Kate's Writing Blog

The Anglo-Ethiopian Society News File

For almost 20 years I have been a member of The Anglo-Ethiopian Society, which is based in London.

The Society was formed in 1948 to foster knowledge of Ethiopian culture, history and way of life, and to encourage friendship between the British and Ethiopian peoples. It is a non-political organisation.

Meetings are held regularly and these take the form of public lectures on subjects of relevance to Ethiopia, or social occasions to celebrate Ethiopian festivals such as Christmas (7 January) and New Year (11 September). The Society has a library of books (some of them rare) on Ethiopian subjects.

A News File is sent to members three times a year, and occasional papers are also published.

The front cover illustration above shows one of the old houses in the Piazza district of Addis Ababa, the design attributed to the Armenian, Minas Kherbekian. The illustration relates to an article about Addis Woubet, the organisation devoted to the preservation of the historic buildings of Addis Ababa.

Not living in London, I have attended very few Society meetings. In the late 1990s, I gave an illustrated lecture about The Kindu Trust to members.

On another memorable occasion, I attended an Anglo-Ethiopian Society event at the grand Russell Hotel in Russell Square, London. I arrived early and changed into Ethiopian dress. The next person to arrive was Sir Wilfred Thesiger, one of Britain’s great explorers who was born in Ethiopia, so I had a ten-minute talk with him before other members began to come into the function room. (Sir Wilfred died in 2003, aged 90.)

The Spring 2013 News File included a Letter from Debark from me, which I hoped would give members a taste of what life is like in rural Ethiopia. Here it is:

Letter from Debark – February 2013

Debark is on the western flanks of the Simien Mountains, at an altitude of 2,900 metres. Being the gateway to the Simien Mountains National Park, the town has grown in importance; its population now exceeds 40,000. Debark Town shares its name with its woreda (county).

My family and I moved to Debark Woreda in 2010, after having lived in Gondar for eight years. My husband, Asenake Eshete, was born and raised in this area, and has thousands of relatives here, families in the past having been so large. We settled in Dib Bahir, a village at the foot of the escarpment on the north side of the mountains, where we live simply in a mud hut (which is the only building in Dib Bahir that has panes of glass in its windows) and run a small school, Empress Mentewab School.

There are about 200 households in Dib Bahir. During their 1936-41 occupation of Ethiopia, the Italians built a camp in the village and installed iron pipes that still carry water from a reservoir at the top of the escarpment. The main electricity cables going north from Debark pass through Dib Bahir, so when there are no power cuts, the inhabitants have electricity. Despite northbound telephone lines also passing through the village, it is not cost-effective for the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation to provide such a small community with a landline telephone service, so Asenake and I had a wireless telephone installed and this works sometimes. Mobiles often do not work in Dib Bahir and there is no Internet access, so every month I make the 13.6 mile road journey to Debark to update my website and deal with e-mails.

Usually I return home on foot, carrying bags of groceries. There are short cuts for walkers, so the distance covered is about 12 miles, which takes me 4-6 hours depending on the weather and how heavy the shopping is! For personal security – the main risks are shifta (bandits) and hyenas – I am always accompanied by one of Asenake’s relatives, armed with a Kalashnikov rifle.

Last September, towards the end of the rainy season, my guard and I set off in bright sunshine. We were half way down the escarpment when a storm rolled in from the north. Along with three other travellers, we sheltered in a hut used by two militiamen guarding the road. Luckily, the heavy rain and hail missed us. We ventured outside and the men did a weather-check. It is not only in Britain that you can experience summer and winter in one day!

weather-watchers - six in a row
weather-watchers - six in a row