We finally took a long-awaited trip that was literally seven years in the making! Even prior to marriage, Urbndervish and I daydreamed about visiting Ethiopia- a combination of our post-Rasta, pan-African, and Muslim consciousness heralded a need to see and witness Abyssinia firsthand. Over the years, we told ourselves that we could not make this trip alone- we needed a friend, a guide, or someone to take us by the hand and show us Ethiopia. But after so many years of waiting and the constant nudges- direct flights to Addis Ababa from Muscat, the encouragement and advice from friends who have lived in or visited Ethiopia, a helpful Lonely Planet guidebook, AND the fact that Lil’ Z is on the eve of turning two (which means a third plane ticket), we felt the time had come. It was one of those “we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for” moments, so we prayed Salaatu’l Istikharah (Prayer for Seeking Guidance) and bought two round-trip tickets on my birthday.
Eid holidays in Oman are usually announced just a few days prior to their start, so it’s technically a bit of a gamble to make travel arrangements so far in advance but we were bolstered by the confidence of other expats who confidently booked, planned, and reserved their week-long getaways. Most expats in Oman use Eid holidays as a golden opportunity to explore a new destination- whether east, west, north or south. On the first day of the Eid holiday, the airport was spinning and we converged with travelers heading to Greece, Portugal, South Africa, Kenya, and a select few who beckoned the call to Ethiopia. At the departure gate, we shared our itineraries, chatted on the plane, but after receiving our tourist visas at Bole International Airport, we scattered like the twelve tribes of Judah.
Our mission in Ethiopia was focused and less popular than the heavily promoted tours and itineraries. Tourism in Ethiopia primarily revolves around relics of ancient civilization, major Christian historical sites and monasteries, and immersion in the natural world. While the former and latter may appeal to us, our primary intention was to visit Ethiopia’s first mosque in Negash, where the Ethiopian ruler who protected and embraced the early community of Muslims is buried. In the same burial place are many early Muslim migrants. Our second intention was to visit Harrar, a walled city of learning and former emirate in Islamic history. Our third intention was to see what life is like in Addis Ababa and with the days in between, we hoped to squeeze in as much nature and Ethiopian food as possible. Thankfully, most of our objectives were met, with no conflicts, a mystical climax and a twist ending.
Arriving in Bole International Airport was a straight-forward process. A little office with a huge sign bearing “Visa on Arrival” was our first stop. While the line was long and winding, the $20 per passport process was seamless. Generously, the single-entry visa allows you to stay for three months. Fully exhausting “baby advantage”, we were advanced though customs with pleasant smiles and warm inquiries about our accommodations. After grabbing our bags, we stepped pass passengers cutting open their tightly bound packages and baggage for customs investigation and proceeded to the exit. I was nervous upon exiting, expecting to be flanked by incessant invitations for taxis, accommodations, and “assistance” but at a few meters distance, we saw a warm chocolate face, holding a paper sign bearing Urbndervish’s name. She welcomed us and escorted us to our shuttle. We made reservations at a modest guesthouse and while the shuttle was blazoned with the guesthouse’s name and contact info, it too was modest. We squeezed in with our bags, the driver, and three other companions- all seven (and a half) of us in the five seater van. One companion was dropped off along the way, so we sat cozily with little to no conversation along the way.
Our room was neat and clean. We had no time to waste as Lil’ Z was ripe and ready to run the streets after a brief nap on our walk through the airport. We called a virtual vegan friend after eating the last traces of breakfast to find out that he was ill but would send someone in his place to help us get around town. Our first day was to be spent sorting out the domestic travel plans for the rest of the week–bus tickets that can be reserved online but must be purchased locally and flight tickets that can be bought online but are much cheaper when purchased locally. With tickets in hand, we eased into the next adventure which was trying to buy traditional Ethiopian clothes for the next day’s Eid but everything was more expensive than we thought. We left with a simple scarf for 220 birr ($12) and sought out a tasty meal.
We arrived on a Thursday, which meant that vegan food would be scarce. Wednesdays and Fridays are fasting days for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. Their unique fast entails no food or drink from one night to the next day at around 3pm. When they do eat, the meal is free of meat, milk, dairy, and eggs i.e. it is vegan. Some eat fish but some don’t. On a Thursday, our saving grace was a vegan buffet at Ethiopia’s first hotel, Itegue Taitu Hotel. Every single day, they offer a wholly vegan lunch buffet between 12pm and 2:30pm. At more than $4 per person, we thought the buffet was a bit “boojie” and that we could easily find cheaper, local cuisine, but when we discovered that they source much of their produce from their permaculture garden and that they are supporters of the local Food not Bombs crew, we decided to support their efforts and give them the green fist.
The buffet was colorful, varied, and fresh. We all ate well and returned to our guesthouse. We were all exhausted and tried our best to stay up for sunset prayer, but instead decided to collapse that late afternoon and wake later to pray.
To be continued…