Although I never felt threatened at any stage during our trip, I would not recommend independant travel. There were times when it could have been difficult, and we were saved only by the quick action of our guide. A good guide is a must. I'm happy to recommend Kibrom Tesfay whose email address is email@example.com.
In the rural areas, the children are left to fend for themselves whilst both parents go off to work. The elderly and older children try to ensure that the younger children do what they are supposed to do, tend goats, donkeys, etc, and head off to school when required to do so. There are two school sessions a day. I'm not sure how it is decided who goes to what session. The children start to learn English in Grade 7, so before that they are only able to recite parrot fashion what they have been taught: 'hello-money' was something they seemed to pick up early! There is no school for June, July, August and part of September, during the heavy rains and the growing season.
Breakfast usually consists of bread with honey, milk and tea. Lunch is injera with a sauce. Dinner is the only meal that the family will usually all eat together. Most rural families live in one house, depending on the number of children. Additional rooms are built if there are more than 4 children, and when the children reach 16 or 17 years.
The clothing was beautifully embroidered. A display in Addis Ababa gave an opportunity to take some close up photos. The patterns have different meanings and differ according to the region.
Both men and women wore shawls that were very useful to protect them from the dust.
Although the economy is freeing up and there is encouragement to start your own business, there are still disincentives. I understand that if you own more than half a million birr, it's confiscated by the Government. Tax (of 4%) is only paid by those who have a regular income. Farmers don't pay income tax, own their own land, only work 4 months of the year, and so generally can't see the need for education.
In the rural areas, marriages are still arranged by the parents. Even in the towns, modern youngsters are relucant to marry against their parents wishes. Dowries can be provided by either the boy or the girl, it depends on whose family is the wealthiest.
Ethiopia has a different calendar to the Western calendar. The year 2000 was only celebrated a few years ago. I think they are currently in 2004. The clock is also different. The first hour of the day is the first hour of daylight. So our 7am is their 1am. Luckily most of our dealings were done in our time.
When a person dies, the priests place the deceased on a bed and take the body to the village square. The villagers will go to the square and pray for the deceased to go to heaven. This is followed by a procession to the church with 7 stops along the way. The body is usually buried in the church grounds without a coffin. The priest will stay with the family at their house for the day holding prayers. The villagers, can be up to 100 or 150 people will stay for 3 nights offering prayers. There will be a continuous stream of visitors, friends family and neighbours over the next 7 days. Mourning will normally continue for a year, allowing time for distant relatives to make their way to offer prayers. After 40 days the priest will hold prayers again.
I really enjoyed this trip to Ethiopia and I hope these posts have give you a taste of what it was like.