Category Archives: Uncategorized

The last week of Lent in Ethiopia is the most rigorous fasting of all

Priest holding traditional taper

Priest holding traditional taper

Yesterday (9th April) was Palm Sunday or Hosanna – the Sunday before Easter.  It is a very special day in the Orthodox church commemorating Jesus’s march into Jerusalem on a donkey with Palm fonds laid before him. It is marked with palms (worn by many worshippers on hands or head), processions and special services in the church.

Ethiopia is now in the last week of Great Lenten fast or Hudadi, this last week of Hudadi is commonly known as Holy Week, or the “Week of Pains” or the Himamat and is the strictest part of Lent. During Himamat no absolution is given, and during this week the fast becomes yet more rigorous. For some strict worshippers, having broken the fast after mass on Thursday they will not eat any food nor drink even a drop of water until Easter morning. So they totally abstain for all of Good Friday (or Sekelet) and Saturday, breaking this fast after the church service that goes through the night on Saturday, finishing at around 3am on Sunday morning. These three days are known as “Qanona”. The priests neither eat nor drink but remain in the churches singing and praying incessantly.

No other major religion has such penitential fasting. For the strict observers of the fast, the 55 days of Lent are very tough on the body. Fasting in Ethiopia not only means a vegan diet but also means many hours of no food or drink. Each fasting day the observer will not eat of drink anything from the time they wake up until after the mass in the middle of the day is finished in church for many that means 3-4pm. Two simple meals may then follow, a late ‘lunch’ or more properly ‘break-fast’, and a light supper in the evening. What is staggering is that there is no drinking – not water, not coffee, nothing – during those fasting hours.

On Easter Sunday chicken, cheep, goats and cattle are dispatched for the pot as the fasting comes to an end in no uncertain terms. Sunday sees piles of sheep skins on street corners, to be picked up by small dealers in trucks. For the days leading up to Easter flocks of sheep and goats as well as herds of oxen were driven by herders into the city, chickens were driven in trucks and pick ups. They are sold at impromptu markets all over the city to be slaughtered in back yards. Prices of livestock more than double for Easter. Sheep come to Addis with drovers bringing them across countryside from several hundred miles away, across Shoa and even as far as Wollo.

After Easter there is no fasting not even on Wednesdays and Fridays until after Pentecost on 4 June (Parakilitos). In the countryside the end of the fasting is celebrated in different ways. In Tigray priests are feted with parties held by different households from their parish. In Wollo I have seen the girls making swings from rope to hand off trees and play on them singing songs, while the boys have javelin contests. Its also a second wedding season as people like to get married before the rainy season and after the fasting. These are enjoyable times in the countryside, and if you have the chance to spend a week or so up in the countryside on a Tesfa Trek in Wollo, Tigray or the Simiens you will be a very welcome guest and participant at the celebrations.

 

Leave a comment

Christmas is coming .. in Ethiopia

Melkam Gena / Happy Christmas

Sheep are bought into Addis for sale for holidays

Sheep are bought into Addis for sale for holidays

Christmas is coming and sheep is for the pot.
Onions need cutting and enjara pan is hot.
If you can’t afford a sheep a chicken will do.
If you can’t afford a chicken then God bless you.

This adaptation tells a few home truths about festivals in Ethiopia such as Gena:
mountains of onions are peeled, chopped fine and put in the pot. Enjara bread (pancakes) is baked on the eve of Gena with a big pile ready for the feast. People using electricity in the cities are nervous of power cuts or low power meaning the pan does not

Chickens for sale on street corners

Chickens for sale on street corners

get hot enough. And after the long fast that precedes Gena, everyone wants to eat meat. Best is to buy a sheep, but prices of sheep ahead of festivals has soared in recent years. A small sheep would not cost over $100 USD, for many that is a months salary or more. But a Doro wot- spicy chicken stew – is a favourite for the holiday. Yet even a chicken would cost around $10-15USD. So there are many families who will not be able to afford a chicken this holiday.

In most of Europe and the West, Christmas is the big family day, with presents, special foods, traditions to be followed. For many they will go to church and remember that it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but for many more it has become a feast of consumerism and consumption.

In the Ethiopian Orthodox church, the traditional church in Ethiopia and the one that forms the framework of much of the culture of the country, there are several very important festivals throughout the year: Easter, Christmas, Timkat (the celebration of the baptism of Christ) and Meskal being the most important. Add to this new Year, which falls on 11th September in most years, and is very important to many although it is less of a religious day, and you can see that there are a good number of festivals through the year.

Bale Wold church in Addis, crowds gather to see the Tabot

Bale Wold church in Addis, crowds gather to see the Tabot on Gena/ Christmas day.

Feasting is part of all these holidays. It is also family time, with people returning to their mother’s home to enjoy real home cooking. Church is often attended during the night on the eve of the holiday, although with days like Timkat the church procession is a big part of the day’s events.

So where should you go to see Gena?  If you attend any Orthodox church the night before you will witness the service and the mass. In Addis the church of Bale Wold by Selassie celebrates

Gena ceremony in Lalibela

Gena ceremony in Lalibela, the most famous place to spend Christmas in Ethiopia.

Christmas on Christmas morning.  If you have Ethiopian friends they will undoubtably invite you round to partake in the feast. Do bring round gifts of food: coffee, biscuits, fruit, cake, bottle of wine and the like are all acceptable presents.

Gena is most famous in Lalibela. But if you have not booked it you are too late. Accommodation fills up, (so there will be no room at the inn) and flights become full.  Hotels and guides inflate their usual fees, so in addition it does become expensive.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Tesfa Phone Lines are working again – hurray!

I am sorry if anyone had problems getting through to us in the last week or 10 days. The state provider ‘tele’ blocked them by mistake and then one by one unblocked them! Our office mobile was working the whole time 092 349 0495 and much of the time our wireless phone (011 810 0920) although this seems to have technical problems! These days we have fibre-optic internet so in theory our internet connection should be very good. So do email us on info@tesfatours.com/.

Leave a comment

Tesfa Tours can take payment by credit card

visa and mastercardTo facilitate easier payment we now take major credit cards in payment for our holidays. If you bring the credit card to our office we have a terminal and you will be asked to enter your PIN number. If we take your details remotely we need an email or text authorising this along with a photocopy of your passport and front and back of the credit card.

Leave a comment

Wonderful article in Selamta (Ethiopian Airlines inflight magazine)

Photo from ​Genesis​ by Sebastião Salgado

Photo from ​Genesis​ by Sebastião Salgado

When you are next on board an Ethiopian A/L flight have a look for the main feature (Nov/Dec issue) in the inflight magazine – Selamta. But you can also read it on line at www.selamtamagazine.com  – the following is taken from the article – wonderfully written by Noreen Fagan, with photos by Sebastião Salgado

 

In sync with Highland living, each day from there unfolded seamlessly into another. We woke with the rising sun and walked until midday, when we rested for lunches of injera(local flatbread made from fermented teff grain) and lentils washed down with strong black coffee. Each climb brought us closer to the clouds, giving us the perfect vantage points from which to witness a lifestyle that had not changed over thousands of years: Small boys balanced sticks twice their size, steering goats toward grazing land; farmers in every direction walked horses and bulls in a circle, threshing hay; and women ambled their ways home, carrying jugs of water, locally made beer or goods traded at the nearby market. At more than 3,500 meters above sea level, we became briefly a part of the agricultural and cultural life of Ethiopian pastoralists.

Each evening, as the sun set beyond the farthest mountain range, we sat on the edge of the escarpment and sipped beer cooled by the high-altitude air. The beauty of the environment spoke to us, but we were otherwise surrounded by silence — broken only by the wind whistling across the plateau.  ….

We spent our final night atop a jagged mountaintop, overlooking valleys and layers of mountains cascading toward the hidden horizon. Lammergeyers swooped down below us before spiraling upward with the wind — their flight accentuating the stillness of our surrounds. As the light faded, our warm memories of the past three days blanketed us against the cold Ethiopian night — reminding us that time need not be dictated by the hourglass but by the momentum of daily life.

 

 

Leave a comment

Melkam Meskal

 

All over Addis decorated bonfires are set up the day before the holiday

All over Addis decorated bonfires are set up the day before the holiday

Tonight is the eve of Meskal day, a night which more than any other is the bonfire night. Bonfires ‘demera‘ are being prepared, beautifully decorated with the yellow Meskal daisy on every street corner in Addis, and throughout the Orthodox parts of the country. The smell of smoke and sound of the celebrations will be everywhere in the capital in the coming hours

Best wishes to all on this holiday tomorrow – and a happy bonfire night tonight.

But what are the origins of this festival that is often translated as: ‘The finding of the true Cross.’  It is told that in the 4th Century, Queen Eleni (or St. Helena) was instructed in a dream to light a bonfire and that the smoke would lead her to find the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified.

Meskal bonfireShe followed the instructions, added frankincense to the huge fire and  the smoke that went skywards came back down showing the spot where she found the cross. It was at Amba Gishen , a cross shaped amba – or plateau – in the mountains of South Wollo. This is now the location of a church called Gishen Mariam with its huge day on a Mariam day that falls right at the start of October, and is one of the biggest pilgrimage sites in Ethiopia.

However in many parts of Ethiopia (particularly in the south, but also in Adigrat in Tigray) Meskal is a huge festival that starts many days before the day itself, suggesting that there maybe some other older festivity with which Meskal has since been linked.

The Meskal daisy, Ethiopian flower for for Meskal and New Year

The Meskal daisy, Ethiopian flower for for Meskal and New Year

Leave a comment

Rufael and Pagume

Today is the big annual Rufael (Raphael) day -one of the archangels and the protector of pregnant women in the Ethiopian Church! The rain that fell heavily this morning is taken as a blessed and holy rain – and it is a well received blessing.

The pages for each month - showing all the holidays and both dates

September with Pagume shown

Rufael falls on the 3rd day of Pagume which is the 13th month or more properly the period of added days that adds the extra days (5 or 6 in a leap year) needed if the 12 months are all 30 days (as are the Ethiopian months). This year is a leap year with the extra 6th day in Pagume as you can see on the Tesfa Tours calendar shown below. And off course the next day is Enkutatash. One of the biggest holidays – New Years Day.

Let pray for plenty more rain from now into the first part of the New Year in Ethiopia.

Rain clouds in Addis

Rain clouds in Addis

1 Comment

The rainy season in Addis

Rain in Tigray“A veritable monsoon!” Is how I often describe it, and it is. Its cause is the same weather patterns that cause the monsoon to sweep up through India – monsoon is the Indian word for their rainy season and kremt is the Amharic word.

And rather like the monsoon in India it does not rain all day, but rather heavy downpours roll through, skies darken, the wind picks up and torrential rain, often with hail follows. Later on or next morning the skies are clear and the sun shines brightly for some hours.  Its not a bad time to be in Addis or in Ethiopia. Pack an umbrella, put on the some boots, and head off to explore. If your visiting, just be ready to dive into a coffee shop and sit out the rain.

This year in Addis the Kremt is giving us a lot of sun and glorious weather, with much of the rain in the night. This is worrying, as the rain that comes to Addis is far more than the rain that goes to many other regions of Ethiopia, all of which depend on the Kremt to start off their crops, allow the meadows to grow hay, refill the water table so springs are replenished, refill reservoirs to generate electricity. If the rains intensify now that would be good, and they need to be strong through into late September. The official date for the end of the Kremt is Meskerem 25th which this year falls on 6th October, but already by the Meskal holiday (Meskerem 17 or 28th September) the rains will usually become far less frequent and the signs will be there that the dry season is coming.

A reminder for anyone looking to do some trekking. Tigray is fantastic for walking at this time of year. It does not rain much there, mostly at night, and the sun will be out in the morning. Let us know if you would like to make a trek and we can organise it.

 

Leave a comment

Stunning photos and wonderful blog – Trek in Tigray

Tash McCarroll photo - Cloud gathering around the mountains near Erar

Tash McCarroll photo – Cloud gathering around the mountains near Erar

A few friends and I spent a four day weekend at the end of May trekking in Tigray organised by Tesfa Tours. It was a few days that felt like weeks away from the bustle of Addis and work and we were treated to hiking in some of the most stunning landscape I have ever seen.” Tash McCarroll. Read this account of a trek in Tigray, illustrated with some of the most fabulous photos. (You will see some in the up coming Tesfa Calendar)

Curtesy of Tash McCarroll, portrait of a girl in Shimbrety.

Curtesy of Tash McCarroll, portrait of a girl in Shimbrety.

Curtesy of Tash McCarroll, Low cloud around Erar, on a Tesfa Trek

Curtesy of Tash McCarroll, Low cloud around Erar, on a Tesfa Trek

Leave a comment

Peaceful elections today

All is very quiet and calm in Addis Ababa today. There is not the usual clamour of weddings with hooters being beeped as cavalcades cross town. In fact there is little noise at all, and Addis seems like a quiet village. Today – Sunday 24th May, is election day all across Ethiopia.  These elections are destined to be as peaceful and quiet as any election. The polling stations are recognisable by a flag, a few police and badged officials. But even there all seems very quiet and calm

Even the electioneering over the past weeks was quiet, with rallies and campaigners here and there – but not much emotion or excitement. This may in part be due to the fact that there has been no doubt as to who will win.

There is no prospect of any trouble or cause of anyone to alter their plans. For any prospective tourists, the elections here once again highlight that Ethiopia is a peaceful and safe country to visit.

Leave a comment