A recent Oregonian article reads:

A 59-year-old Portland man accused of befriending a woman in church and then raping and sexually abusing her in an assisted living facility is in custody on a 16-count indictment…

Vandenberg is accused of sexually assaulting the woman who prosecutors contend was “incapable of consent by reason of mental defect,” according to the indictment.

The printed version of the story, sitting before me (dated April 3, 2015), says:

The prosecution alleged the woman was unable to consent to the sexual contact because of her dementia.

If people with dementia are “unable to consent to sex,” does this mean that once you get dementia, you are not allowed to have sex? This is a question others have grappled with.

I think people are uncomfortable with the question because it forces them to confront contradictions in some of the moral stances they’ve taken for granted. If the answer is “No, people who are mentally disabled, including those with dementia, cannot have sex,” then this premise would force us to tear elderly couples apart – under the grounds that they’re raping each other. This would strike most people as cruel and ridiculous. But if the answer is “Yes, those who are mentally disabled, including those with dementia, may have sex,” then this opens the door to other possibilities. As soon as we acknowledge that a person needn’t be of sound mind to consent to sex, then what about drunk people? What about unconscious people? What about mentally retarded people, whose minds are those of 4-year-olds? In other words, a “yes” answer opens a pandora’s box.

Obviously, context should play a large role in issues such as this. We shouldn’t forcibly separate senile couples if they’ve been married for 40 years, and obviously love each other. But is it okay for a husband to have sex with his sleeping wife if by all accounts she’s okay with it? Can a wife pleasure her drunk husband?

I don’t claim to have easy answers, but I do think our judgment is clouded by our still-overly-puritanical attitudes about sex. Perhaps, in some cases, we shouldn’t even be asking about consent. Instead, we should be asking a more fundamental question: Was anybody actually harmed by this action?

Ethiopia contains upwards of 80 distinct ethnic groups, and just about every one of them has its own language. For a traveler who is language-conscious, such as myself, this can be bewildering. At the same time, it’s refreshing; the Ethiopian government deserves praise for allowing local languages to thrive within its borders. Children are not forced to learn the “dominant language” at the expense of their native one. The result is that many local languages remain robust to this day, and one can hear people of all ages speaking them in their respective locales. I’ll quote Wikipedia:

Ethiopia’s population is highly diverse, containing over 80 different ethnic groups. Most people in Ethiopia speak Afro-Asiatic languages, mainly of the Cushitic and Semitic branches. The former includes the Oromo and Somali, and the latter includes the Amhara and Tigray. Together these four groups make up three-quarters of the population.

The country also has Omotic ethnic minorities who speak Afro-Asiatic languages of the Omotic branch. They inhabit the southern regions of the country, particularly the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region. Among these are the Welayta and Gamo.

Nilo-Saharan-speaking Nilotic ethnic minorities also inhabit the southwestern regions of the country, particularly in the Gambela Region. Among these are the Nuer and Anuak who are also found in South Sudan which borders the Gambela Region.

To illustrate the relationship between the various branches of the Afro-Asiatic language family, I’ll include a video from a man I very much respect. He calls himself “Ancient Semitic“:

And here’s another one, also from Ancient Semitic, illustrating the connection between most languages of this family:

Incidentally, it was a Jew who, in the 9th century, first recognized the link between the Hamitic branch (Berber) of this language family, and the Semitic branch: Yehuda ibn Kuraish. It bears noting that there is no consensus on where the Afro-Asiatic language family originated.

Although the most spoken language in Ethiopia is Oromo, it is Amharic that has the most official recognition. This has been a point of contention for Oromo speakers. Their frequent use of the Roman alphabet, instead of the Ethiopic Ge’ez-based alphabet, is a political statement. While driving through Oromo territory, I asked my driver about the use of the Roman alphabet on signs. His answer was somewhat evasive.

Speakers of Amharic take a lot of pride in their language. I had long conversations, with my drivers, about the differences between Eritrea and Ethiopia. My understanding is that the only real difference is that Eritrea was colonized by the Italians, while Ethiopia never was (though it was conquered by the Italians, who held on to it for 5 years at the beginning of WWII). Together, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and some surrounding areas make up the historic country of Abyssinia. In other words, Abyssinia is “greater Ethiopia.”

Ethiopians, like most of the rest of the world, are not very fond of the government of Eritrea, or the path it has taken. One Ethiopian derisively told me, when discussing language policy in Eritrea, “they don’t even teach their kids Amharic!”

As much as the Amhara love Amharic, they also revere Ge’ez; in fact, they consider Ge’ez to be their “ancestral language.” For Christians, their prayers, and their Bible, are written in Ge’ez. It’s a holy tongue to them, much as Hebrew is a holy tongue for Jews.

And yet speakers of Amharic don’t seem to have much respect for Tigrinya, which is far closer to Ge’ez than is Amharic. I find this odd, but there’s a parallel.

Askkenazi Jews consider Hebrew to be our “ancestral/sacred language,” and yet we hold Yiddish in much higher esteem than Arabic, even though Arabic is much closer to Hebrew than Yiddish is. Could it be that the reason the Amhara aren’t so fond of Tigrinya is that it sounds like Arabic, the language of Islam (with whom they fought wars in the past)? I hope some Ethiopians will stumble upon this blog and share their insights on this matter.

The message I got, over and over again in Ethiopia, is that the Ethiopians are a mixed people. My assumption was that this mixed people speaks a mixed language. If they represent a mix of Semitic-speaking Middle-Easterners (the Aksumites and maybe others) and native black Africans, we would expect that the more Middle-Eastern looking Ethiopians would speak the more purely Semitic languages, such as Tigrinya, while the Amhara, Oromo and other tribes, would appear more African. But this is not the case at all. I doubt that any visitor to Ethiopia would get that impression.

Why do I say that Amharic is “less Semitic” than Tigrinya? Firstly because much of its most basic vocabulary is vastly different from that of other Semitic languages. For example, “dog” is kelebh in Hebrew, kalb in Arabic, kelbi in Ge’ez – but wusha in Amharic. Furthermore, Amharic lacks some of the phonemes characteristic of most Semitic languages. I did find a reasonable account of the history of the Semitic Ethiopic languages here, and I’ll quote:

The Semitic conquerors of Abyssinia found peoples of two different races in the country where they settled: (1) African aborigines and (2) Kushites, a branch of the Hamitic family. Their languages were different from each other and, of course, different from that of the Semites also; some of them are spoken up to the present day. When the Semites first came and formed their literary language, they did not allow the languages of the country to influence their own speech very much; but gradually this influence grew stronger and stronger, and it is very evident in the modern Semitic languages of Abyssinia. An outline of the history of the Ethiopic language is as follows: Its oldest monument known so far is the Semitic part of the bilingual inscription of King `Ezana, which dates from the first half of the 4th century AD. Before that time Ethiopic must have been spoken, without doubt, but it was not written: Greek and Sabean were written instead. At the time of King `Ezana the knowledge of the Sabean language seems to have been very little; but Sabean script was still used. The Semitic part of the inscription just mentioned is in the Ethiopic language, but carved once in Sabean script and a second time in the native Ethiopic script which had been derived from the Sabean. In the first of these two “editions” two or three Sabean words are used instead of their Ethiopic equivalents. A few other ancient inscriptions found in the Aksumitic empire may also be dated from the same period.

I do find it hard to believe that the Semitic invaders had never encountered dogs prior to arriving in Ethiopia. Perhaps a better explanation is that the natives continued to use their own words for familiar animals. The animals that became familiar to them later on got Semitic names. The word for “horse,” for example, is feres, which is essentially the same in Arabic, and similar to the Hebrew word for “horseman.”

One way or the other, I consider Amharic to be a very beautiful language. Here’s something for those of y’all who have never heard formal Amharic being spoken:

My Amharic/Ge’ez studies continue, so I’ll surely have more to say on this topic in the future.

My journey to Ethiopia was actually two journeys. I’ve already written about one, and the one I have yet to write about actually began on the Ethiopian Airlines jet that took me to Addis Ababa.

As soon as I boarded that jet, every time I would meet an Ethiopian, I would ask her (the stewardesses were all women) what her name meant. I did this consistently through the end of my travels. In this sense, my journey began with Mulubebet. As soon as she told me what her name meant, I knew that my Ethiopian language journey would be an interesting one.

Mulubebet means “full in the house,” and in Hebrew it would be Malebabayith. Many, if not most, Ethiopian names have some sort of Hebrew-like root. Take the late emperor, Haile Salassie. Haile means “strength” – as in the Hebrew esheth Hayil or “woman of valor.” Salassie means, of course, “trinity.”

I had already known that Addis Ababa means “new flower” in Amharic, and when I told the man sitting across from me (on the plane) that the first word Addis was clearly related to Hebrew hadash, and had lost the initial “H” sound (due to Amharic lacking any equivalent), the man enthusiastically agreed. “In Tigrinya (a related, more conservative, Ethiopian language) it’s hadish,” he said. As for the second word, Ababa, it also has a Hebrew equivalent (Song of Songs 6:11) Ibbe haNahal – “blossoms/sprouts of the brook.”

One popular Ethiopian name, Hiwot, means life. At the end of my stay in Addis Ababa, I visited a hospital by the name of Hiwot Ababa. It means “The Flower of Life.” In Hebrew, “life” is hayim. In Arabic, it’s hayat. In ancient times, some Semitic languages experienced a shift from w‘s to y‘s in many words. For the most part, Arabic escaped this fate, but Hebrew was greatly effected. The Biblical Hawa (“Eve” as in “Adam and Eve”) predates this shift. Today, some Hebrew speakers will name their daughter Hawa (pronouncing it according to the Ashkenazic tradition: Khava) and their son “Hayim.” They’re unlikely to realize that one version is an archaic form, while the other is a modern one, but that they essentially mean the same thing.

Another interesting Amharic word I heard is the word for cross (as in the symbol of Christianity). It’s “mesqʔele.” It bears no resemblance to the Hebrew word for cross: Tselabh. Most people would leave it at that. However, it’s not that simple; this Amharic word is essentially the same as the Hebrew word for weight (as in scales), which is “Mishqal.” A cross does look like a scale for weight measurement.

Israeli tourists, in Ethiopia, commented how similar Amharic is to Hebrew. There are a few common words that are obviously similar, or the same, such as the word bet, whose Hebrew version, bayith, also means house. The word bet is pretty much a catch-all for any structure, or office, in Amharic, and is very common. Toward the end of my visit, an old woman in Addis Ababa held out her hand to me and said imma miskena, which means “poor mother.” By coincidence, it’s exactly the same in modern Hebrew, imma (mother) having been borrowed from Aramaic (in Hebrew, the word is em), and miskena (poor) being original Hebrew. Hearing this, I couldn’t resist, and I gave her one Birr.

Though Amharic uses an entirely different alphabet than Hebrew, and it’s read from left to right, there is one similarity that struck me: It uses the Tiberian vocalization system!*

Granted, I’m exaggerating a bit here, but each Amharic base letter takes an appendage (or modifies its form in such a way) that indicates which vowel goes with the letter. In general, if the appendage is to the lower right (on the bottom), this means the vowel is a long “i” as in “keep.” If it’s on the upper right (on the top), then the vowel is “o.” If it’s in the middle, to the right, then it’s “oo” as in “zoo.” This should seem familiar to readers of Hebrew. As for the “ah” sound, it’s indicated with what looks like the addition of an Arabic alif into the letter (in other words, a vertical line). To illustrate, I’ll use the letter ቀ (a clicking unvoiced “k” sound followed immediately by a glottal stop):

ቁ  qʔu

ቂ  qʔi

ቃ  qʔa

ቆ   qʔo

As for the segol (the “eh” sound), it’s indicated by a larger appendage, which might be a simplification of three dots (which comprise the segol in Hebrew), as in:

ቄ  qʔe

Admittedly, it takes some imagination to see this pattern with other letters, but I don’t believe it’s coincidence either. Incidentally, the letter I used above is the same as Hebrew ק (qof) and it even retains the ancient form of this letter. Its ancient pronunciation is also preserved. It was interesting for me to hear people speaking, in everyday life, using the original/archaic pronunciation of this letter – or something very close to it. Most forms of both Hebrew and Arabic have lost it, replacing it with either a voiced “k” (כּ,ك), a hard “g” or a glottal stop.

The elements of Amharic, which are clearly of Semitic origin, do bear a strong resemblance to Hebrew, even more so than to Arabic. For example, in the previous post, I mentioned the ancient king of Kush, Tirhaka. We can more accurately spell it Tirhaqa. It contains the Hebrew root “RHQ,” which means “far” or “far away.” According to my Arabic dictionaries, Arabic doesn’t retain such a root at all, though the colloquial form ruh (go!) might possibly be derived from it. In contrast, Amharic has ruq for “far.” Since Amharic has no unvoiced h sound (h), it’s dropped; in Tigrinya (which more closely resembles the ancestral Semitic language Ge’ez), it’s rahuq.

Semitic languages do not often share the same words for colors. Presumably, the names of colors were derived from common items that had those colors. For example, the Hebrew word for “red”, adom, is derived from either adama (earth) or dam (blood) or both. The Arabic word, hamraʔ, presumably comes from an ancient word for wine. Hebrew probably derives its word for “white” from a word for “milk,” while Arabic derives its word for “white” from the word for “egg.” The Hebrew word for “green” (yaroq) comes from the word for vegetable.

What I found interesting about Amharic is that none of the names for colors bear any resemblance to those of other Semitic languages – except for one: Blue. The word is semayami, and it’s clearly derived from the word for “sky” (semay, which is essentially the same in Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic).

Whenever Ethiopia became Semitic, all the other colors were already known, but not blue. The color blue was not known to the ancients. I’ll quote Radiolab:

Gladstone conducted an exhaustive study of every color reference in The Odyssey and The Iliad. And he found something startling: No blue! Tim pays a visit to the New York Public Library, where a book of German philosophy from the late 19th Century helps reveal a pattern: across all cultures, words for colors appear in stages. And blue always comes last.

See also here and here. The lack of blue, among the ancients, presented a challenge for Orthodox Jews; the Torah calls for a “thread of tekheleth” to be worn on the corners of one’s garments. Though tekheleth is often translated as “blue,” the matter remains a mystery.

Be it as it may, the original inhabitants of Ethiopia apparently had no word for “blue.” By the time they did recognize blue, they were already speaking a Semitic tongue, and they dubbed it “sky-color.”

The Amharic word for black “ttʔəqʔir,” is interesting, because it distantly resembles the Hebrew word for black, “shahor.” This word also reminds me of the Hebrew word for “hair”, se’ar, and its Arabic equivalent, sha’r.

Another interesting similarity is the Amharic plural form, which often involves adding the suffix otch to the end of the noun. The feminine plural form, in Hebrew, involves adding the suffix oth. Arabic has numerous plurals, but none of them involve adding such a suffix.

What about numbers? I think it’s fascinating that Amharic has (apparently) non-Semitic words for “one” and “two,” but from that point onward, it’s all Semitic – with the exception of “twenty,” and “thousand” (and “nine” is a bit far off too). Could it be that the original Ethiopians could only count to two, like the Pirahã tribe of Brazil? In that case, they might have used their words for “many,” and applied them to “twenty” and “thousand.” Here are the first few numerals in Amharic and, for reference, their Hebrew (feminine form) equivalents:

and – one                 ahat

hulet – two               shetayim

sost – three              shalosh

arat – four                 ʔarbaʕ

amist – five               hamesh

sidist – six                shesh

sebat – seven            shebhaʕ

simint – eight             shemoneh

zettʔeñ – nine            teshaʕ

asir – ten                   ʕeser

haya – twenty             ʕesrim

meto – hundred           meʔa

shi – thousand            elef

The words for “twenty” and “thousand” bear no resemblance to any Semitic numerals that I’m aware of. Obviously I’m missing something, so any help, from expert linguists, would be appreciated.

Amharic seems to have taken the Semitic word for “three”, and used it for “thirty.” The same is true for “forty,” “fifty,” “sixty,” “seventy” and “eighty.” What does this mean? This hints at something interesting in Ethiopia’s past. One possibility is that earlier Ethiopians already spoke a somewhat Semitic language before the arrival of the Aksumites, but this language had no words for numerals past “twenty.” When the Aksumites arrived, they applied the new words for 3-8 and applied them to 30-80.

On top of this ancient layer of kinship between Amharic and Hebrew, there is a more recent layer: The one that came on the wings of Christianity. Biblical names are popular among Ethiopian Christians, and some place names are based on the Bible.

Despite all these aforementioned connections with Semitic languages, I have reservations about calling Amharic fully Semitic. I’ll address this in a later post.

* This is interesting, because of Ethiopia’s historic close ties to Yemen, whose Jews had used the Babylonian vocalization system until very recently.


The relationship between Ethiopia and Jews is complex enough to fill entire books, so don’t consider this post as a comprehensive source on this matter.

Most of y’all have probably heard of the Falashas. The State of Israel airlifted most of them to Israel during the 1980s and early 1990s, and it’s questionable if any remain in Ethiopia today. While in Lalibela, one man identified himself, to me, as “Falasha,” but I was later told that such tall tales are commonly told to tourists. As to the question of whether the Falashas are true ethnic Jews, I remain agnostic.

There is an undercurrent of animosity toward Jews in Ethiopia. This is due to the commonly held belief that a Jewish queen destroyed most of the holy city of Aksum centuries ago. I’ll quote the Jewish Encyclopedia:

In the tenth century a Jewish queen named “Judith” (or “Esther” or “Terdaë-Gobaz”), at the head of the Falashas of the province of Semien, appears to have dethroned a king of Abyssinia at Axum, and to have established a dynasty which occupied the throne for about three centuries. Joseph Halévy has doubted this story, and not without cause, as further researches have shown. Under the rule of Amda-Seyon I. (1314-44) Jews dwelt in Semien, Wogara, Ṣalamt, and Ṣagade. One of this king’s generals suppressed a rebellion in Begameder, inhabited by Christians converted to Judaism. A Falasha revolt took place under Isḥaḳ (1412-29). The reign of Zara’ Ya’eḳob (1434-68) was also troubled by a rebellion of Amba-Nahad, the governor of Salamant; of Sagay, governor of Semien; and of Kantiba, all of whom had abjured Christianity and become Jews. The latter were then rigorously persecuted, as also under one Marḳos, general of Baeda-Maryam (1468-78), son of Zara’ Ya’eḳob.

The very name of Queen Judith (pronounced “Yodit” in Amharic) is held in disdain to this day. But this animosity does not appear to translate into resentment toward modern Jews. Ethiopia is a popular tourist destination for Israelis, and there are direct flights from Tel Aviv to Addis Ababa. Although one Israeli tourist told me they’re warned that it’s best to keep their Jewish ethnicity discreet, I’m not aware of any attacks specifically against Jews in Ethiopia. I never kept my Jewishness a secret, and if ever it came up, I got a smile and a handshake.

Israel helps Ethiopia in the agricultural sector, and has provided emergency food aid in the past. When I encountered a native (in the south) wearing a Hebrew t-shirt, his explanation was that he got it from Israelis who were there on an agricultural project:


In my view, Israel’s policy of helping Africans help themselves in their own lands, while preventing the mass migration of Africans into Israel, is the correct one.

If you’ve read my earlier post, about my encounter with a Rastafarian, you may recall that he cited biblical evidence for the significance of Ethiopia. Though a country by the name of “Kush” is mentioned in the Bible, and this is typically translated as “Ethiopia,” the matter is anything but clear.

For starters, the very term “Ethiopia” had different meanings in ages past. From Wikipedia:

The name Ethiopia also occurs in many translations of the Old Testament, but the Hebrew texts have Kush, which refers principally to Nubia.[37] In the New Testament, however, the Greek term Aithiops, ‘an Ethiopian’, does occur,[38] referring to a servant of Candace or Kentakes, possibly an inhabitant of Meroe which was later conquered and destroyed by the Kingdom of Axum. The earliest attested use of the name Ityopya in the region itself is as a name for the Kingdom of Aksum in the 4th century, in stone inscriptions of King Ezana, who first Christianized the entire apparatus of the kingdom.

In the book of Samuel2 18:21, it says:

Yoab said to the Kushite, “Go tell the king what you have seen.” So the Kushite bowed down to Yoab and ran…

The commentary of Rabenu Dawid ben Qimhi (a noteworthy Spanish rabbi 1160-1235) explains:

He was from the children of Kush, and he converted. Or it’s possible that he was Jewish, but black like a Kushite, and that’s why they would call him “Kushite.”

Among Mideastern Jews in Israel, a person can be referred to as “blackish” (sheharhor) even if he’s darker than average, or of brown complexion. Such a person can also be likened to a “Kushi.” I have no idea how far back this usage goes.

The Bible also mentions Tirhaka, king of Kush (Kings 2 19:9). King Tirhaka is described as leading an army to meet King Sennacherib of Assyria – but Assyria and modern-day Ethiopia were too far apart to have been any threat to each other, at least in my opinion. So this is more evidence that the Biblical “Kush” was not what we now call Abyssinia or Ethiopia.

It was a Christian Aksumite army that crushed the Jewish kingdom of Himyar in the 6th century. From Wikipedia:

The Jewish monarchy in Ḥimyar continued for several decades, with one interruption. It finally ended with the reign of Yṳsuf, known as Dhū Nuwās, who in 523 attacked the Christian population of Najrān. [12] (These events, long attested to by Syriac, Greek, and Arabic sources, had until recently been largely dismissed by Western scholars as implausible, but recent discoveries of period inscriptions seem to leave little doubt regarding the historicity of the sources).[citation needed] Word of the slaughter eventually reached the negus of Axum, who invaded Ḥimyar in 525, conquering it and deposing Yūsuf.[citation needed] Ethiopian Jewish tradition describes a second Jewish kingdom that arose soon after, the Kingdom of Semien.[citation needed]

According to Ethiopian folklore, which many of them truly believe, their nation was founded by the union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. They had a son, whose name was Menalik. He founded a dynasty, which ruled, with few interruptions, until 1974. Here’s a more full account of the Ethiopian tradition:

Whilst it cannot be proved that the Queen of Sheba had a son with King Solomon, but there is evidence of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem, in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, the First Book of Kings, chapter 10, verses 1 – 10 says:

The queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame and came to test him with hard questions…

When Menelik grew up (about 22 years old), he asked his mother who his father was and told him that it was King Solomon of Israel. Menelik told his mother that he wanted to go to visit his father in Jerusalem. He went to Jerusalem to visit his father and Solomon received him with great honour. Menelik stayed with his father in Jerusalem and learnt the Law of Moses for 3 years. Menelik looked very like his father, which confused the Israelites as they had difficulty in telling the difference between Solomon and Menelik. Because of this confusion they complained to King Solomon and asked him to send Menelik home. King Solomon said if they wanted him to send his son back home the high priests would have to send their oldest son and 1000 people from each tribe of Israel with Menelik. The high priests agreed to send their oldest son and 1000 people from each tribe with Menelik.

Menelik then returned to Aksum, amongst those accompanying him was Azariah the son of the high priest (Zadok) of the temple of Jerusalem. Before the journey Azariah had a dream that told him to take the Ark of the Covenant with him to Ethiopia. Azariah did what the dream told him to do and he stole the Ark from the Temple, putting in its place a copy. Azariah told Menelik what he had done and Menelik was angry with him but Azariah convinced Menelik to take the Ark with them. Zadok, the high priest of the Temple, discovered the Ark’s disappearance and informed King Solomon. King Solomon and his army followed Menelik but could not catch him. Whilst this was taking place Solomon dreamt that his son should have the Ark and he returned to Jerusalem and ordered his high Priests to keep its disappearance a secret.

On his return to Ethiopia, Menelik founded the “Solomonic Dynasty” and the Aksumite kingdom adopted Judaism and the Law of Moses. The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon as mentioned in the Holy Bible signifies to the Ethiopians their claim to be direct descendants of the “Solomonic Dynasty”. This shows that Judaic culture was established and followed in Ethiopia since the reign of King Menelik. When the Aksumite kingdom accepted the arrival of Christianity, during the reign of King Ezana in the fourth century, the Felashas (Beta Israel or Ethiopian Jews) refused to accept Christianity and continued to practise Judaism, which they still do today.

It’s always seemed to me that this legend is fanciful, and was perhaps an attempt to explain (among other things) the typical Ethiopian appearance, which differs from the appearance of most Africans around them. But they do have some pieces of evidence to back up their claim.

Evidence that “Sheba” (as in the Queen of Sheba) was in Ethiopia, can be had from the reputed remains of her palace near Aksum. This is one of the sites I visited while there:



Actually, they claim that her palace is located underneath the ruins we see above. Archeological evidence indicates that those ruins are from around 1000 BC – roughly the time of the Queen of Sheba. Here’s an article that sums up the evidence. My local guide also claimed that the fact that Falashas lived in this general vicinity also serves as evidence.

Ethiopians believe that the Ark of the Covenant is located in Aksum. They say it’s housed in a church there. Outsiders aren’t allowed to get very close to the church, but here are some shots I took from the outside:



I thought it was odd that they use street lamps to illuminate the exterior of such an important site:


Other Ethiopian churches have replicas of the Ark, which they remove for parades on special occasions. But nobody’s allowed to see the real thing, so we must take it on faith… or not.

Among the designs on the interior of one of the churches in Lalibela is a Star of David:


My local guide there told me that this is evidence of an ancient link between Ethiopians and Jews, but I pointed out that the Star of David only started being considered a symbol of Jewry during the Middle Ages. In ancient times, if there were such a symbol, it would have been the six-armed candelabra, the “menorah.” Of course, the churches were built during the Middle Ages, so the intention might, indeed, have been to show solidarity with Jews.

We can say, in summation, that Ethiopia’s relationship with Jews has been a love/hate relationship for a very long time.

Here are some odds and ends, mostly photos, from Ethiopia that I think are worth sharing, but got left out before.

Another crashed truck. Yes, I actually have a collection of crashed truck photos. Somebody could just drive around (as a passenger, of course) Ethiopia and photograph crashed trucks. A macabre project – but probably a unique one. I was told that the drivers don’t sleep enough:


The traditional bread is “injera.” This is fairly well-known, but less well known is the traditional table, upon which the injera is served. It’s carried around from function to function, like this:


Here are some children displaying (selling) their baskets in Aksum:


Speaking of Aksum, I was standing near one of the historical sites, speaking with my guide, when all of a sudden I heard a thump and saw something drop right next to my guide’s friend a few feet away. A bird had dropped a dead rat from the sky, and it almost hit the man. It would have been a better story had he been hit, but then again, it would have been an even better story had I been hit. Sometimes the best story is not the best story.

Did you know that Aksum is Denver’s sister city in Ethiopia? Well it’s true, and there’s even a “Denver Street” there:


How basic can a museum get? Pretty basic in the Bahir Dar area. One of the islands features this museum, whose walls are made of corrugated iron, and consists of but one room – with no lighting of any kind, so flash photography is recommended. But it does feature an armed guard!


Dung is used for fuel in much of Ethiopia. One can see heaps of it, neatly stacked:


Here’s a little girl from one of the villages in Danakil. Sugarcane is the snack of choice for kids, and I was impressed at how efficient this girl was in eating it; she’s like a machine!


Here’s our local guide to Dallol, Ali:


Here’s the interior of one of the rooms in the guesthouse I stayed at in Harar:


Here’s the customary Ethiopian handshake. My guess is that it’s used elsewhere as well:

Here’s a view of a Somali refugee camp, taken on my return trip from Harar. Incidentally, a large chunk of Eastern Ethiopia is ethnically Somali, and it’s known as “Ethiopian Somalia.”


Here’s the priest at Abuna Yemata Guh. I probably should have included this photo in my original post; it’s practically a tradition for tourists to get just such a shot:


Practically every restaurant in Ethiopia has its coffee station, tended to by the coffee-girl. It’s her job to tend the coal fire for the incense, and to keep the coffee hot. Some people call this the “Ethiopian coffee ceremony,” but it’s not a ceremony; it’s simply the way Ethiopians drink coffee. Here’s one such station at the airport in Lalibela:


Speaking of airports, here’s an interesting scene I shot at the Addis Ababa airport. A little creepy, and a little artsy:


That’s it for now, but I’ve got a lot more, about Ethiopia, to write about.

Here are some miscellaneous items, mostly photos, from south Ethiopia that I missed in my earlier posts.

Even with the crudest architecture, one can sometimes see creativity, as in this house/shop in the south:


This is the traditional type of dress found in the area of Konso, also in the south:


The area around Arba Minch (in the south) is famous for its bananas. They’re small, but very tasty, and they’re exported to many places.


Baboons also like the bananas, which is a problem for the locals. These girls are selling us bananas through the window of our car:


Moringa is a leaf that’s eaten in the south of Ethiopia. In fact, it’s a staple there, and it has medicinal properties. People can be seen carrying it, in large bundles, all over (the girl in front is carrying a bottle of local beer):


School kids carry small bundles of moringa over their shoulders, presumably for lunch. I’m sure that, prepared properly, it’s quite tasty. But Hiromi, Shun (my Japanese co-tourists in the south) and I tried some at a restaurant in Jinka, and it was so strong none of us could eat more than two or three spoonfulls. It almost tastes like spinach on steroids.




Honey is an important product all over Ethiopia. Here we see how it’s gathered in the trees:



Earlier, I mentioned the Dorze vendors selling their wares by the side of the road. Here’s a photo I neglected to include in that post:




According to my driver, it’s illegal to sell charcoal in the Rift Valley. The authorities don’t want people chopping down too many trees. Yet it’s sold openly all over, as we can see here:




Subsistence agriculture, using animal labor, is common all over Ethiopia. My guess is that the same is true over much of Africa.




Flooding must be a problem during the rainy season, so many roads have deep drains on either side of them, as we see here:




I couldn’t help but wonder how many people, and animals, have broken legs falling into those ditches, or how many vehicle tires have gotten stuck in them.

Common in the south are huge termite mounds. I’ve seen larger ones in Australia, but not as tall as these:





I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re the tallest termite mounds in the world.


I count, among my many talents, the ability to make people feel uncomfortable by asking awkward questions, or by telling random stories at inappropriate times.

But in Ethiopia, anyone can do it! All you have to do is bring up the subject of homosexuals. On my last day in Ethiopia, I was hanging out with a young hotel worker. He wanted to make my last day in Ethiopia a pleasant one (because he thought I wasn’t treated right by another employee), so he showed me around Addis Ababa, and I had a beer with his friends.

In the spirit of small talk, I told him how, on one of my layovers flying to Ethiopia, I’d noticed a lot of homosexual males making out with each other. I said, “It’s not unusual to see this sort of thing, but at that particular airport, it was all over the place. I was confused – until I remembered that I was in San Fransisco.”

“Men hold each others’ hands all the time. It’s no big deal,” he replied. Indeed, in Ethiopia (and black Africa in general) it is common for same-sex friends to hold hands or put each others’ arms over each others’ shoulders. It signifies friendship, and no more.

“I’m not talking about just friendship…” I explained.

His eyes widened, and he became animated. “Oh no! We don’t have that sort of thing in Ethiopia. If it does occur, it’s only because that person was raped, or abused, as a child and his mind was messed up.”

And that’s how I learned that there are no homosexuals in Ethiopia. Except that, while staying at a hotel in Jinka, in the south, I happened to notice a printout of the hotel rules in my room:


I found rule #2 amusing but not surprising; Ethiopian law calls for the death penalty for homosexual activity – though I doubt it’s ever actually been carried out. I was told that this rule is common in Ethiopian hotels, though hotels that cater to Americans and Europeans might tone it down.

Even though I followed the rules at that hotel, I still got sick. My room had numerous insects, including mosquitoes, flying around, and this was a malaria zone. So I asked for some bug spray at the reception desk. They had some, and I sprayed it at the bugs as needed. I didn’t use much of it. Unfortunately, the window to my room had no screen, so I kept the window shut and, as I was tired, I laid down. After about half an hour, my throat was scratchy and I knew I was getting sick. The bug spray they use over there is much more powerful than what we have in the U.S. I’d poisoned myself, and I can still feel traces of the effect in my throat. Seasoned travelers to Africa know to bring their own window screens. Too bad I hadn’t thought of that.


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