Monday, April 27, 2015

Area Studies: Ethiopia Edition

I'll be arriving in Addis in less than five months, but I have to confess my knowledge of Ethiopia is still pretty slim. For my first post I had nine months of training time to devote to devouring every piece of information I could find on Guinea (which wasn't much).  Moving to Ireland I managed to get a fair bit of reading done before I arrived. This time around I've been using my free time to do other things, like squeezing every drop of joy out of Dublin and - let's be honest here - watching television. Getting my money's worth out of the old Netflix subscription. I know, I know, I should get on it and actually crack those books on Ethiopia I got for Christmas.

However, I have managed to pick up a few interesting facts about the country I'll be calling home for the next two (or maybe three) years, which I will share with you now.
  1. Practical matters: Standard European plugs, and they drive on the right side of the road. The currency is called the birr and trades at around 20 to the dollar. You can basically only exchange them in Ethiopia. 
  2. Addis is 2300 metres above sea level, which means you can look forward to future posts on the challenges of high-altitude baking. Also, high-altitude breathing. As basically a lifelong coastal dweller this is going to be quite an adjustment for me. On the bright side, it's too high for malaria-carrying mosquitoes so I can skip the anti-malarial meds this time. Yay!
  3. Ethiopia was never successfully colonized by any of the European colonial powers; Mussolini came the closest but only held it for 6 years. It was instead ruled until the 1970s by a succession of emperors claiming descent from the first emperor, Menelik I, said to be the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The last emperor, Haile Selassie I, is worshipped by Rastafarians as the second coming of Christ.
  4. There are a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ethiopia. One I am particularly looking forward to seeing is a site at Lalibela composed of 11 stone churches carved straight out of the rock.
  5. Contrary to what Steven Spielberg would have you believe, the Ark of the Covenant is not in a crate in a giant government warehouse but in a tiny town called Aksum in northern Ethiopia. It's watched over by a specially appointed guardian, who is the only person ever allowed to see it. Too bad, though that policy significantly reduces the risk of accidental instant skeletonification and turning to dust.

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