Easter in Ethiopia

by mphcrawley

After a few days back in Addis, Gudisa and I decided to make the most of the Easter holiday and go to visit his family, who live in the countryside near Ambo. Easter comes a week later here than everywhere else – another quirk of the Ethiopian calendar – and it’s not just Easter that is slow to arrive. It took us nearly seven hours to travel a hundred or so kilometres. As Gudisa puts it, only the runners go quickly here. The bus only goes so far down the dirt road towards the rural area in which his parents live, so we had a three-hour walk into a valley and out the other side to negotiate before we arrived at his house just before sunset.


On the walk to Gudisa’s house.


A break for ‘talla’, a kind of beer made from Barley.

Gudisa had warned me that ‘the problem thing in Ambo is the hilly,’ which I had dismissed because I thought that the 300-metre drop in altitude would cancel out the difficulty. It didn’t. You really can’t run anywhere from his house without encountering lung sapping, imperceptibly steep hills, so most of the running we did was fairly slow. We managed to cover a fair few miles though, fuelled by the near constant eating that comes with Easter celebrations here.

I paid six hundred birr (about 24 pounds) for a sheep for the festivities – people here eat no meat or dairy products for two months before Easter – and disappointed everyone with my reluctance to kill it myself. I did observe the sheep being slaughtered in the ‘traditional’ way, though. I think if you eat meat you should at least be willing to observe the animal’s demise, and all of Gudisa’s younger siblings seemed fascinated by the process so I felt like I should be involved. We ate mutton and injera for nine consecutive meals, usually with several neighbours, most of Gudisa’s nine siblings and a selection of their children, all crowded into the one-room house in which we also all slept.

There is no electricity in the area, and apart from a mobile phone the only piece of modern equipment Gudisa’s parents owned was – inexplicably – a battery-powered loudspeaker and amplifier. They used this to amplify music from the phone and as an ingenious baby-silencing device. It turns out that if you hold a loudspeaker in front of a crying baby it is so bewildered by the sound that it stops crying immediately.

Ambo is in the Oromia region, which meant that even my limited Amharic was of little use to me. This meant that I spent a lot of the time as the centre of attention, but unable to communicate with anyone. I was, apparently, the only farenji (the word is derived from either “French” or “foreigner”) to have visited the area since an Italian soldier briefly stopped by to father Gudisa’s great-great-grandfather. Gudisa’s father’s only English phrase was “drink water!” which he encouraged me to do with great frequency. The “water” was actually areke, a local spirit that tastes a bit like eau de vie and is drunk from breakfast time onwards during festivals. We spent a lot of time visiting neighbours, who plied us alternately with coffee or areke to ensure that everyone was sufficiently caffeinated / inebriated at all times.


‘Water.’ It’s not water.

On the last day, Gudisa and I managed to run the 18km from the house to the village from which the bus went back to Addis in time to claim places on the bus home – I was a little concerned as we were told that after 7am all the seats would probably be gone. This adds extra pressure to trying to run up an enormous hill, but proved a good incentive. Having arrived just after seven we secured our seats and sat drinking coffee until the bus decided it was time to actually leave. There are two rushes for buses here. The first is often by people sent by friends or relatives to secure places on the bus for them, and the second is by those coming to actually claim the seats. As there is no specified departure time, this is all pretty confusing, and I was glad to have Gudisa with me!

In all, we’d managed to get a good three days of training done at the same time as visiting one of the remotest places I’ve ever been, and I feel privileged to have experienced a truly Ethiopian Easter celebration.


Gudisa’s father and two of the neighbours

I realise I’m a bit behind with posting training, so the last two weeks are below. We’ve made friends with Binyem, who is in charge of access to the track in the National Stadium, which is good news for the next 5 weeks training. He is letting me train after the national squad, which means I turn up to watch them train and then do my session with some of the best runners in the world watching while they stretch on the infield. I shouldn’t think they’re hugely impressed. Watching Mohammed Aman fly through 22-second 200m repeats before you train has a way of getting you fired up to run, though. Unfortunately I won’t be seeing Bekele training there – he puts his recurring problem with calf injuries down to the track’s firm surface, and is spending $400,000 dollars on building himself a softer one 20km outside Addis.

Sunday 1st – 12 miles easy. I still seem to have a slight cold.

Monday 2nd – 8 miles easy.

Tuesday 3rd  – AM 4 miles steady. PM – 2 mile warm up, 2 sets of 7 x 400m with 1 minute recovery and 5 mins between sets in 71 seconds in the National Stadium.

Wednesday 4th  – AM 8 miles. Hard due to the mud that has accumulated since the belg rains started. PM – 4 miles on the road.

Thursday 5th  – AM 7.5 miles fartlek on a dirt road. PM 4.5 miles easy.

Friday 6th  – 8 miles steady.

Saturday 7th – AM 2.5 mile warm up, 40 minutes ‘tempo’ on grass. Not too fast – in Bekoji at 3,000m above sea level! PM – 4 miles easy.

Total – 77 miles

Sunday 8th AM – 2.5 miles warm up, 400, 800, 400, 800, 400 with 1 minute recovery, 3 minutes rest, 400, 600, 400, 600, 400 with 1 minute recovery, 3 minutes rest, 4 x 200m with 1 minute recovery on the track in Bekoji. PM – 4.5 miles easy.

Monday 9th  – AM 8 miles, easy pace but still hard due to the altitude. PM – 5 miles easy.

Tuesday 10th  – 2.5 mile warm up, 10 reps of a hill that took about 1 minute 50 to get up, 1.5 mile warm down.

Wednesday 11th  – AM 8 miles easy. Felt ok considering yesterday. PM – 5 miles steady.

Thursday 12th  – 12 miles hard with group.

Friday 13th  – AM 2 mile warm up, 2 sets of 4 x 1km with 1 minute recovery and 5 minutes between sets in 3.06 average. PM 4 miles easy.

Saturday 14th  – DNR. First rest day of the trip.

Total – 72 miles