Ethiopia (the last time)

This photo journal is designed to document the time I am planning to spend in the de facto independent (but unrecognized) state of Somaliland and as an introduction to the region I’ve decided to post some material from my last trip to the Horn of Africa. As such, no account of mine could begin without including some reflections on Somaliland’s huge, influential and fascinating neighbour state, Ethiopia. I spent an extremely limited amount of time in the country on my first visit in 2007 and whilst I am loathe to present myself as any kind of expert, I’m eager to offer some limited visual insight into this diverse and complex part of the world. The country left such an impression on me that for my upcoming trip to the Somali Horn I couldn’t imagine flying anywhere else other than Addis Ababa in order to give myself another brief oppurtunity to explore.

Ethiopia is an intense experience. Whilst I prefer to avoid the tiresome essentialising of non-western cultures that plagues so much travel literature, I’m forced to recognize that its hard not to translate time spent in Ethiopia into superlative-laden prose.  It’s an amazing place (watch as I immediately slip into absurd generalisations about a vast territory home to a bewilderingly diverse array of peoples – sorry! such is the nature of the medium and the nation state, though this beef should be saved for another post…) and has left a lasting impression. Ethiopia, for me, was characterised by its scale – sheer vastness – and a level of cultural and geographical diversity  which instantly calls into question all preconceived ideas of what the country should be like. Ethiopia of course, for many people, is defined solely by images of famine and disease, dust and flies on faces, or perhaps a target of well-meaning,  posturing rock stars. That wasn’t my experience. I saw green valleys, towering peaks, ancient churches, living ‘cultural heritage’, a vibrant and cosmopolitan capital city, and all that good stuff. I also saw obvious and degrading poverty and economic stagnation standing side by side conspicuous consumption and  bizarre corporate messaging. I’d say Ethiopia was a ‘land of contrasts’ if that wasn’t such a tired cliché. Most places I’ve visited throughout the Middle-East, Eurasia and East Asia seem fraught with these similar contradictions of development and in an age of globalisation juxtapositions of culture and consumption are everywhere.  In that sense there is no dichotomous ‘traditonal’  and ‘modern’, ‘western’ and ‘indigenous’ ,  rather evolving modernities, national and brand identities. I think that’s a good way to look at thinks when one travels. It minimises the risk of bullshiting about ‘cultural authenticity’ and the ‘broadened horizons’ of the traveler.

Anyway, I digress. This brief reflection on Ethiopia has turned into a polemic on how we understand diversity, poverty and tourism in a context of globalization which, I guess, is no bad introduction to some upcoming posts on time spent in Somaliland…

In the meantime, here’s some pretty pictures.

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