CYNTHIA MWALE, Addis Ababa
IT IS the only African country that has never been colonised said to be the water tower of Africa as it is the source of the Blue Nile and home to over 100 million habitants.
It is the second highest populated nation on the continent after Nigeria, and has 83 languages with over 70 dialects and rich documented history. I am talking about Ethiopia.
On April 18, I was privileged to undertake a familiarisation tour of Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, under the auspices of Ethiopian Airlines as I joined 15 representatives from the travel agency sector.
The three-day Famtrip Programme – as it is known by those in the sector- was not just exciting but was also an educative package that left me amused about how a country that was once portrayed to be ravaged by famine, has quickly transformed socially and economically.
Its record, economic growth of US$56 billion gross domestic product in 2015 and preservation of culture are worth writing about. Undoubtedly, Ethiopia is among the sub-Saharan Africa economic lions pulling the continent into an unprecedented era of wealth and prosperity.
Initially, I was to travel on Sunday but the trip was rescheduled for Monday, and we all had to meet at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (KKIA) Ethiopian Airlines office. I arrived around at 12:40 hours and met part of the almost all-female group (there was only one man) from different travel agencies.
Our delegation leader Natasha Ntema, a sales representative for Zambia, was on hand to facilitate checking-in and immigration procedures. We proceeded to the lounge being managed by South African Airways, but since Ethiopian Airlines is a star alliance member, we were ushered in to wait for the flight which was on time. After a while, we boarded the plane to start the three-hours-plus trip to Addis Ababa, which means the new flower.
We touched down at Bole International Airport after 20:00 hours (19:00 hours local time) and a Harmony Hotel shuttle awaited us despite a lengthy immigration process considering the huge number of group members.
Finally, we drove through the busy streets and later reached our resting place. We checked in the hotel and freshened up for late dinner.
It was Tuesday and a tight programme awaited us. Down in the hotel lobby, tour guide Assefa Genetu was waiting for the programme that started at 09:00 hours to Entoto St. Mary Museum which was used as a capital for Emperor Menelik II in the 1880s.
Later, we headed to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, known in Amharic as Kidist Selassie. It is the highest ranking Orthodox Cathedral built to commemorate Ethiopia’s liberation from Italian occupation and the burial place for those who fought for freedom, or those who accompanied the Emperor into exile from 1936 to 1941.
Emperor Haile Selassie I and his consort Empress Menen Asfaw’s mausoleums are in the north transept inside the cathedral.
Here, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians go and worship every day.
After mid-day, it was time to energise – destination Top View Restaurant for a sumptuous meal, and on the way back, we went to the National Museum which houses one of the most important collections in sub-Saharan Africa, including Zambia’s Bodo, a skull similar to the one which was found in Broken Hill, now Kabwe.
It is in this gallery that you will find Lucy, one of the oldest hominids, which are primates of a family which include humans and their early ancestors. The 3.5 million year-old fossil skeleton was discovered in 1974 at the Hadar excavation site in Ethiopia.
Later, we headed to Addis Ababa University’s main campus, the fascinating Ethnological Museum where Haile Selassie’s former palace is heavily guarded like most places in the city. A small Lion of Judah which symbolises Ethiopian monarchy, sits triumphantly atop the final step.
This contemporary museum displays superb artifacts and handicrafts from the people of Ethiopia, giving a great insight into the country’s many rich cultures.
Other rooms on the top floor show the conserved bedroom with a walking wardrobe heading to the bathroom and an exorbitant changing room of Emperor Selassie, among other finer fittings.
Tired as we were, we were taken to Menelik II Square to board a newly inaugurated light rail train, which is a 17-kilometre line running from the city centre to industrial areas in the south of the city. It was constructed by the Chinese to lighten the transportation challenges due to the increasing population.
After nine stations, we disembarked at Stadium station where we were greeted by cultural dancers’ entertaining passes-by in the Meskel or Revolutionary Square, where festivities are held. It is a busy square; here athletes could be seen training.
Through the 10 minutes plus journey, I could see the massive infrastructure developments going on in the city, which is one way to measures that an economy is growing.
It was rush hour; we trailed the tour guide to where the shuttle was waiting and headed back to the hotel looking forward to the final day.
On the second day, we set off to the Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise Headquarters slightly after 8:00 hours, a short drive from the hotel but we had to wait outside the premises for security clearance as the tour guide played us Zambian music.
Eventually, after about 10 minutes, we were warmly received by a team from the marketing department and ushered in the conference room where the tour agents swiftly ran through the company’s profile with emphasis on the Ethiopian holiday packages.
Indeed, as enshrined in its 15-year strategic plan called Vision 2025, Ethiopian Airlines wants to become the leading airline group in Africa.
The visit to the airline headquarters gave us the opportunity to visit, some of the seven strategic business units namely; the flight operations and simulator which fall under the Aviation Academy, which was the apex of my trip as I got to experience the demonstration of the replica of the Boeing 787-8 engine cockpit.
The simulator gives the trainee pilots first hand aid on how to operate planes. During the demo, ET vice-president for flight operations, Captain Yohannes Hailemariam ‘took us from Addis Ababa to Rome’, we experienced the take-off, turbulences of weather due to rains, snow, and fog, and finally landing on the runway- it was so real and exciting.
With coffee being the major foreign currency earner, we had a glimpse of Tomoca Coffee Plc outlet, the leather market and Shiro meda market where they sell locally-manufactured wares such as woven clothes and crafts.
In the evening, we went for a cultural night and dinner at the famous Yod Abyssinia restaurant to sample the traditional buffet meal and honey wine. It was unfortunate, that that day the shoulder dancer were not performing as the country was observing national mourning for over 200 Ethiopians that were killed earlier near the Sudanese border.
Despite, the ‘marathon’ trip, it was worth-while as it gave me and other participants the insight of Ethiopia’s remarkable history and thriving socio-economic activities.
'My eyes in wonderful Ethiopia' – Zambia Daily Mail
CYNTHIA MWALE, Addis Ababa