia we felt very much at home for the last few weeks as well! We came here to share knowledge and learn about the culture and now we will come back with an immense wealth of impressions, stories to tell, and what is the most important thing: we come home with plenty of new friends, even people who now call us their family members.

At one moment of the drive to Mekelle, Anouk is really annoyed because she does not have enough fingers to count all her new friends. Anouk states that this situation is hard for her, as she knows that it will be difficult to meet all these friends again, because it is not easy to get here. She says that she feels at home here and asks why we can't stay. Then, she starts telling us what she will bring for her friends when we come next time! Yes, we do miss Desta, his wife Elsa and son Stefan, Desta's extended family, his brothers, sister, nieces, the people from Zikalay, the staff at the kindergarten, Alam, Samuel, Kidane and his family, Beniam ... even the friendly people on the streets we will miss! It's hard to leave them behind - even for us adults! But they and the moments we shared will go on travelling with us where ever we'll go. But that's exactly what it is: wherever you go, it's not the sights that are important, but the people you meet and share time with.

A typical Ethiopian church ... not the one we were stopped at!

At a church, priests and children in beautiful clothes stop all traffic. A priest gives us Injera and two boys, one wearing a crown and the other with a beautiful turned-around umbrella, collect money for the church.

Later on, we pass a burial ceremony with a car bearing the Ethiopian flag in the lead and a long row of first men and then women in deep mourning following.

We pass a camel and a donkey caravan from the salt lakes of the Afar desert (another place that has to be visited next time!) bringing salt slabs to Mekelle for processing. We see - as usual - hundreds of colourful people on the road and drive through a rugged landscape with "table mountains", a landscape that is dry and stony, but still every single bit of land is used to farm something. It would be really wonderful to come here in the rainy season when everything is dark green as Desta had told us ...


Ethiopia has stroked something in us, something deep inside of us, something archaic. When we think of Ethiopia, we think of people and encounters. During these four weeks we never, not once, encountered a negative, scary or even annoying situation. Ethiopia for us means friendly, open and life affirming people who are willing to share everything they have. Deeply religious people who seem to be living peacefully next to each other even though they follow different religious beliefs, religions that elsewhere are fighting turf battles about who will dominate the others. Ethiopia is immensely rich because of its people and their interhuman relations. Then there is the diverse culture, I should better say "cultures" deeply rooted in the history of all humanity ... and we have seen only an immensely small portion of it!

Let's hope that what we call "development" will not change the wonderful face of this country and its peoples to the negative or to a copy of what the western world implies as the "perfect" one! This actually makes me think of the so-called "Human Development Index": before leaving for Ethiopia I have read in some guidebook that Ethiopia is on position 173 of 187 countries on that index and is thus categorized among the countries with only "minor human development". "Human development index"? "Human"? What is wrong with our world??? On a real "human" development index, Ethiopia would score high, most certainly among the first few countries. Only from our western perspective that ranks material wealth, infrastructure and income higher than community spirit, openness and friendliness, this way of ranking countries (and thus people and cultures) is possible. But, this index, apart from including the average income also is including the other two "dimensions" "life expectancy" and "education". Certainly, there are a few steps to be taken concerning education and, even more so, in the medical sector! Still, we do not really feel confident with the title of this index!


We reach Mekelle, step out of the pick up and say goodbye to Zagay, our driver. As we step out, some Ethiopian ladies who want to go to Adigrat jump into the car. African car sharing!


Flying across the northern Ethiopian highlands, we suddenly understand what all these yellow dots are that we had discovered four weeks ago when flying here: they are the places where the farmers thresh the cereals.

Yellow "dots" we could not interpret on our way to Ethiopia.

Yellow "dots" - the explanation!

The complete country is covered with these places. They indicate that nearly all farming is done by hand using the methods we have described in our post on the life in Desta's village. Thinking of the "Human Development Index" again, this shows that not only the term "human development" is queer, but also at least one of its three dimensions used to calculate it: if a large portion of the inhabitants of a country make a living based on subsistence agriculture, this means that they don't "earn" money in the western sense (no per head gross national income adjusted to buying power in US$ will work here!). The farmers simply use their own production and the little money they earn by selling their minimal surplus, they almost immediately spend on the same market where they sold their products to buy the (very few) things they don't produce themselves, such as sugar, salt, soap and coffee. They don't get any wages! As nearly everybody is a farmer here, nobody gets any wages! At all! This renders at least one of the three dimensions used for calculating the "HDI" completely unusable! Crap! Eurocentric, Westernocentric world view! Comparing apples with bananas, that's what it is, nothing more! Crap!

At the airport in Addis Ababa, we have to wait. Wait until we can check in our luggage. This means waiting for almost six hours. We sit in a cafe, drink coffee and talk about the impressions of our last few weeks. Soley is totally tired and we put her down to sleep on top of our luggage. Electricity fails, but everybody just goes on working as if nothing had happened!

After checking in, we enter the international area of the airport. Addis Abeba Bole International Airport is the hub airport of northern Africa, maybe all Africa. Hundreds and hundreds of people here are not visiting Ethiopia but just passing through! Cultureshock strikes without warning, without mercy! Everybody is in a hurry! We try to find Injera and avocado juice or at least some decent European food. What we get are french fries (cost: 110 Birr, 4,40 €) and a bone-dry toasted cheese baguette with acidy orange juice and an unbelievably expensive St. Georgis beer (5 US$ instead of 10 to 15 Birr, 0,40 to 0,60 €). In most shops only US$ are accepted. The prices are sometimes over 20 timer higher than on the Market in Adigrat, a city of 100,000 inhabitants (e.g. 10US$ instead of 10Birr for an accessory needed for the coffee ceremony)! Unbelieveable! A complete rip off! What does this do actually do to the sellers and the customers. Here, nobody is customer friendly, as we had experienced everywhere else in Ethiopia during the last few weeks! They simply don't care because they won't ever see their "customers" again anyway. The same is true for the people shopping, they act like people do behave when there is nothing to lose: impolite, rude and ruthless! The people working here most certainly will only get minimum wages in spite of the sky high prices! Shocked, we leave for the gate and sit down shaking our heads. Now, the only thing we want to do is board the plane and leave (or go back to Adigrat ...).

On our flight back, a protestant priest sits next to Anouk. He is on his way to Norway - further education. He flies to Norway every three months and has to leave his wife who is expecting their third child behind. We exchange emails and from now on will stay in contact!

Suddenly, Anouk has to vomit ... the french Fries from the international airport in Addis are back in daylight and don't look any better than before! Crap, crap, crap!

When breakfast is served she feels better and eats her pancakes with apple sauce ... I have to look twice to really realize it: the five year old girl who did not eat Injera even once during the complete stay in Ethiopia, now uses her pancaces to perfectly Injera-like wrap-in the apple sauce! Intercultural knowledge and adaptability! Wonderful! Well-bred European children don't do that at home! Thank God they do now!


Back in Germany, we don't realize what's different here on the roads. Then, the penny drops: it is quiet, so very quiet. There is no music, everybody goes by car, it's cold and the streets are not filled with hundreds and hundreds of people wearing the most colourful dresses, talking, herding animals ...


On the ferry to our home-island and at the harbour we meet friends and family members. Everybody is happy to see us and we feel more comfortable again. The evening ends with French cheese and red wine ... We show the photos we took and miss all the people in Ethiopia!


Why didn't we use the time spent waiting for our luggage to be checked in to pay a visit to the German school in Addis?! One never knows!


Africanize dem!


Faces of Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a country with over 80 nations and cultures. Naturally, these differences are mirrored in the faces of the people you meet on the road. We think that Ethiopians are extremely beautiful ... actually, Anouk complained about her "pink" complexion - she wants to be as brown and beautiful as the people we met.


Adigrat Photo Safari – A walk from the kindergarten to the market

One morning, we walk from the kindergarten to Adigrat's main market place not taking a Bajaj  to simply take in some more impressions.

School children who have "afternoon shift" sitting over some homework - right next to the kindergarten's gate.

Near the main road, children herd the sheep - rural life in the middle of Adigrat.

Road conditions - only two crossroads away from the main road from Mekelle to Adigrat. Wheel articulation is the absolute necessity!

A small shop at the main road - "Bagdad Road" it's called because of the many collapsed houses which had to give way for the new main road.

Old and new housing - nearly village life right in the middle of Adigrat.

Yes, people call this their home!

The Muslim quarters.

Colourful flowers.

St Mary's Place

An old lady selling fresh chick peas.

Beniam's battered Bajaj - Beniam, originally a lawyer, was our "personal" Bajaj-driver who was an immense help and a wonderful man to talk to.

Oops - poor Landy! Bus stop, resting place for a guard, or what exactly is it?

The tailors' quarter.

Meeting point.

The jewellers' quarter. You can't imagine the beautiful jewellery that's sold here!


Rich and poor, old and new, American and (Indian-)Ethiopian ... so many different things and concepts directly next to each other!


Charcoal maker and firewood seller ... charcoal is pretty much expensive at 150 Birr a sack (approx. 6 Euros)

Shop selling products made of a certain type of grass, such as fans to keep the fire burning and hats.

At the market

The main market in Adigrat is open every day from daybreak to sunset, but on Mondays, the market is really big, because then the people from the villages come to Adigrat to sell their products.

Approaching the market.

Live chicken.

Buy the raw material or ready made fans, hats and other things made of grass.

Spices, lentils and the base for "Churro", the yellow sauce that goes with Injera.

More spices.

Village vegetables.

Butter balls freshly made.

Pots and pans and other kitchen accessories.

Everyday things made from wrought recycled metal.

The blacksmiths' quarters at the market.

Anouk in between fruit and vegetable stalls holding her newly purchased fan.

Fruit and vegetable stall.

Waiting in line at a spice stall ... The young woman in the back carries a stone to bake Injera on on her back.

Sugar cane.

Coffee the slow way – The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony


Many Overlanders seem to be discussing about how to prepare really good coffee on the road as we figured out from a lot of other traveller`s blogs at the moment. We don`t drink too much coffee, so we do it the "slow way" whenever we want to have it! Here is how it goes!


As coffee is originally from Ethiopia it seems, it is obvious that you get the best coffee here. But, there is no good Ethiopian coffee without the proper coffee ceremony.

The first step.
Nobody here buys roasted coffee beans or powdered coffee and instant coffee would probably make every Ethiopian turn away in deep disgust! Here, people don't want to be in a rush when drinking coffee, but want to relax, meet people and talk, talk, talk.




Green coffee beans

Starting the roasting process

What you get at the market in Ethiopia are green coffee beans. To roast the coffee beans, they have to be put into a small pan and be roasted over a charcoal fire (best to be done with a traditional fireplace which can even be used indoors) until they have a dark-brown (not black) colour.

Roasting process nearly finished

Mmh, I wish you could smell this!

The fumes arising from the roasting coffee are really enchanting! (Maybe, that`s how Ethiopian girls beguile their husbands to be?)
Ethiopians believe that the fumes of the roasting coffee when blown into a person's face will bring luck and happiness to that person, especially every first day of the month (so luck and happiness will stay for the complete month) or whenever you or someone else does something for the first time or has birthday (luck and happiness will last for the complete year!).

The second step
After roasting, the coffee beans have to be crushed using a wooden mortar and a pestle until the beans have been turned into a relatively fine powder. ... It looks easy, but it is hard work (just look at Juliane`s face)!

By the way, we found out that the beans taste better if you do it like this with mortar and pestle instead of using an electric grinding machine ... or maybe that`s just pure imagination!

The main part
After the coffee beans have been processed into a dark-brown powder with a really wonderfull perfume, now comes the main part of the ceremony.
After pre-heating the beautiful traditional Ethiopian clay coffee-pot with enough water for the amount of cups needed over a carcoalfire, the coffee-powder is mixed with hot water from the pot and put directly back into the pot to boil for about 20 minutes.

If the water boils over, take away the clay pot from the fire and pour some of the coffee into a pot, immediately put it back and put the coffee pot back on the fire.

After about twenty minutes of boiling (you've got to make sure that the charcoal fire has the correct temperature, so that the coffee really boils - here, they do it by constant fanning, which really is exhausting), you put away the coffee pot from the fire to let the coffee-powder sink down.

After cleaning the small Ethiopian coffee cups (you can also use espresso cups) with fresh water, put two small spoons of cane-sugar into every cup.

For pouring the coffee into the cups, some people add a filter to the pot`s opening, but most people just fill the coffee into the cups without using it. Most important is that it has to be done from high above. We could not find out about the function of this, but maybe it's just for "show" purposes.

When serving the coffee, the oldest person is served first, then the guests and then the other members of the round according to gender (?), age and position.

Traditional coffee pot - beautiful


You want one? Go to Ethiopia!


The boiling procedure can be repeated another two times with the same coffee powder. The first round is called "Abol", the second one "Tawina" and the third one "Bereka". If you want, you can also add a few spoons of fresh coffee powder for the second and third time.

It is important that the clay pot has to be cleaned with freshwater only (do not use soap! never ever!).

To go along with the ceremony:
popcorn, peanuts, biscuits, watered beans or roasted cereals. Actually, anything that`s available goes with it in Ethiopia as they are not really fundamentalist when it comes to eating and food.  ... When Ethiopians want to make the coffee ceremony really festive, they burn incense at it, which makes the ceremony even more hypnotic!

... by the way ... did you know that Juliane drank her first cup of coffee here in Ethiopia! Get that, German coffee!

Impressive Community in Impressive Isolation


After a far too long day with an African authority-jungle in Mekelle, the capital city of the Tigray province (administrative tasks for the kindergarten, changing our flight tickets), we are picked up at 5:30 pm to go on our long expected trip to Hagos' mountain village Zikallay. It's far too late by now, because sunset here always is at around 6 o'clock in the evening. Already the one-hour-car-ride until we almost reach the base of the mountains is more than an adventure: we experience the worst Ethiopian dirt road so far and our local driver puts every hobby-mudhole-fourwheel-crawler into deep shade (without even once engaging 4-wheel).

At the end of the dirt road we unload our - as usual far too extensive- luggage from the Toyota. The promised mule for Anouk is still out of sight! A young schoolboy from the village who is on his way home with some classmates and earlier on had jumped on the back of our pick-up truck carries our heavy Ortlieb-backpack.

Between cactus-hedgerows and washed-out hollow ways we direct ourselves to the impressive mountain in front of us. By now it has become pitch-dark and a nearly full moon in the clearest starry sky shines her light on our small "caravan" consisting of us four Stahls, Hagos, his cousin and the schoolchildren on their way home.


At the start of the stony path up the mountains two young boys from Hagos' village are waiting for us with the mule. Anouk mounts, one of the boys leads the mule and the other mounts behind Anouk and off we go: mule ahead and us lonely wanderers trod on behind (Sóley is being carried). The silence and the impressive moonlight on our way up the mountain are rather magical and we all wander in impressed wonder. Out of the steep wall of rock an ancient rock-hewn church looks down on us and supports this atmosphere.
The path gets steeper and steeper and we walk through a darkness not disturbed by any artificial light. In between, the totally tired Sóley has to be carried taking turnsby Juliane, myself and Hagos. Including his "function" as a friend and guide, we could not have done without Hagos on this walk. Still, our children are really brave and seem to be equally impressed by the pale moonlight and the spell of the mountain.

The long talks we had with Hagos during the last few days are going through our heads: Hagos, now university-lecturer, was using this path daily on his way to and from school which took him between six and eight hours in total every day. All the stories about life in the village become alive again and we are mustering all our strength to scramble on across rock and gravel because we really want to experience life in that village.
Only now we realize that the answer for our exhaustion is that us lowland-beachcombers from Spiekeroog island are simply not used to these heights. The city of Adigrat lies at an altitude of about 2,500m and Zikallay nearly 800m higher, 3,300m above sea level! Just before we reach the highplateau, the mule, which is now carrying Juliane and Sóley, runs into a head-high cactus and Juliane's and Sóley's legs and knees are punctured by a multitude of organic acupuncture needles, which suddenly and loudly disturbs the solemn atmosphere of our ascent.

After nearly two hours, we finally reach our final destination and are gorgeously received by many villagers on the "courtyard" of Desta's house, which is currently inhabited by his uncle Keshi Gebremedhin Hailu.The village-community had been expecting us way earlier and had been waiting nearly the complete day for our arrival. The welcoming-ceremony is as if we had just succesfully climbed Mt. Everest or are important celebrities.So far, only very few fair-skinned people have made their way up here and definitely no fair-skinned children have come here! More or less all the villagers dressed up especially for our arrival: the men and women wear white robes and the village's priests wear the traditional white head-dress that only they are allowed to wear. Light comes from a multitude of candles, fires and torches, as up here there is no electricity. The situation is full ofwarmthand happiness and everybody hugs us and wants to take care of us nightly wanderers.


Walking on towards the old farmhouse, our impressions are influenced by stone, adobe-bricks, corrugated iron and a multitude of animals running free or tied up everywhere around us. Through the front door, apparently entrance for both man and animals, we are led into the partly roofed interior part of the farm, passing chicken, goats, cats, donkeys and the cattle and sheep shed. We go on until we reach a room which seems to be bedroom, living-room and dining-room all-in-one. Amazed we take a look around us: with all those colourful religious posters showing Holy Mary and Jesus, this room looks a bit like a chapel. Half of the village seems to be sitting around us and we discover many impressive faces which seem to be telling an enormous amount of stories.


The room is by no means luxurious but has an enormous "spirit". The impressions so far from the open-air welcoming ceremony to our rest here in this room to us appear to be nearly "biblical": an impressive starry sky without any light pollution and happy people in rural surroundings with animals directly nearby. The flickering flames of the fire and the candles throw light beams across people wearing clothes which without doubt would not have been percieved "special" in any kind of way even 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. Do we miss Christmas? No! All this here is the most impressive Christmas setting we could ever have imagined. We are sitting in the middle of an Ethiopian nativity play and seem to be having to take over roles in that play which are still unknown to us so far.

But we don't really have the time to look around or think, because all the people around us are showering us with an immense number of questions using Hagos as their translator. At the same time Anouk's doll seems to be taking over the role of the Holy Child - amazed children and grown-ups enjoy this fair-skinned toy and accompanied by roaring laughter it is being passed on from hand to hand. Children don't have dolls here, it seems. In a community like this one children simply don't need such toys as there are always friends, family members and neighbours (sometimes they're all of that together) having babies, which have to be taken care of by the older children. Have to?

After the first round of questions, we get freshly baked bread and Injera with different sauces accompanied by "Suwa", the home-brewn light beer made from barley and corn. Meanwhile, Sóley is totally exhausted and tired and the important question as to where we will be going to sleep this night is raised. Do we want to sleep in the open or inside the house? Finally, we are given the "bedroom" of Desta's uncle - a great honour for a guest to be given the sleeping place of the landlord. Actually, it was rather a "sleeping-cave", a small room situated on a higher level than the floor, but still more part of the stables and sheds than part of the rest of the building.

The base for the "mattress" made of raffia-mats and old plastic bags is by no means levelled and is rather stony. Anouk is really excited to sleep in this "cave" but Sóley sucessfully refuses to go to bed. Sóley's success is being terminated by Juliane with the help of two girls from the village and, finally, she sleeps exhausted but still peacefully in her sleeping bag.

Parallel to Juliane's hard work trying to bring our youngest daughter to sleep, I am preparing the evening milk for Sóley. This "women's work" peformed by a man gives rise to further questions and brings about more comparisons of cultures. It is striking that people don't seem to judge immediately, but before judging, directly ask for more information whenever patterns of behaviour et cetera are different and not understood. We realise that it's not us that are the observersin a "museum", but that both sides go straight up to each other openly being interested in the different lifestyles and living conditions.

After the traditional Ethiopian dinner all leave the room and get closer around a crackling camp fire in the centre part of the farm building under an open sky next to chicken, goats and donkeys enjoying the later part of this wonderful evening. Nobody tells the children to go to bed and, thus, Anouk and all the other children of the farm-community naturallyare part of this campfire-round. They are even allowed to drink "Suwa" (which Anouk doesn't like, unfortunately). Without anybody mentioning it, the Christmas-spirit is part of our happy and cosy meeting in which, apart from enjoying Suwa and distilled spirits, topics such as family planning (extended family versus core family with one or two children), contraception, abortion, gender roles, our personal philosophy of life, what exactly we are doing here in Ethiopia, our religious background and our families at home are raised. Really strange for the village people is the small average number of children per family in Europe. The orthodox head of priests of the village, who is allowed to have a wife and children, remarks that it is something rather divine that we can "make" children and that he cannot understand that people want to give the unique gift of life only to one or two children.
Of course, the women from the village do not go to a hospital to give birth to their children; all the people around were born and raised here in the village. But, the death of mother and child during the birth process, unfortunately, is not a rare occurrance and medical aid is far away and never on time due to the long and hard way down to the city.

Still thinking about all the impressions, recapitulating interesting topics and interesting discussion partners and sensing the different smells and sounds around us, we try to find some sleep on out stony bed.

During the night we are - in addition to the effectof the rather uncomfortable and hardbed - again and again disturbed by animal noises directly next to us (why exactly does the donkey have to munch his fodder directly next to my head?). An unpleasant animal smell that we had expected in advance does not exist here. At daybreak, we just fell into a deep sleep, all farm animals are driven pastour "sleeping-room" out through the front door: waking up and climbing out of bed, one has to literally be careful not to be stampeded by a fully grown bull.


Stepping out of the front door, we cast first glimpses into the surrounding landscape, which the evening before we only experienced below our weary feet and in the pale shine of the full moon. An impressive landscape opens up to us with a gorgeous view down onto the villages and towns lying up to 800m below us.

We are on some kind of "table mountain", just approximately 100m away from the steep abyss. Why do tourists go to Grand Canyon, when they also could experience this wonderful landscape here?

Now, it is time for breakfast together with the inhabitants of the farm and the head of priests who had spontaneously decided to stay here after our campfire-party last evening.


Actually, we have never experienced a priest acting like this and think this is really nice how he is part of everything, the harvest, the coffee ceremony (where he binds his "turban"). He is by no means unworldly but wonderfully humane and open.

This time, we do not sit in yesterday evening's "multi-purpose-room", but in what I would call the "kitchen", together with the store the oldest parts of this farm building. Hagos' family has been living here for between 1600 and 2200 years. Impressive!


Making butter the village way


Our scrambled eggs are served including home made cottage cheese on flat breadand the traditional Injera. All of us eat with our right hands, the left hand being seen as "impure"- left handed people are, of course, allowed to eat with their left hand. Going with the food, Suwa is served and an official welcome-coffee ceremony is performed. The fumes of the freshly roasted coffee beans are waved into our faces because this is supposed to bring luck and success.

Around us are - apart from the head of priests - only the members of the family. No, this is not exactly the truth: also the former "servants" of the family (it would not be polite to call them "slaves", but that's actually what they were) are among us. People whose ancestors generations ago were bought by Hagos' ancestors but who have been set free long before Hagos' birth. The family has given them a house and land they now own as their property to farm their own products. Also, they have established marriage-relationships with the people from the village-community. Despite their family history as slaves, they still feel part of Hagos' family and live here instead of living in their own house. The grandma, being over 90 years old now, is nursed by this extended-patchwork-family without anybody mentioning it.

Where they are from geographically is not known. They are maybe from Westafrica but, actually, we think that they might also have Indian facial features.

After breakfast with even more interesting and long talks, we go off for a walk to the cliffs nearby. Next to the majestic landscape, wonderful people are influencing our impressions again: constantly somebody comes and wants to help (e.g. the girl, who naturally wants tocarry Sóley on her back) or give us some food (the old lady bringing freshly baked bread still warm from the oven).

Everybody seems to be extremely happy to see Hagos and us and everybody hugs us. On our way, we meet Hagos' family again working together on the field together with the priest siffing chaff from the wheat. They use methods from ancient times: the separation process is made by throwing the cereals into the air so that the wind can blow away the straw and the grains fall directly to the ground.


two types of wheat


Up here, water exists in abundance. Hagos explains what is being farmed and harvested. Six different types of cereal are grown here: corn, two types of wheat (one has nearly black grains), barley, Teff (an ancient Ethiopian cereal which is unbelievably expensive at home in Europe) and Sorghum. They also have beans, lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, garlic, potatoes, carrotts and chili.
Of course, every farm has its own bees for producing delicious honey. Farm animals are donkeys and mules, horses, cattle, goats, sheep and chicken. Milk, cheese and butter are provided by the sheep, goats and cows, and the chicken provide eggs. Apart from these domesticized animals and plants, mother nature provides all other spices and tasty cactus pear, papayas, mangos, oranges, limes and avocados without the people having to do something for it. At the market in Adigrat, one day's walk away, only salt, soap, coffee and sugar have to be bought.


Anouk feasting on cactus pears


Tihlo - production



(nearly) everybody enjoys Tihlo


For lunch we have "Tihlo", another traditional meal from this region here. We experience how it is produced by kneading a dough made of water and watered, rosted and ground Sorghum-grains. This dough is after that by no means roasted or cooked but formed to round balls, which are then dipped into a fermenting sour-hot sauce in a saucer in the middle of the table with the help of sticks everybody is holding in their hands. Even though we liked every type of food so far, this meal is not really something for us. Parallel to the other family members eating the Tihlo, the youngest family member has to go on forming the small dough-balls, but is fed by the others at the same time so that she can participate.

Some of the conversations we had with Hagos during the last few weeks were about an important historical person for the people of this area: Stephanus, who was an Ethiopian-Orthodox priest in the 15th century who refused to bow down in front of the Ethiopian emperor because he was not standing in the same position as God, and thus was persecuted both by the central government and by the Orthodox Church.




Stephanus, quite "modern" actually, gave preference to the division of state and church and demanded that clergy and monks farm the products needed for their everyday life themselves instead of taking half of the harvest from the farmers. Stephanus - Hagos even named his son after him - and his movement which is still alive and kicking are deeply woven into the Tigray region of Ethiopia and especially with this mountain. At the time of persecution of the Stephanus disciplies they were "marked" with two cuts directly next to their eyebrows on the left and right part of their faces after being discovered by the authorities. Today, these "decoration scars" are still a tradition and a lot of parents decorate their children like that being proud of their heritage.

One part of this mountain is called "Munguda" and is supposed to be the place where - according to the legends - the persecuted disciples of Stephanus hid themselves and held their secret congregations. This part of the mountain is viewed as "haunted" by the locals and nobody really wants to go there without good reason to do so. In addition to this, Munguda is quite remote and there are a lot of leopards, so nobody wants to herd their animals here as well. Hagos had told me that there are caves in this area of the mountain bearing human remains, which are known only to a very small circle of persons in the village. Of course, this information made my anthropologist's heart beat louder and louder and we planned to discover that place.

After an intermediate-level climb directly at the mountain's abyss through really enchanted scenery, we reach the first of these caves. This cave can only be looked into after another climb. With Hagos' support, I climb up and in the narrow cave see the remains of six humans scattered around and mixed with stones, pieces of wood and old withered leather.

We speculate whether the bones are scattered around like that and mixed with stones because somebody forced his way into this "grave" or because not complete dead bodies were put there but body parts of several persons. I take some photos of this historical site and am planning to give them to the department of archaeology of the university of Adigrat (we actually talk about this topic on one of the following days when we are out for lunch together with Dr. Alem Mebrahtu, the vice-president of Adigrat University).

On our further way through Munguda, we discover some more caves, which for sure bear more secrets, but without more people helping and without ropes and ladders, we would not be able to go there without putting ourselves in danger. So, sadly, we leave them alone for other people to discover and we make us on our way back to the farm.

While we are in Munguda, Juliane is trying to establish some contact with the women in the kitchen. Unfortunately, most of it is reduced to pantomime because they have no common language to communicate in. Anouk likes it here so much that she doesn't want to go back to Adigrat tomorrow. But at this very moment, she feels a bit lonely, because all her new friends have naturally gone somewhere to follow their daily-routined duties and are somewhere on the village's fields to herd their farm animals or do other farm work. They simply did not think that Anouk would have loved to join them. This, by the way, is by no means "child labour", but children and young people are given responsibility at an early age for certain tasks and they are thus naturally part of the every-day work of the farm and village community just like the adults. The children are proud to serve the guests of the family and it seems that they and their contribution to society are immensely valued by the adults. We are really impressed how naturally work is "seen" and done by even really young children. Certainly because everybody does so, this is why there is always enough time left for talking, coffee ceremonies, drinking Suwa and visiting the neighbours. In spite of self-subsistenceand the physical labour connected with it, life here is really "relaxed".

The bringing in of the wheat and bean harvests has been completed by now and all sit in the field and toast with Suwa to the successful harvest.


Again and again it becomes clear that these undemanding people are convinced that their way of life is better compared to that of us Europeans. Certainly this also because they don't know it differently. Impressive in that context is the openness with which different ways of life are compared and the immense interest in the different life in Europe. Because up here there is - apart from no electricity and no water from the tap - no television, the people from the mountain don't seem to have a displaced perspective on life in the supposed "golden" West. The community and community sense here on the mountain really makes the people "rich", people in the towns and cities are "poor" in comparison. The "villagers" have an balanced diet and need only very little money. Most things they don't have themselves, they can ask for at the neighbours' houses. Exchanging something in direct return is not necessary because the neighbours will also sometime be in need of something. The children take care of the "pension" and the maintenance of the self-subsistence makes possible an independence from all the crises "down there". Even politically viewed nothing is really of any importance here. Still, Hagos remembers when after their seizure of power, Mengistu's henchmen were invading the village at dawn one day to search for partisans but finding only the village's children and women. The unwanted reply from the 7-year-old Hagos that the men were all in Adigrat led to one of the soldiers hitting him in his face. The women were abducted and kept in custody until the situation relaxed because it became clear that there were no partisans living in the village.

We ask the question what life here was like during the famine periods in the 1980s and 1990s - also because since we have been here in Ethiopia, we have experienced wonderfully healthy, nutritionally balanced and cheap food and actually always feel like stuffed Turkeys here. It becomes clear that these famines which made Ethiopia tragically "famous" worldwide, were mainly the results of political mismanagement. Here on the mountain life went on as ever even at that time, without any water or food shortage, because it is normal for the farmers to plan way in advance and because the farmers have enough supplies in their stores for at least five years. Connected with the self-subsistence are a great deal of satisfaction, freedom and independence.

In the evening we sit in a smaller circle around the eucalypt fire which is spreading an hypnotic, even drug-like scent. Everywhere in Ethiopia farmers plant eucalypt trees because they grow fast and thus supply them with readily available building timber or firewood. Unfortunately, people don't realize that these trees need an enormous amount of water to grow and also push out native plants. This circle of people sitting around the fire is smaller today because the men from Zikallay have gone to the neighbouring village to arrange a marriage between one of their relatives with a girl from that village nearby.
There are many cases in Ethiopia where marriages are planned by the parents when the partners to be are still children. A discussion begins dealing with the sense and nonsense of this cultural peculiarity. The community is kept in good condition through that because children don't go far away to live with their partners, but just into the neighbouring village ore one village further away. When the argument that about 50 per cent of the marriages are divorced in Germany is put into account, we are torn. Today, this tradition seems to be vanishing even in Ethiopia. In the special case of this evening, the two possible partners to be are already in love with each other and what is needed is the consent of the girl's father and that's what the relatives of the bridegroom to be are working on this evening.
Hagos and myself stay outside for the night and sleep looking into an impressive starry sky.


After waking up listening to the morning birds and the cackling of the chicken, we sit around the morning-campfire and start tranquilly in this day, which for all of us will bring an unexpectedly hard farewell. After sitting around the fire, we sit in the "multi-purpose-room" described before and enjoy Ethiopian porridge with cheese.


Ethiopian porridge


After breakfast a "farewell-ceremony" follows which is celebrated by the head of priests and Hagos' uncle who, apart from being a farmer, also is a priest. The old former slave-grandmother as the oldest family member is also present to give her blessing in addition to that of the two priests.

Hagos translates the words of the two priests and we are deeply moved by their words which are so very much supporting our personal way of living, are well meant and deeply meaningful. It is really striking that these words are spoken by people who have known us after only two days now. Not only us, but also Hagos seems to be very moved by these words. With a deep thankfulness for us coming to their village, they connect that they know how exhausting and difficult it is to travel up here, especially with so very young children. Our children are described as being very positive individuals who love to share and as being really well-mannered and the two priests promise them a meaningful future in their lives.
For our further travels, whose importance, relevance and deeper meaning is totally clear to them, they wish us luck and endurance and pray that they will get old enough to be able to see us coming back to their village sometime. We are really included in their family and village-community.
All the time this ceremony is not sententiously, but very "down to earth". Not one word is said about Jesus, but everything is about honest ethical backgrounds, about us personally and the people from the village and about their best wishes, connected with what they call "God". Because of that, we can really take in this ceremony without any heasitation.

More and more we are of the feeling that one gets far more from all the personal encounters here in Ethiopia that one can give back to these wonderful people. This really causes some kind of bad conscience in us!

After a farewell with many hugs we are back on our way but have to turn around many times to wave at the villagers. The Priest stands alone on the small hill in front of our home for the last few days and seems to be as sad as we are.

Climbing down, again we don't have to take care of many things such as our children and our luggage - it's really a readiness to help until we reach the last stone on the path. Unfortunately, the midday heat on our way prevents us from taking in more impressions from what's left and right of our path.


Our companions from the village literally run down the gravel-path in a flip-flop-highspeed we cannot possibly keep up with. For us the path is really hard to manage even though we are wearing proper walking shoes.

After a car-ride back to Adigrat in the Toyota-Hilux with 15 passengers alltogether sitting in the passenger compartment and behind on the pick up's truck bed, our small volunteer room at the kindergarden appears to be really luxurious and privileged when together with Hagos and his uncle we unload our luggage. Sometimes it's really healthy to change perspectives. Our children enjoy the Lego which before the trip to the village had become boring for them.

There are many worlds between "their world" and "our world"! Still, these wonderful people have given us the chance to be part of their lives for a while. In many impressive conversations they have managed to be open for our ways of living and our perspectives and have tried to understand this different world without prejudice. It was really a reciprocal interest and "studying" the opposite communication partner and all this in the most wonderful, warm and welcoming atmosphere.

The thought that people should work to make their dreams come true instead of making work itself the most important thing in life doesn't want to leave us. Why, oh why do we put ourselves under so much stress every day to earn more and more money if one could live like them?

A German translation of this blog entry can be found here, on our school's blog.

A trip to Hawzen and Juliane’s “Initiation”

We've been in Ethiopia for only a few weeks so far and we feel that it's hard to put all the experiences and stories into the proper words.

At the evening of Anouk's birthday, we went out for dinner to the Agoro Lodge in Adigrat together with Desta. Even though we were together with Ethiopians only for nearly one week, it appeared to be rather strange for us to meet other tourists there, especially as some of them were Germans. In Africa, when you're somewhere with children, it's never a problem, you can just let them run free and everybody is happy with that. As soon as (Northern) Europeans come into the game, we feel responsible for our children not to be too loud et cetera. This actually, made us a bit uncomfortable in their presence.

The next following night, Anouk was really travel-sick and Sóley soon followed her sister's example. We had predicted this, because travel sickness is part of traveling and it's actually not terrifying. What really was making the situation worse was the fact that going along with the children's sickness, there suddenly was no water in the complete district. Also, electricity came and went every now and then. But, we're in Africa, so there are always solutions for almost everything! Water was brought in 20 litre cans and cooking can also be done over a charcoal-fire as we discovered some days later, when in the middle of the cooking process in pitch dark Africa, suddenly electricity broke down again and Juliane had to go to the guard who asked a boy to help her lighting the coal stove so that we could finish with the cooking. The water from the tap was completely gone for 3,5 days!
Because of the sickness of the two girls, we unfortunately had to cancel the trip to Desta's parents village.
The Saturday we spent at the empty kindergarten and slowly the children recovered.

A trip to Hawzen

On Sunday, we went to Hawzen together with Desta. Before we could start, we needed some fuel for the car. In Europe this would not have been a problem at all, but the only gas station in Adigrat was "run dry" - at least that was what the people working there told us. After some negotiation, we discovered that there was some fuel left (originally reserved for the people working at the gas station) and that we would get some if we take one of their friends to Hawzen. We agreed to do so, of course, and on we went. On the way to Hawzen, we passed the remains of the oldest synagogue in East Africa, maybe in whole Africa, being at least 2,500 years old (photos will follow). It seems that there are many historical sites in Ethiopia that have not been excavated so far. A dream for any historian and archaeologist!

As almost anywhere in Africa, whenever there were roadworks going on, there were Chinese head workers sitting in the shade of a truck and Ethiopian workers doing the road construction work in the scorching sun. According to Desta, more or less all roads in Ethiopia with a tar surface are built by the Chinese. Actually, the Chinese government gives the Ethiopian government money disguised as foreign aid but oncondition that the Ethiopian government builds roads with this money (roads, of course, providing infrastructure to places that are of some interest to the Chinese, i.e. to mining towns et cetera) and gives the job to Chinese companies. So, all the money goes back to China! Apparently, it seems that a lot of foreign aid is like that. Why always transfer money that can easily end up in the pockets of politicians? Why not transfer knowledge instead that makes African countries and Africans really independent? Why not train doctors, farmers, engineers in Europe so that they can go back to their countries and use their knowledge and all the resources that are there. I am sure that Africa will be one, if not "the one", important markets of the future! The Chinese do know that!!

We had a drink at a wonderful Gheralta Lodge - only that it was abit too silent and clean for Africa, it was almost sanitaty. There simply were no local people around to put life into the premises. Also, the lodge is owned by Italians, so again the majority of the money does not go to Africa but somewhere else.

From there we went to the city centre of Hawzen, an important market town for the region. We had dinner at a small roadside restaurant and had our fifth version of Injera so far. Again, it was delicious! For the children we ordered "French Fries", which turned out to be "French Toast". Still it was really good! After lunch, we went to a local pub and had draught beer, local St Georges Beer, at an unbelievably cheap price: 40 cent for 0.4 litres!


As always, the local children were really excited to see children with a fair complexion and looked over the wall into the pub's beer garden. Anouk reacted wonderfully, went onto the street and played with them. It's really great that life here is so relaxed that we as parents can let Anouk simply run off and play with the children.


From Hawzen we went on a round trip to the local mountains. On the way we gave a lift to some locals. One of them was a musician playing the most important local musical instrument, the "Masinko", the Ethiopian version of a fiddle. Grateful for us giving him a lift, he broke into a welcoming song for us (simultaneously translated for us by Desta).

Near a mountain-village (with a small rock-hewn church that we were not able to visit, because we would have to climb quite a bit to get up there and the children were still recovering from their travel sickness), we met with a beautiful young woman who traditionally carried her child on her back.


We talked about life and children and discovered that she has three children so far and wants to have at least six. Wondering about her age, she told us that she was 28, was married at 14 and had her first child when she was 16. The average child per family in Germany is somewhere about 1.6, here in Ethiopia the average (!) is 6 children. We are not here to judge, but Ethiopians being so poor, there seems to be great need for the education of mothers concerning family planning.

We returned from our trip late in the evening and fell into our beds. During the night, the girl's travel sickness suddenly showed up again, whether it was due to the egg on the "French Fries" or due to the Ethiopian lemonade, we do not know. This, actually, took us the complete Monday and part of Tuesday for the cleaning and recovering process.

Juliane's initiation

The coffee ceremony on the following Monday was special in many ways. As usual for most days, all the people working at the kindergarten had their coffee ceremony in the kindergarten's kitchen. As it was St. Mary's day, not only coffee was consumed, but also "Suwa", a typical beer made of fermented corn and barley was also drunk. Suwa tastes sour-fruity with a light yeasty touch to it. Later we heard that there exists a light and a strong version of it (the strong one being so very strong that especially "Ferenji" who are not used to it, get so enormously drunk after only four cups that they start giving away all their belongings). The conversation went from a beautiful earring the supplier of the "Suwa" wore (apparently very traditional for the region) to the traditional hairstyle worn by the Tigrinyan women. Well, even though our "Suwa" was not of the strong kind, the effect of this coffee ceremony was that Juliane had to sit down in front of Mihret, the kindergarten's accountant, who would make Juliane such a hairdo. For Juliane, this procedure was a bit between heaven and hell, as for being beautiful, the Tigriniyan woman has to suffer a natural "facelifting" because the hair is really tightly woven.

We had a great laugh and the atmosphere was really wonderful. After discovering that the European New Year would be celebrated the following days, the Ethiopian ladies suggested that, now, that Juliane looked (nearly) like one of them, she would also have to learn how to do the complete coffee ceremony and would have to do so on the first day of the new year. It seems that this situation was some kind of initiation, and after this coffee ceremony, almost all shyness had melted away.

This week, Mischa started his free English lessons for the students of grades five and six of the surrounding schools. First, thirty students attended and the next following day, the number rose to 52 children. All of them were attending voluntarily and whenever there was somebody disturbing the lessons by being too loud, the other students would make them be quiet again. I had never expected lessons of 60 minutes with so many students being effective in any way, but from one lesson to the other, I could really discover students improving. One difference certainly is that Ethiopian students want to learn because they simply know that this might be their chance to start a different life. I also discovered that Ethiopian teachers seem to use a repetitive way of teaching, rather than my more communicative approach. Maybe, that's why so many students came to my classes. English can be fun! (Tell that to German students!)
Julianes experiences with her first few lessons in the kindergarten were dominated by an impressive discipline the students have, even though the classes are about 30 pupils strong. Still, we discovered that in smaller groups of five children without their "normal" teachers, this discipline lessens and the children behave cheaky like children of that age simply do. This is also due to the fact that we do not want to use as strict methods as Ethiopian teachers use! Thus, working in small groups was not as effective as we had expected. Juliane worked with the complete group again and used funny methods transmitting interesting and funny content, such as learning the English words for body parts by singing and dancing. The plan for the next lessons will be to work with the oldest pupils and work on a conversation, writing and singing plan.

We have learned here in Ethiopia so far that many things which are "normal" in Europe are actually luxury and not to be taken for granted, such as water from the tap, electricity, fuel. Life here definitely makes one humble. Life and living conditions can be so very different! Still, it seems that most Ethiopians we have met so far have quite fulfilling lives even though they have less material things. So far, I have seen nobody complaining and everybody is relaxed, witty, warm-hearted and full of life!