anticipation & preparation: ethiopia in 2012

In October of 2012, I started reading up on Ethiopia in Lonely Planet Ethiopia & Eritrea.  The more I read, the more excited I became.  It was amazing how little I knew about this country in the Horn of Africa. I was learning about the Kingdom of Aksun, the Queen of Sheba, the coming of Christianity and Islam, the Zagwe Dynasty and its rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the Ethiopian Middle Ages, the Muslim-Christian Wars, the rise and fall of Gonder, Emperor Tewodros, Emperor Yohannes, Emperor Menelik, Emperor Haile Selassie, and the Italian occupation.  I still had more history to read, and I looked forward to learning more about this country about which, I was embarrassed to say, I was generally clueless.


Ethiopia from Lalibela

This was my first trip ever to Africa proper.  I had been to Egypt, which is technically in Africa, but is considered to be more a part of the Middle East.

When I started to think about going to Ethiopia, I read on the State Department website that as a U.S. citizen, I could get a visa for $20 at Bole International Airport.  After returning home from my vacation in the US and Greece, I checked the website again.  This is what I found:

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: To avoid possible confusion or delays, travelers are strongly advised to obtain a valid Ethiopian visa at the nearest Ethiopian Embassy prior to arrival. This is a necessary step if you plan to enter Ethiopia by any land port-of-entry. For example: travelers wishing to enter Ethiopia from Kenya at the land border at Moyale must obtain an Ethiopian visa first. Ethiopian visas ARE NOT available at the border crossing point at Moyale or at any other land border in Ethiopia. Ethiopian tourist visas (one month or three month, single entry) may be available to U.S. citizens upon arrival at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa in some cases.NOTE: A Government of Ethiopia policy prevents travelers born in Eritrea, regardless of their current nationality, from receiving tourist visas at the airport. The on-arrival visa process is available only at Bole International Airport and is not available at any of the other airports in Ethiopia. The visa fee at Bole International Airport is payable in U.S. dollars. Business visas of up to three months validity can also be obtained at Bole International Airport upon arrival, but only if the traveler has a sponsoring organization in Ethiopia that has made prior arrangements for issuance through the Main Immigration Office in Addis Ababa. In some cases, U.S. tourist and business travelers have not been permitted to receive visas at Bole International Airport or have been significantly delayed.

As Oman did not have an Ethiopian Embassy, I went through much hand-wringing over this warning.  Either I would have to take my chance and show up at the airport, or I could mail my passport to the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, in hopes that I would get my passport and the visa back in time for my trip.   The friend I would stay with in Ethiopia eased my worries when he told me that it shouldn’t be a problem, since these delays usually occur only to people who have an Ethiopian Embassy in their country.  In my case, since Oman didn’t have an embassy, I would likely be okay.


Lake Langano, Ethiopia

To prepare for my trip, I read some of the following books set in Ethiopia.  The ones with links and star ratings are the ones I read, while the ones in green are books I have on my Kindle but haven’t yet read.

  1. Chameleon Days: An American Boyhood in Ethiopia by Tim Bascom ****
  2. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Kindle)
  3. There is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene (Kindle)
  4. In Praise of Savagery by Warwick Cairns (Kindle)
  5. The Shadow King By Maaza Mengiste
  6. The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuściński
  7. Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
  8. The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant by Graham Hancock
  9. Notes from the Hyena’s Belly by Nega Mezlekia
  10. The Unfortunate Marriage of Azeb Yitades by Nega Mezlekia
  11. In Search of King Solomon’s Mines by Tahir Shah
  12. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
  13. The Chains of Heaven by Philip Marsden
  14. The Barefoot Emperor: An Ethiopian Tragedy by Philip Marsden
  15. The Abyssinian by Jean-Christophe Rufin
  16. Held at a Distance by Rebecca G. Haile
  17. The Storyteller’s Beads by Jane Kurtz
  18. In Ethiopia with a Mule by Dervla Murphy
  19. Eating the Flowers of Paradise by Kevin Rushby
  20. Remote People by Evelyn Waugh
  21. Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh
  22. The Hospital by the River: A Story of Hope by Catherine Hamlin and John Little
  23. Addis Ababa
    1. Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste *****

I found a few movies set in Ethiopia, none of which I have seen.

  1. Live and Become (Va, vies et deviens) (2005)
  2. A Walk to Beautiful (2007)
  3. The Athlete (2009)
  4. Difret (2014)
  5. Lamb (2015)
  6. New Voices in an Old Flower (2016)
  7. Sweetness in the Belly (2019)

My friend Ed, who worked for the U.S. Embassy in Addis Adaba, made most of the plans for my time in Ethiopia. Aware of the fact that I would arrive without having had any sleep, he didn’t plan much for my first day, even though I would arrive at 7:30 a.m.  I told him not to worry, I would be too excited to sleep anyway.  He said we could go celebrate my birthday at an Ethiopian restaurant within walking distance of his house.

Early the morning of the 26th, he booked a domestic flight and private tour of the 13th and 14th century rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, where we would stay overnight in the Mountain View Hotel Lalibela.  The next morning, we would go to Lalibela town’s weekly open market and then fly back to Addis that afternoon.


rock-cut church in Lalibela

The morning of the 28th, we would drive 3 hours outside of Addis Ababa to Lake Langano, where we would stay two nights at an eco-lodge called Bishangari Lodge.  According to the lodge’s website: “Imagine a natural retreat of outstanding beauty that combines five unique ecological zones, a secluded setting that is host to over 400 bird species, a diverse range of wildlife, spectacular array of plant life and un-spoilt biodiversity. Bishangari Lodge is less than 250 km south of Addis Ababa, situated on the shores of Lake Langano. Bishangari’s secret has been safe thanks to its inaccessibility.”


Lake Langano, Ethiopia

The rest of our time, we would spend exploring Addis Ababa and all the city had to offer.

According to Visit 2 Ethiopia, Addis Ababa is the capital of modern Ethiopia and gateway for most tourists, as well as the political and commercial heart of the country.  In 2012, a city of around 4 million people, it was founded by Emperor Menelik II in 1877.

The name Addis Ababa means “new flower.” This big, sprawling, hospitable city is more than 2,200 meters high in the foothills of Entoto Mountain. Addis Ababa is one of the third capital cities in the world with high altitude, after Katmandu and La Paz. Modern buildings and wide-open boulevards stand side by side with historic churches, palaces and monuments, as well as simple country-style huts. The air is filled with the scent of flowers and eucalyptus trees, and the rich vibrancy of a city that is home to so many cultures.

Modern Addis Ababa also plays a vital role in hosting many international organizations, including the AU, ECA (the Economic Commission for Africa), and other multi-national organizations, who all have their headquarters here. Addis Ababa is as well one of the most crowded diplomatic cities of the world.

I would take off for Addis Ababa on October 25 (my 57th birthday) and return back to Oman on November 1, 2012.


“ANTICIPATION & PREPARATION” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about anticipation & preparation for a particular destination (not journeys in general). If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments. Include the link in the comments below by Thursday, June 25 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Friday, June 26, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation, on the 4th Friday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂  If you’d like to read more about the topic, see: journeys: anticipation & preparation.

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!