Time is running. Only six more weeks in Ethiopia until it is time for us to return to Finland. Realizing this has caused a newborn infatuation towards the country in me. For anyone interested in traveling to Ethiopia, do check out Steve McCurry’s recent photographs of the country. At least I fell in love with them.
I’m in the middle of reading two interesting books, in both of which Ethiopia plays a role. In Why Nations Fail Daren Acemoglu and James A Robinson write about characteristics of successful and failed nations. From past kingdoms, they bring up the example of the Kingdom of Axum, which was founded in the north of the current Ethiopian country around 400 BC. This was a kingdom ahead of its time, engaged in trade relations with India, Arabia and Greece. Monumental public buildings and roads were built, money was used and technology in agriculture and shipping was at the same level with the Roman Empire. But the kingdom collapsed.
How Ethiopia then, after all these years, is one of the poorest countries in the world, is puzzling. There is so much history and so much pride within this borders, so many remnants of civilization which has existed long before us.
This takes me to the other book I’m reading, Wax and Gold by Donald Nathan Levine. Published already in 1961, it still holds an accurate description of the Ethiopian (in particular Amharic) culture. This is a country which struggles between poverty and modernization. The urge to modernize quickly, almost impatiently, is palpable everywhere you go. But this is also a country with an extremely strong traditional culture, or as a dear Ethiopian friend once said to me: ‘We are the only African country left with real culture’. No McDonald’s or MTV here. Modernization has happened and is happening much slower here than elsewhere in Africa.
The book title refers to a very specific feature of the Amharic culture: being overly ambiguous. Symbolically put, everything is covered with wax and you have to uncover it to find the gold (the true meaning of things). This part of the culture is intriguing, but it can also drive a foreigner mad. 🙂
Here are some photos of our weekend here.