Salambo discovering Ethiopia
Most trips southwards will include a stop in the Sidamo region, the very lush area of southern Ethiopia, best known for its moka coffee and selection of tropical fruits. To break our journey south, we decided to start with a relaxing stop at Aregash Lodge in Yirga Alem, about 45 minutes south of Lake Awassa. The lodge is famous for being the best run in Southern Ethiopia. Owned by an Italian-Greek couple who inherited a piece of land for having helped Hailé Sélassié and his family during the troubled times of the 1970s (or so I was told), it is a small family place with only about ten tukuls, or traditional round houses, arranged as bedrooms suites. The lodge is very comfortable in a green and secluded private park, and offers home made organic food with fruit and vegetables from their own garden. During our stay there, we met two other families we knew from Addis, who had the same idea of spending Christmas Eve at the lodge.
The Sidamo region is extremely lush and fertile with plenty of mangoes, papayas, avocados, coffee and bananas, however it can sometimes suffer from so-called green droughts, whereby there is not enough water for the trees to yield fruit. Unlike people in the North who live on injera, the staple diet in the South is Ensete bread, from the Ensete plant also known as false banana because of its similar appearance. During our stay, we went to visit a family of farmers living nearby the lodge who showed us how they prepare Ensete. They use the root of the plant, which they grind to prepare a type of grainy dough. Once done, they wrap it into a leaf and leave it on the ground to ferment for a few days. After that, they refine it through a sieve, and turn it into a paste which they use to make pancakes. The lady farmer who showed us invited us into her house for a coffee ceremony and Ensete pancakes. The coffee had a very strange taste at first, which wasn’t pleasant. It’s only when they told me that it was salted and not sweetened that my brain connected with my tastebuds and I was able to drink it in the full knowledge of the reason for its unusual flavour. The pancakes themselves were quite bland.
Beside, it was also interesting to get an insight into a rural house in Ethiopia. The family lived in a traditional round tukul partitioned inside to create three separate sleeping quarters for the parents, the children and grandmother, and the animals(cows and chicken). The remaining quarter was used as a kitchen and eating area, which farmers use to daily light a wood fire to smoke the house and get rid of termites in the bamboo roof. I found the place quite suffocating and wondered how they could live with so much accumulated cold smoke and no air. In fact, people suffer from chronic respiratory and eye diseases as a result of the enclosed space, but they are not aware that it comes from living with too much smoke and little airing. They are currently taught to use chemicals against termites and other pests instead of fumigation. Hopefully, they will be able to improve their situation.