ONE Moms in Ethiopia: Churches & monasteries

ONE Moms in Ethiopia: Churches & monasteries


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ONE Mom Karen Walrond traveled with ONE to Ethiopia this October as the official photographer. This piece, originally published on Chookooloonks, is part of our ongoing coverage of the trip.

My time in Ethiopia, while brief, was really crammed with so much that we saw and did that If I wrote a post for each and every little thing that I noted or experienced or that impacted me in some way, I’d likely be writing until the end of the year. So, I’ve decided to organize everything in categories, which means that you’re in for some pretty image-rich posts this week. If you find them overwhelming, then mission accomplished: because Ethiopia is nothing if not sensory overload, in the best possible way. And it seems only fitting that I start with the church of Ethiopia, because Ethiopia is one of the most (possibly the most) mystically spiritual places I’ve ever visited in my life.

I mentioned last week that I arrived before the main delegation did, which gave me a day to myself — great, because it allowed me to get a bit acclimated to my surroundings. One of our drivers, a great guy named Kiru, offered to drive Ginny and I around Addis, to visit the markets, and also pick up a few necessities for the upcoming week. Once we were done, Kiru looked at us:

“How much time do you have? Do you have to get back to the hotel?”

“No, what did you have in mind?”

“I want to take you to the cathedral. It’s really great — and it’s where Emperor Haile Selassie is buried. My treat.”

Well, we could hardly say no to that. Kiru drove Ginny and me to Holy Trinity Cathedral, secured a guide, and we were off.


I will admit to you that I knew (and know) very little about the Ethiopian Orthodox Church other than it is related to most Coptic Churches. I had assumed that its services were like Catholic masses, but now, I’m not so sure. There seems to be a strong relationship to Judaism, and the Star of David commonly appears (although not as prevalent as the beautifully intricate Ethiopian crosses that were everywhere). I do know that the Holy Trinity Cathedral is very, very beautiful.


We were required to take our shoes off before entering the church. The image above was taken looking up the nave of the church toward the altar; my understanding is that during services, the men all sit on the left of the church, and the women on the right.

Our guide demonstrated the drum that is used during the service. The drum has two different tones: a deep, bass one when one side of the drum is struck, and a more tenor tone for the other side. One tone represents the Old Testament and the other the New Testament. It was really beautiful.

When we got to the top of the church, we entered the area where Emperor Haile Selassie (background) and his wife consort, the Empress Menen Asfaw (foreground) are buried. I’m not Rastafarian, but I know that Emperor Selassie is viewed by those who practice as God incarnate. In my Catholic high school in Trinidad, the book Brother Man was required reading, a novel which tells the story of a gentle Rastafarian whose character is not unlike Jesus; growing up in the West Indies, therefore, I was aware of Emperor Selassie’s special significance. And so here’s where I confess that I got a bit of thrill actually touching his sarcophagus.


The image above was taken at the top of the church, looking down the aisle to the back of the nave. The thrones on the left and the right of the frame are where Emperor Selassie and his wife used to sit. And the priest on the left followed us silently while we were touring the church. I loved his face.


The image above is the dome above the altar, showing the beautiful murals illustrating various stories from the Bible, as well as well as various historic events commemorating the liberation of Ethiopia from Italian occupation. So stunning.

But this trip wasn’t the only sacred site I visited while in Ethiopia: on our last day in Bahir Dar, a city in northwest Ethiopia, we also visited one of the monasteries on Lake Tana. Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile River (which, with the White Nile River, combine to make the Great Nile), and there are several monasteries on islands in the lake that have been there for centuries. We took a boat to one of the islands to visit.


Not that boat. That boat is made of papyrus. I swear, sometimes I thought images from the Bible were just appearing in front of me. So awesome.

Our boat looked like this.


After about 40 minutes, we approached the island. Once we arrived, we took the short hike up to the monastery.


Before entering the monastery, we had to remove our shoes, and this time, we were told to cover our heads.

And then, we entered.


The walls of the monastery were covered in murals that we were told were over 700 years old.


Absolutely incredible. A few of the monks smiled silently at us as we took it all in.

So much to contemplate as we returned to Bahir Dar.

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So yes, Ethiopia is an incredibly spiritual place, and I hope that these images convey this, because it’s the perfect backdrop to lay context to all the faith and hard work that propels the amazing successes happening in Ethiopia with regard to agriculture, food security, and health and medical advances and safety. And these success are what we were there to witness.

But those are stories for later this week. Stay tuned, friends.


Song: Minilik by Teddy Afro. Teddy Afro is a very famous Ethiopian performer, and when I was leaving Ethiopia, knowing how much I’d enjoyed listening to Teddy Afro on our long road trips, Kiru gifted me with his latest album. This song is the first track.


I spent last week in Ethiopia at the kind invitation and expense of The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. ONE works to convince governments to invest in smart programs that help eliminate poverty and preventable disease in a sustainable way. During the next week or so, I’ll be supporting a group of parenting bloggers by capturing images that tell the story of how the organizations for which ONE advocates are effecting real change in Ethiopia.

If you’re moved by anything you read or see here, on the ONE blog or any of the ONEMoms’ blogs and you’d like to help, please consider adding your voice, and join ONE by simply filling out the surprisingly short form in my sidebar on the right, at the very top. Your information will remain confidential, I promise. And if you’re already a member, and would still like to help, I’d love if you’d spread the word by sharing this post with your friends and followers.

That’s all there is to it. Because ONE never asks for your money, just your voice.

Photo credit: Karen Walrond/ONE


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