Ethiopia on My Mind

A wandering spirit finds magic, beauty in an ancient locale

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Luisa Puccini / 

Ethiopia is a study in contrasts. At one extreme, thatched hut villages remain part of the landscape.


Whether travel is short-lived or the red thread that gives life meaning, it is the change, the surprise, the difference from the expected that is thrilling. And nowhere on Earth can that more be found than in the landlocked African nation of Ethiopia.

Galyna Andrushko /

A priest reads a holy book inside the St. George Church in Lalibela

What? Where? What about Italy? Isn’t Paris nice? Why visit one of the poorest countries on the continent, a country twice the size of Texas where 88 languages and hundreds of dialects are spoken, where faith ranges from the most devout of Christians to animists who wear plates in their lips and ritually beg to be beaten?

Yet it is just this schizophrenic mélange of mystery, magic, unspeakable physical beauty and a sense that at last, like gazing deeply into a transparent sea, one can grasp the undulating images of ancient times as clearly as say … the aromatic goat now bleating beside you, that makes Ethiopia the most astounding of countries.

Surrounded by places whose names are guaranteed to make you shiver — Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan — Ethiopia has managed to keep its turbaned head above the fray. And although drought and food shortages are currently affecting everyday life, the chants of bearded priests wrapped in white shammas drift upward in the smoky morning air; dancers shake their shoulders in giddy joy at the drop of a hat; and elegant, doe-eyed women repeat the hour-long coffee-making ritual three times a day. Like everything in Ethiopia, they each take their cue from the past.

Addis Ababa is the more or less central capital. There are a few tall buildings there. A university. Hotels. And certainly many Chinese businessmen trying to build yet another factory in the country’s agricultural belt. But it is in the mountainous and lake-dotted north that one finds the ancient, beating heart of Ethiopia.

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