Known as Abyssinia until the 20th century, Ethiopia is the oldest independent nation in Africa. It was home to the powerful Christian kingdom of Aksum in the first centuries AD and became a Christian empire in the 15th century. Addis Ababa is Ethiopia’s capital and largest city.
Ethiopia covers an area of 1,133,380 sq km (437,600 sq mi). The heart of the country is a high tableland, known as the Ethiopian Plateau, that covers more than half the total area of the country. The plateau is split diagonally by the Great Rift Valley. Although the average elevation of the plateau is about 1,680 m (about 5,500 ft), it is cut by many rivers and deep valleys, some of which are 600 m (2,000 ft) below the level of the plateau.
The area is capped by mountains, the highest of which is Ras Dashen (4,620 m/15,157 ft). These heights and indentations occur in northern Ethiopia, in the region surrounding Lake T’ana (the lake in which the Blue Nile rises). The northeastern edges of the plateau are marked by steep escarpments, which drop some 1,200 m (about 4,000 ft) or more to the Denakil Desert.
The climate of Ethiopia varies mainly according to elevation. The tropical zone below approximately 1,800 m (approximately 6,000 ft) has an average annual temperature of about 27°C (about 80°F) and receives less than about 500 mm (about 20 in) of rain annually. The subtropical zone, which includes most of the highland plateau and is between about 1,800 and 2,400 m (about 6,000 and 8,000 ft) in elevation, has an average temperature of about 22°C (about 72°F) with an annual rainfall ranging from about 500 to 1,500 mm (about 20 to 60 in). Above approximately 2,400 m (approximately 8,000 ft) is a temperate zone with an average temperature of about 16°C (about 61°F) and an annual rainfall between about 1,300 and 1,800 mm (about 50 and 70 in). The principal rainy season occurs between mid-June and September, followed by a dry season that may be interrupted in February or March by a short rainy season.
The population of Ethiopia (2006 estimate) is 76,557,553 estimate, yielding an overall density of 67 persons per sq km (175 per sq mi). The Amhara, who founded the original nation, and the related Tigreans, both of which are highland peoples of partly Semitic origin, constitute about 32 percent of the total population. They occupy the northwestern Ethiopian highlands and the area north of Addis Ababa. The Oromo, a pastoral and agricultural people who live mainly in central and southwestern Ethiopia, constitute about 40 percent of the population. The Shankella, a people in the western part of the country from the border of Eritrea to Lake Turkana, constitute about 6 percent of the population. The Somali, who live in the east and southeast, notably in the Ogaden region, are about equal in number to the Shangalla. The Denakil inhabit the semi desert plains east of the highlands. The non indigenous population includes Yemenis, Indians, Armenians, and Greeks
About 40 percent of the people of Ethiopia are Christians, and Christianity is predominant in the north. All the southern regions have Muslim majorities, who represent about 50 percent of the country’s population. The south also contains considerable numbers of animists. A sect known as Beta Israel or Falashas, who practice a type of Judaism that probably dates back to contact with early Arabian Jews, were airlifted to Israel in 1991 during Ethiopia’s civil war.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Union church, an autonomous Christian sect headed by a patriarch and closely related to the Coptic church of Egypt, was the state church of Ethiopia until 1974.
The main difference between the Ethiopian Orthodox and the western Christianity, is that The Ethiopians believe that Jesus had only one nature, he was God at all time, while the western Christianity, believes that Jesus was both Man and God.
Of the 70 or more languages spoken in Ethiopia, most belong to the Semitic and Cushitic branches of the Afro-Asiatic family. The language of the Ethiopian church liturgy, Gecez, gave rise to the Semitic cluster of languages: Amharic, Tigrinya, and Tigre. Amharic, the country’s official language, is spoken by more than half of the population. From the Cushitic family there is the Oromo, Somali, and Afar languages. English and Arabic are also spoken by many people.
Currency and Banking:
Ethiopia's unit of currency, the birr, is issued by the National Bank of Ethiopia (8.84 birr equal US $1 and 11.68 birr equals 1 Euro, average late 2006). To change money it is better in Addis Ababa, many times you will find difficult to change money in smaller towns and the rate is not so fair.
To receive money from Western Union is quite easy, even in small towns, you will find a Bank which works with Western Union, and it never takes more than 30 minutes.
If you go to Ethiopia with a Tourist Visa normally a three month visa, you can renew it in Addis Ababa in the Emigration Department, you just say to any bus or taxi, “emigration”, every one knows were it is. The renew is about 1 Euro, you must renew it every month and they don’t renew it for more than 6 months, then it is necessary to go out and start again, out means you can go for a short visit to Djibouti, or Kenya, Djibouti is expensive and Kenya is slightly out of the way.
Criminality and Farengis:
There is no criminality in Ethiopia you can walk about the country at 3.00 am without any fear, the only place were you will find pickpockets is in Merkato, Addis Ababa, and they never are aggressive.
But the other side of the coin is that anything you buy or pay, the price is raised because you are a “farengi”, you will get used to this word, anyone of white colour is a farengi, do not be put down, by this, even if it annoying, for the Ethiopians differently from other African countries, there is no hate for the white man, perhaps because they were not colonized, the farengi is for them pure, good, rich, (that is why they raise the price), and the solution for every problem, of course this after a while is rather annoying.
International airports are Bole in Addis and in Dire Dawa, but you can go to Bar Dar and Mekele by airplane, the Ethiopian Airways are quite reliable, and safe for what I know they the Ethiopian Pilots even train other African Pilots.
But it is quite expensive, for example a ticket between Addis an Dire Dawa return is about 70 euros, 700 birr.
Cheap is the long distance buses between Addis and the rest of the country, example Addis-Harar, is about 6 euros, 60 birr, sometimes they have problem on the road and then you have to sleep in a road side hotel, which is not so comfortable, although they are very cheap, a night costs max.: 2 euros, 20 birr.
The problem is that this buses are quite uncomfortable, specially if your legs are long, and the Ethiopians like to travel with all the windows closed!
The larger species of African wildlife are native to most parts of the country. These include the giraffe, leopard, hippopotamus, lion, elephant, antelope, and rhinoceros. The caracal, jackal, hyena, and various species of monkey are common. The country is home to 813 bird species. Birds of prey include the eagle, hawk, and vulture. Heron, parrot, and such game birds as the snipe, partridge, teal, pigeon, and bustard are found in abundance. Among the many varieties of insects are the locust and tsetse fly.
The Ethiopian diet generally includes lamb, goat, and fowl. Ethiopians do not usually eat pork, turkey, or ham. Common foods include injera, a fermented bread made of teff flour (a native grain), and wat, a spicy stew made with beef or chicken. Strict religious dietary and fasting customs, especially for Muslims, also influence the diet. Many people survive on grains alone.
Amharic hosts take pride in offering guests the best meal they are capable of providing, and guests reciprocate by leaving some food on the plate to indicate that the host has more than adequately provided for them. Food is eaten with the fingers of the right hand, never the left.
Christmas begins, and does not end, the year—it falls on 7 January. On Christmas, a special game is played by some Ethiopians that is not played at any other time of the year. Similar to field hockey, it is said to derive from an old story that shepherds, brimming with joy to hear of the birth of Jesus Christ, spontaneously used their hooked staffs to make up a game that expressed their happiness. It is called Ganna.
The Epiphany, or Visit of the Three Magi, is celebrated on 19 January. Victory Day is on 6 March, and Patriots’ Victory Day on 6 April. Good Friday, the Friday preceding Easter, is a holiday in Ethiopia, and Easter, called Fasika, is the most important holiday of the year.
Marriage and Family:
Because marriage represents the union of two families, the choice of spouse is usually arranged by the families, although individuals have some say in the decision. Divorce is not common.
The Amharic family is strongly patriarchal, a pattern typical throughout Ethiopia. Sons usually bring their brides to live with or near their father’s family, and three or more generations in the male line frequently live under one roof. Age is highly respected in Ethiopia, and the elderly are cared for by their children. Women’s duties and privileges are clearly defined both within the home and elsewhere, and most women lead sheltered lives. Families tend to be very private.
The Amhara place great emphasis on formal but very courteous greetings to both friends and strangers. Shaking hands with one or both hands is common between members of the same sex. Friends often embrace each other formally but warmly. There is no physical contact when members of opposite sexes greet each other.
The Amharic home is generally a highly private and personal domain, and it is not usual to visit without an invitation. When visiting a home for the first time, a small gift is in order. Visitors are expected to accept any refreshments or food offered.
Leisure time is generally spent at home. Individual games of skill such as board games and races are the most popular forms of recreation. Soccer is the most popular sport.
Ethiopia traditionally follows the Coptic calendar, although business is conducted using Western time and calendar standards. There is a seven-year difference separating the Coptic and the Gregorian, or Western, calendars; for example, 1998 is 1991 in Ethiopia. Also, the 24-hour day begins at sunrise, not midnight.