Is Ethiopia safe

Ethiopia: beautiful, friendly, close, but not without danger

What do we think of so spontaneously about Ethiopia? For example the aid project of the late actor Karlheinz Böhm, adoptive children, marathon runners and the charismatic Emperor Haile Selassie, courted in the West.

The travel industry is in a state of upheaval. Where else can you travel? Fifteen years ago, no one thought of studying State Department travel warnings before going on vacation. Popular destinations are breaking away, the Orient, especially Turkey and Tunisia. On the other hand, mass tourism, especially near the sea, discourages some from turning south in winter, to the Canary Islands or to Malta, where there are castles instead of island romance. And Africa is out anyway.

Really? Isn't there Tanzania with its safaris and beaches, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia or gorillas watching in Uganda? Yes, but here, too, the balance between security and mass tourism is not so easy to find - and the fun is also expensive, especially for family fathers or single parents. Ethiopia? Way too dangerous. The partial travel warning reaches levels 5, 6, which means war. A state of emergency has been imposed since 2016 - and in April one person was killed and 19 injured in an attack on a hotel in Gondar, one of the most popular cities for tourists.

What do we think of so spontaneously about Ethiopia? For example the aid project of the actor Karlheinz Böhm, who died in 2014, adopted children, marathon runner and the charismatic Emperor Haile Selassi, who was courted in the West.

Africa is closer than you think

The state-run Ethiopian Airlines, a member of the Star Alliance like Lufthansa, flies four times a week in six hours (night flight) directly from Vienna to Addis Ababa. Ethiopian wants to distinguish itself as an interface between Africa and the West, with low tariffs. In 2003 there were still one million passengers in Addis Ababa; after further expansion of the airport, it should be around 25 million by 2020. At the moment, the number of tourists is still modest at 750,000. Ethiopia is a destination for lovers. On our group tour we meet fearless people (Americans and Canadians who have previously visited Sudan), alternative people and artists (a choir singer from Arizona with his friends, an old married couple from Austria who fly business class but do bagpacking - or a disabled person Senior woman over 70 from the USA, who has already made many long-distance trips this year, smiles beaming and says: “Who knows how long I can travel that far away?”); Not to forget the groups of Christian nuns and students from Texas, the latter run a social project in Ethiopia. At first glance, the country's economic growth is an impressive ten percent, but it is at a lower level than before, and this year it will be less due to the drought in the northeast.

Clergymen can be photographed for a donation

Our group of journalists only has four days, the trip is limited to fixed points popular with tourists such as Lake Tana, the Simien National Park and the church towns of Gondar and Lalibela. The art treasures are wonderful and, in contrast to Egypt, for example, are “animated”. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (60 percent of the population are Christians) exudes a strong spirituality that the clergy willingly and worthily pose for the photos is definitely part of it. There are still monasteries on 20 of 37 islands in Lake Tana. The two we visit are adorned with magnificent paintings with biblical scenes in the Orthodox style, but designed more simply and naively than icons. Church art is aimed at people who could not read and write, auratic, pictorial, less missionary than playful.

On 19./20. On January 1st, the Timkat festival is celebrated in Gondar, where the promise of baptism is renewed: young men and women, scantily clad, jump into a stone pool, lavishly decorated priests accompany the ceremony. In Ethiopia a lot is mixed up and some things seem very familiar to Europeans, such as the interlocking of pagan and Christian customs or the periodic poisoning of rulers. Even Haile Selasse, very old, is said to have been poisoned with ether, as his great-nephew Asfa-Wossen Asserate writes in his biography of the emperor, which, however, cannot really explain the aura of this legend. Perhaps Haile Selasse was just one of those ultimately evil dictators from the Third World.

Anyone who is not a virgin may not marry

Unlike King Lalibela, who supposedly ruled for 40 years in the 12th and 13th centuries, he had churches carved in basalt lava built, one of the lesser-known wonders of the world and probably the most famous attraction of Ethiopia, a landmark that should not be missing in any international documentary . In addition to aid organizations, researchers are permanent guests in Ethiopia, for whose complex and mysterious culture foreign institutions are happy to donate money. The church is, however, a strict moral authority. Whoever is not a virgin (or an untouched man) cannot marry in church. We attended a traditional wedding, which was not a church, where the bride and groom cut meat from halves of beef together, which was then roasted (sharing table and bed). Theology students in white priestly clothes provided the religious accompaniment, with the big drum, which unfolds an important meditative effect in the long masses. The drum carries many symbols, the strings on its side, for example, stand for the number of blows that Jesus Christ had to endure during the flagellation.

Cult of the Ark of the Covenant

In this country of Christians, Muslims and tribesmen, the latter fight each other more often than the members of the so-called world religions, esotericism is inevitable. One of the most famous Eso gurus, the Scottish bestselling author Graham Hancock, who has dealt with different cultures, has also written a book about "The Ark of the Covenant", the cult around the ark of the covenant in Ethiopia. One of Hancock's theses is that there is a global connection between all historical cultures and a vanished high culture that has succumbed to collective amnesia. This is somewhat reminiscent of Erich von Däniken's speculations about the visit of aliens on earth. Whatever you think of Hancock's ideas, he is a gripping writer, as you will see after reading a few lines of his book "The Sign and the Seal" on Amazon: He has a dazzling atmosphere in holy places in Ethiopia and the charisma of the clergy met. The house of the Ark of the Covenant, which contains the tablets of the law on which God had Moses written down his ten commandments, is today in Axum (Aksum) in the far north of Ethiopia. "The Guardian of the Ark of the Covenant" takes care of them - his entire life, he is not allowed to leave the premises. Visitors are not allowed to enter this house or the Ark of the Covenant. No church in Ethiopia can be built without a copy of the Ark of the Covenant, which Europeans know from Judaism and Christianity. One more word about Emperor Lalibela: One reason for the tremendous effort to build the rock-hewn churches, with which, according to legend, angels helped the people at night, was that the Ethiopian Christians on the Arabian Peninsula and in the Holy Land fear persecution by the Muslims had to, they could not make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so Lalibela built a second Jerusalem for them.

Alpine landscape with monkeys

You can feel the power of religion in Ethiopia. But there are other things too. For example the Simien Mountains National Park with its blood breast baboons or Dschelada, which live exclusively in the Ethiopian highlands. It may be that today you can see everything in zoos or in Universe anyway, but it was simply an unforgettable experience to stand a few meters away from the baboon herds and watch them carry their baby monkeys around, have fun, eat and, Wikipedia says that they supposedly don't do that, they climbed a tree. When a branch broke, five baboons fell and screamed excitedly, it sounded as if one wanted to blame the other for the mishap. The landscape is African alpine. The land belongs to the inhabitants (like in New Zealand or Australia), the fact that the national park is to be established and now also expanded does not please them, they carry out attacks.

We didn't notice anything, but in front of the entrance to the national park you can see a lot of rangers with weapons, one of them drove with us on the bus, the man was estimated to be over 80. If you collect all the information from Ethiopia, like in many places, you can't go any more drive to. But if you make up your mind, you will discover a wonderful country with beautiful, friendly people and unforgettable cultural treasures that reminds you of what travel was like before the invention of mass tourism. Whether you listen to the pleasant prayers of the faithful in the morning or follow a coffee ceremony in the evening, whether you watch the fisherman on Lake Tana patiently unfolding his nets or visit a modern gallery in Addis Abbeba, whether you venture south, something loud our guide is safe, sees elephants and giraffes, Ethiopia is something special. However, you should have 14 days available, some of the travelers are on the road for four weeks. The question is whether Ethiopia will be the same for a long time, because you can see satellite dishes on many houses and Chinese at airports waving thick bundles of the local currency birr, as much money as an Ethiopian farmer might not earn in a lifetime. The Chinese have no bad gossip in the country because they build roads and railways, including one from Addis Ababa to the port city of Djibouti on the Gulf of Aden. However, there are also security problems here. Of course: what is certain nowadays? In any case, traveling to most destinations is still less dangerous than in previous centuries. And Ethiopia is definitely worth overcoming your fears.

Do not travel without consulting the Tropical Institute

You have to know a few things: it is essential to consult the Tropical Institute. Poverty is widespread, it is recommended that children especially not be given any money because they will not go to school if begging brings an income. But do you even go to school? You hardly have the heart to reject these friendly people, maybe they should remind us full Europeans of something? That giving is more blessed than receiving? It can be cold in the highlands. Good shoes, hiking boots are a must, and hiking sticks are also useful. You should not drink tap water. The food is safe. Ethiopians dunk pancake-like flat cakes in dals and vegetable dishes: it's called injera. The meat includes chicken, goat, lamb and beef, as well as Western food and English breakfast. However, why do you go away if you eat what you can get at home? The spices have an Indian effect. The most famous mixture is called Wat, it consists of types of pepper.

Ethiopian cuisine that Ethiopians like is quite spicy. Ethiopians don't drink a lot of alcohol, they prefer coffee, in the countryside the elderly get the first brew, seniors and parents the next, and even children drink coffee the third. Although alcohol is sometimes frowned upon (drinking in churches is strictly forbidden), there is very good beer and very good wine (Acacia). You shouldn't show yourself slightly dressed, not at holy places anyway. Ethiopians are quite conservative, they see themselves as hosts of their country and want to be respected, Ballermann manners are very badly received and one should hold back with derogatory remarks, one does not just say what comes to mind. Courtesy, obedience are important virtues and old people have authority over the youth.

World heritage sites

Getting there: The national Ethiopian Airlines flies directly from Vienna to Addis Ababa four times a week,

Round trips at Grand Holidays Ethiopia,

Tip: Our guide was called Getnet Muiugeta, he is 24 years old, speaks perfect German and English, has contacts all over the country and promises to introduce his guests to the locals. [email protected]

The trip was supported by Ethiopian Airlines and Grand Holiday Ethiopia.

("Die Presse", print edition, August 26, 2017)