Day 1: Why Ethiopia
This lady is the Princess of the Hamar tribes. Photographed by Glen Bosman in the Omo Valley, Southern Ethiopia.
It’s difficult to say where my fascination for this legendary country arose … I was given a book as a teenager entitled ‘The Abyssinians’ by David Buxton, but even earlier was the spectre of the terrible famine of Biafra which dominated what seems like much of my early childhood – with well-meaning parental threats arising from my uneaten meals.
Synonymous with the Queen of Sheba, Ethiopia came into an almost breathless focus as I discovered the works of the last great British eccentric explorer Wilfred Thesiger, with his love of the wilderness and nomads.
Quickened by Bruce Chatwin’s penchant for art, Africa and adventure, these mens’ extraordinary lives set up a state of constant longing within me.
Certainly my travels in India have assuaged that desire to go ‘beyond’, but Ethiopia … Abyssinia.. remained a constant yearning.
More recently I discovered the works of Dervla Murphy, a feisty Irishwoman, now in her nineties, whose 1968 account of ‘Ethiopia with a Mule’ took her into the mountainous, Coptic North.
I love her prologue: When I am asked ‘why did you go to Ethiopia?’, I find it impossible to give a short, clear answer. From earliest childhood the romantic names of Prester John, Rasselas, the Queen of Sheba and the Lion of Judah are linked with Abyssinia, and in one’s reading, occasional references to the country build up a picture of some improbable land of violence and piety, courtesy and treachery, barrenness and fertility….most of the Europeans who were lucky enough to return from Ethiopia wrote wondrous accounts of the mountain empire, and gradually the name of Ethiopia became synonymous with beauty, danger, solitude and mystery. Often the lure of such places operates subconsciously. Then one fine morning the traveller awakes and surprises himself by saying – ‘I’m going to Ethiopia’.
(In Ethiopia with a Mule, Dervla Murphy, 1968)
Yes! I’m going to Ethiopia