Adwa Victory, Black History Month and the Role of Ethiopians

February concludes the celebration of Black History Month. We are especially reminded of all the struggles African- Americans went through in February, and stories and facts emerge on media about African-Americans who contributed positive things in different areas. Some people argue that the celebration of Black History Month should end because history should not be limited to one specific month; others say it is not necessary because we now supposedly live in a post-racial society. For Ethiopians, the end of February also brings another historical moment, the Victory of Adwa. On March 1, 1896, Ethiopians defeated the army of Italy, under the leadership of King Menelik II. The victory was particularly important because it ensured that Ethiopia remained free from colonization from European powers, a source of pride not only to Ethiopians, but other Africans and African Americans.

African Americans have regarded Ethiopia as a source of inspiration for a long time, and the relationship between Africa Americans and Ethiopia goes back to the early 1900s. Professor Abiy Ford, a prominent scholar and teacher at Addis Ababa University, stated that “Ethiopia was synonymous with Africa for many African Americans. When you hear Ethiopia, you thought of Africa.” Professor Ford himself is the result of the Back-to-Africa movement. Just as the name suggests, the movement encouraged African Americans to go to their ancestral home  and settle there. It was created in the 1920s by Marcus Garvey. At a time when African Americans were struggling with questions of identity, Garvey’s ideas provided African Americans with a source of purpose and motivation. Later on, Garvey also served to inspire the Civil Rights Movement, Nation of Islam, and  Rastafarianism movements. It was during the height of this movement in the 1930s that a group of African Americans found themselves in Ethiopia, including Rabbi Arnold Ford and his future wife Mignon Innes Ford. Professor Abiy Ford was born in Ethiopia in 1935, where he remains to his day. When Italy invaded Ethiopia again in 1935, the family chose to stay in Ethiopia with the new-born baby and face the Italians, instead of fleeing with those who had a chance to leave. After a struggle that lasted six years, Ethiopia successfully ousted Italy once again in 1941. Mignon Ford also built the first boarding school in Ethiopia, Princess Zenebework School.

During my interactions with African Americans in the past few years, I have found that a lot of the older generation is aware of the history of Adwa, Marcus Garvey, and many other historical facts. Unfortunately, I can not say the same for the younger generation. I believe that is because they did not have the chance to grow up being as influenced with black movements as their parents were. A friend once told me, “If you are aware, you are responsible to share that knowledge. We are your long-lost cousins, and we need guidance.”


Ye Arada Quanqua

Like everything else, language changes with time. I realized this while watching some Amharic videos online; I found myself scratching my head to understand the meaning of some of the new urban words. Here are four  I learned thanks to Youtube:

Aynefam- Something is not satisfactory

Enimeresh-Let’s go

Ligebalign Neber/Asgebalet – He was about to kick me/ Kick him

Mekeset -Show up

It is interesting to see how these words are created and make it into the mainstream population, and used as a form of communication daily. As for me, I have decided to eliminate “Speak Amharic Fluently” from my resume for now, until I update myself on contemporary Amharic some more. Therefore, I hope you will help me out by sharing some of the new words you know below in the comment box.

How to Drive in Ethiopia with an American License

Hi Ami, How are you? I was wondering if you knew how to drive with international license in Ethiopia? A lot of people ask me, but I have no idea. Do you know where you have to go and the process? Thanks for your help!

The response to my message came a day later.

Honestly my answer is no, I have no clue how to do it. But I assume you would have to get a lot of 100 birr bills if a traffic police stops you and sees you don’t have an Ethiopian license or just start speaking English with a New York accent and he’ll let you go.

So my dear friends, that is the way to go about it if you decide to drive in Ethiopia on your next visit. Ok don’t get too excited, my friend Ami is only kidding. But I used to get that question a lot when I was working for the Ethiopian Consulate in Los Angeles, and I gave the happy tourists with their eager faces a shrug, in my head thinking along the same lines as Ami, just too abashed to voice it.

If you want to drive in Ethiopia, the first thing you have to do is go to the Embassy of the United States in Addis Ababa, and get your American license authenticated. Once you finish there, take the paperwork they give you to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, located right in front of Hilton Hotel, which will perform translation services for you. The final stage is going to be The Ministry of Road and Transportation (commonly known as Menged Transport), located behind Addis Ababa Stadium, which will give you your gateway to adventure, aka your Ethiopian license! These services charge you some fee. When you read that the locations are lacking street numbers and zip codes, don’t panic. Things don’t work like that in Ethiopia. Almost everyone knows where everything is, or knows someone who does. So don’t be afraid to ask your local taxi drivers or hotel staff. Google is not going to tell you the best restaurants in town. Your resources for information are going to be the people. Enjoy yourself and happy adventures!


Wube Bereha: The Vegas Strip of Addis in the Past

For a young woman living in one of the most modern cities in the world, I do not go out clubbing much. That was what was on my mind as I made my way to one of the supposedly most hip nightclubs in Hollywood last Saturday, Boulevard3. When my friends and I got there, a couple of the club’s staff were standing outside. They asked us if we had reservations; apparently you have to go online and be on their guest list to be able to go in. After we shook our heads no, the guy we were speaking to gave us a ‘let me think for a second’ look, and then said he would let us in this time, but told us to go online and register next time. He made it sound like he was doing us a huge favor by letting us in without the necessary step of registering.

The inside of the club is nice; spacious with tables against the walls. There is a big stage right by the entrance, where a very scantily dressed lady was performing with movements with what is considered modern dance these days. As the latest hip hop songs played that refer to different anatomical parts of women, I took a moment to take in my surroundings – the intoxicated women, the lone men walking around and looking for potential dance partners, groups taking pictures, and the general ambiance.

After my friends and I left the club well after midnight, we were walking on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and discussing our night. That is how the conversation turned to night life in Addis back in the days. I realized that even though the form of doing things changes, young people still engage in similar activities throughout generations. I was imagining our parents, and wondering how being young was like for them.

In the 60s, Wube Bereha used to be the center of night life in Addis. A neighborhood in the heart of Piassa, it was alive with booze, music and prostitutes in ample amounts almost every night. In his book Ethiopia: A view from within, Michael B. Lentakis talks about Wube Bereha: “Already at the age of 13 I had started having sexual relation in the Serategna Sefer, …Wube Bereha and Serategna Sefer were at that time famous for having the most beautiful women engaged in this trade, and although they have never read the Kama Sutra, they could naturally perform all the different acts of love with the utmost dexterity.” In a September 23, 2013 article entitled The memories of Wube Bereha published on The Reporter, Tibebeselassie Tigabu also stated: “This was the place that broke free. Freedom was experienced in the fullest form, the mainstream shattered and taboos broken, bans lifted with anything possible from intoxication and music. Renowned musicians made their memories here and it inspired a generation of Ethiopian writers and poets.” The same article goes on to state that the neighborhood was to be demolished to make way for a train project, but I was not able to find any update on whether that was carried through or not.

A lot of people would argue today that Wube Bereha was a place where someone from a good family should not go, where STDs manifested and generally an appalling place to be avoided at all costs. But whether Wube Bereha existed or not, people would have engaged in the same activities regardless, behind closed doors and more covertly. When I say this, I am not encouraging anyone to engage freely in drinking and womanizing, we all know the dangers of HIV and other ramifications that come with that. All I am saying is I am not quick to condemn Wube Bereha either, I look at it as a place where the generation before us had memorable times without as much risk as being young today entails. It is a huge part of our history.

I was not able to find a lot of published material on the history or current status of Wube Bereha, or pictures for that matter. If you have any information I could use, you can e-mail me at and I will be happy to add them to this article. In the mean time, I will leave you with a link to a scene from the movie Tizita, one of my favorite Amharic movies of all time. Around the 40 something second, the actors break out into a sort of waltz, and in my mind’s eye, that is exactly how I imagine the Boulevard3 version of a club in Wube Bereha then. Cheers!

An Ethio-American Breakfast

For those of us who live in the western part of the world, the winter season is upon us again. While I personally don’t shudder at the thought of snow and ice and almost freezing to death, that is only because I live in California. I have a lot of friends all over the East Coast who lament about the cold constantly to me.

Since the winter started, I see a lot of commercials everywhere that encourage you to buy and curl up with this hot drink or that, with many stores supposedly on sale for coats and boots. That is how I remembered an Ethiopian way of fighting this cold. It is a cheaper alternative to hot chocolates and the different flavored lattes you spend your 5 dollars on every day, aka Genfo!

Genfo is a traditional Ethiopian porridge that is served usually in the mornings. It is typically made with flour prepared from barely. While the flour is readily available in Ethiopia, this may not be always the case in the US. That is how my cousin decided to try making it with pancake flour when she could not resist the incredible urge she felt for Genfo not too long ago. The result was amazing, the taste was almost the same and very delicious. Here is how to make a yummy and satisfying Genfo that is sure to warm up the whole family, as the cliché goes!

First, fill up a medium sized pan with water. When the water comes to a boil, add three ladles of the pancake flour and a little salt. Stir and mix until it makes a thick paste. Once the mixture is evenly mixed and thick, put in a bowl and make a hole in the middle. Typically, people put kibe (Ethiopian butter) mixed with berebere, as a dipping sauce in the middle. But you can opt to have a healthier sauce like olive oil instead of the butter mixed with a little hot sauce. Now all you have to do is tear pieces of the Genfo, dip in your sauce, and enjoy!

Here is a link for a YouTube video with the more traditional recipe.