Tag Archives: Ethiopia

what to read before heading to Ethiopia ?

Any plans to travel to Ethiopia one of these days? Or do you live in Ethiopia and you need an bookish introduction to this mountainous country with its rich history? In this article three books are presented for those who are heading to Ethiopia. One book has been written by a dead and famous Polish writer, one book (partly on Ethiopia) has been written by a British writer, the third book has been written by an Ethiopian writer living in North America. I have read one of these books and I have written about it on my blog.


Color is a language in itself

The poet is the one that seems to stand at the sidelines when there is talk about literature. Every time I discover a collection of poetry I am happy to pass the news on to a wider audience.

This time it is about the poet Mahtem Shiferraw, a lady with Ethiopian and Eritrean roots. Her first steps on the paper of poetry were in Italian.

She has published her debut, a collection of poems, titles Fuchsia. A colourful and flowerrful collection.

She was interviewed by The Rumpus and here you will find this interview.

Maaza Mengiste, Carrie Brownstein, and Jill Filipovic on gender and power

The issue of gender is coming more and more to the fore. Gender is a multifacetted way of describing your personhood, your being YOU. To many gender is linked to power, who is calling the shots, who is defining and setting standards.

Maaza Mengiste is one  of the speakers at a session on gender and power. Read more about it here

Maaza Mengiste talks about

Maaza Mengiste Talks about Ethiopian Women and her Forthcoming Book - Image 1Every picture tells a story. Some prefer to write stories, others prefer to shoot pictures. In the end both of them are storytellers, each in his or her own way. 

Maaza Mengiste is a storyteller with words, just have a look at her books. In recent times she has also included a look at photographs, that tell a story. In this article Aaron Bady writes about this move or expansion by Mengiste. 



The use of the khat leaves is in some countries forbidden, at other places the use of khat is a national passtime, surrounded by rituals, a way of life. When the United Kingdom decided to ban the use of khat, the khat farmers in Kenya were very angry. They saw a loss, an immense loss coming their way. When I think of khat (I admit that I have never used it) I think of countries like Yemen and Somalia.  I see men, young and old, huddled together, talking, being quiet, taking their time.

The British journalist Kevin Rushby got used to chewing khat when he worked abroad as a teacher. He enjoys it very much. In this book he travelled to find the origins of khat and a fair bit of the history of khat chewing. Where did it all start? What were the routes the first khat traders used to earn a fair living and chewing part of their wares?

He starts his journey in Ethiopia. To me this country was not linked to khat chewing, but my mind is already expanding. He starts his journey in Addis Abeba and he travels at first by train. First he travels to Dire Dawat and leaving the tracks he moves om to Harar, where he searches for traces of Richard Francis Burton (1821 – 1890, another explorer) and the French poet Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891), who moved at a very young age to eastern Africa, after he published a collection of poetry.

Next he moves on to Djibouti, where the customs try to do a good job, but the smugglers of khat are very ingenious.  In the harbour of Djibouti he searches for a boat to take him across the Red Sea and a the same time tries to avoid any sign of people working for Customs.

The second part of the book is on this journey and his memories of earlier travels (including a visit to an island run by the Foreign Legion).

The third part of the book is on the Arab world, i.e. Yemen and some comments on other places. In this country Rushby enters more familiar territory. He meets with old friends and  familiar places, but he also explores new territories. All in search of khat and the history of khat and the quality of different types of khat.

To me this book was a captivating book, very well written. Enjoying the travels and learning about khat and about historical events and people.

Kevin Rushby did a good job. And YES, there is a MAP in the book. 

Kevin Rushby – Eating the flowers of paradise. A journey through the drug fields of Ethiopia and Yemen – 1998 

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor eating the flowers of paradise


‘White Is A Color | Black Is Art’

Image: http://habeshala.tumblr.com/

Mahtem Shiferraw is a poet with Ethiopian and Eritrean roots. At an early age she started writing p

oetry in Italian, the language she learned at school. She now has moved to another part of the world, but she keeps on writing poems. Her first collection Fuchsia has been published.

In this interview with Short Story Day Africa she tells about her poetic inclinations.



Ayaan Hirsi Ali (or as it used to be Ayaan Hirsi Magen) is a Somalia-born former Dutch politician. In this book she tells about her background in Somalia, her ancestry (very important), the clan she belongs (very important), Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Her father is involved in Somalian politics in the days of the dictator Barrè and later on. Most of the time he spends away from his nuclear family working for the political causes of Somalia.  This work of his forces his family to stay in other countries. For Ayaan these years have been very formative, for she saw at first hand the strict ways of Islam in Saudi Arabia. During her stay in Nairobi she gets involved with the local Muslim Brotherhood (also including sisters), she even was present when people protested against Salman Rushdie after the publication of his Satanic Verses.  She decides to dress in a more traditional way. Already at a young age she shows to possess an independent mind and an inquisitive mind.

When her father has arranged a marriage with a Somali man living in Canada she decides to stop her journey to Canada in Germany, she decides to go to The Netherlands where she applies for a status a an asylumseeker. Very soon she gets permission to stay in The Netherlands. She works hard to learn the language, to get acquainted with Dutch life. She does all kinds of odd jobs to be selfsupportive. She decides to go for further studies and in the end she finishes her studies in politicology at Leiden University, the oldest university in The Netherlands. Later on she gets elected to the Dutch Parliament on a ticket from the Liberal Democrats. In parliament she raises the issues of the position of muslim women, integration of people from non-Dutch descent, the negative effects of the islam. She makes a short movie (called “Submission”) with the cineast Theo van Gogh (indeed related to the famous painter) about what the Quran says about women. When Van Gogh is killed in broad daylight in the streets of Amsterdam by a muslim, the life of Ayaan is at danger as well. Security forces keep her in hiding, even abroad. In the end she leaves Dutch parliament and moves to the United States of America to take up a position at a thinktank.

A few things that struck me in this well written book: 

  • the ‘blame it on the Jews’-attitude she encountered in Saudi Arabia and in the circles of the Muslim Brotherhood. All negative things that happen are caused by Jews. 
  • in The Netherlands she is surprised by the way society is so well organized. Should not be there total chaos (fitna) in this land of the infidels? Should not a life under Allah’s law be much better? 
  • In Dutch society she witnesses so many muslims (especially Somali) who try to stay away from mainstream society. Many have a poor grasp of the language, many are unemployed, many think their own society is better than Dutch society.
  • Her sister Haweya also moves to The Netherlands, she has a very difficult time in this country, she is even treated in a psychiatric hospital. In the end she moves back to Nairobi. Two sisters with two different stories.
  • Ayaan confronts people who say that violence and terrorism and maltreatment of women etcetera have nothing to do with islam. She does not want to look away and she is of the opinion that all these things are connected to islam. 
  • when she talks about her political work (in and out of parliament) she does not mention the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders, with his strong anti-islam sentiment. They were together and worked together in parliament for the same political party. A remarkable omission. 
  • Ayaan describes her route from being an islamic believer to a more strict way of believing in her years in circles of the Brotherhood to the days that she became an infidel. To her this last step is a step into freedom. 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Infidel – 2007