Ethiopia: travel and (fair) trade
Ethiopia doesn't make the top of many travellers’ bucket list. And there are reasons why. But for every one there's a reason why Ethiopia is one of the most rewarding journeys you could ever hope to make.
Ethiopia doesn't make the top of many traveller's bucket list. And there are reasons why. But for every one there's a reason why Ethiopia is one of the most rewarding journeys you could ever hope to make.
ETHIOPIA IS A DRAMATIC LAND WITH AN EXTRAORDINARY HISTORY AND A PROUD PEOPLE. ITS ROOTS STRETCH BACK AS FAR AS THE 2ND MILLENIUM AND IT'S THE PLACE WHERE COFFEE AND MODERN MAN ARE SAID TO BE BORN.
Aside from a brag sheet littered with world firsts and onlys - the only African nation never to be colonised, the first independent African member of the United Nations, the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in Africa, the home of the world's oldest alphabet still in use and the source of the longest river on Earth, just to name a few - Ethiopia can also boast one hell of a spectacular landscape.
A trek through the Simien or Bale Mountains to encounter birds and animals found nowhere else is unforgettable. The Danakil Depression, where temperatures soar to 50 degrees Celsius and beyond, is mesmerising in its hostility. The ancient tombs, palaces and rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and Aksum are a foray into a long-gone world frozen in time.
Yet for many of us, Ethiopia still conjures up images of TV news bulletins of the 80s filled with hungry children and a much younger Bob Geldof appealing for the world to help. And with an economy still heavily reliant on agriculture, a legacy of poor policy, periodic and devastating droughts, fraught border relationships and a history of civil war, Ethiopia is one of the poorest states in Africa.
Many Ethiopians survive on international food aid and almost two-thirds of its more than 90 million people are illiterate. But things are changing. Ethiopia has experienced rapid economic growth since the end of the civil war, and now has one of fastest growing non-oil economies in Africa.
AND FAIRTRADE OFFERS A WHOLE NEW WORLD OF POSSIBILITY.
Alongside other art forms like painting and metalwork, textiles and weaving have always held a solid place within Ethiopia's cultural traditions - particularly in rural areas where the availability of raw materials like handloomed cotton is plentiful and the craft has been passed down from generation to generation.
Organisations like Sabahar are taking Ethiopia's textile traditions and reinventing them for an international market, providing local craftspeople with the opportunity to earn a fair and sustainable livelihood - and the world with the chance to revel in the beautiful textiles they produce. Your purchase is more than a new towel or throw for your collection - it's a part of a new system of trade. Win-win.
IMAGES BY ANDREW & LYNETTE MERRY