Ethiopia Memories: Christian Muhammads, Mehmet Scholl, Coffee

In this post I share fun memories from my time living in Ethiopia in 2007-08.

— In the West we often think of Muhammad as a Muslim name. In actual fact it’s just a name which originated in the Middle East, and it is not associated with a religion. It was in Ethiopia when I met Christians named Muhammad that I realised this.

— In Ethiopia when I introduced myself people often thought I was from Germany because the other Mehmet they had heard of was the German footballer Mehmet Scholl! (His father was Turkish, hence his first-name; but his step-father was German, hence his surname!)

— The English word coffee comes from the Kaffa region of Ethiopia, where, according to legend, a farmer noticed his goats going ecstatic after eating a plant which was coffee. The word Kaffa travelled to Yemen, to the Arabian peninsula, and became kahva, then to Turkey where it became kahve, then across Eastern Europe to Hungary where it is kávé, to France where it is café, and then to England where it is coffee. Inexplicably, in Ethiopia they call coffee buna!

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

— I often think of Christianity as a Western religion but, as we know, like Islam it is a Middle Eastern religion. And in Ethiopia I was often reminded of this. There people fast, take off their shoes before entering the church, ladies cover their heads.

— After the biggest fast of the year which lasts 55 days and during which eating meat, dairy products, eggs is not allowed (Abiy Tsom (Lent)), people go on binge-eating, fall sick and fail to make it to work!

— There are several common words between Turkish and Amharic, Ethiopia’s main language. Tabanca (gun), kibrit (matches), saat (time), hesap (bill) are some.

— Many have heard of the rock-hewn buildings in Petra, Jordan, but few have heard of the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, in Northern Ethiopia. The legend is that the Ethiopian king travelled to Petra and upon his return ordered churches to built in the same way.

Rock-hewn church in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Rock-hewn church in Lalibela, Ethiopia

— In Ethiopia they eat raw meat.

— Unlike in the West where we have family names as surnames, in Ethiopia people use their father’s name as a surname.

— Rastafarianism originated in Jamaica but they saw Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie as their messiah. In Southern Ethiopia there is a town called Shashamane, which houses Rastafarians from Jamaica.

— Addis Ababa, the capital, means New Flower.

— I was in Ethiopia in 2007 which coincided with Ethiopia entering the millennium, according to their calendar.

— There are 13 months in the Ethiopian calendar and they promote the country as “13 months of sunshine”, which is clever but actually is a big lie, as Ethiopian winters are quite cold and rainy, especially in high altitude places like the capital Addis Ababa!


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