A&K Expert: Dawit Teferi

Dawit Teferi brings over a decade of experience as a licensed tour guide to his role as A&K Resident Tour Director.
January 2020

Dawit Teferi brings over a decade of experience as a licensed tour guide to his role as A&K Resident Tour Director.

In addition to an in-depth knowledge of the country, Dawit Teferi is a noted academic researcher. He holds a Master’s Degree in history from Addis Ababa University and has had numerous papers published, including an in-depth research of inter-community relationships in the Omo Valley and how paintings found in Ethiopian churches provide historical knowledge about subjects as diverse as hagiography and slavery. Earlier this year, his book ‘Visiting Ethiopian Churches’ was published.

Travellers have praised Dawit for his professionalism, broad knowledge and ability to entertain with fascinating stories. He shared the following with us:

What inspired you to work in travel?

As a child I used to read Ethiopian history books and was fascinated by the likes of Axum, Lalibela and Gondar. It was my dream to visit these places but my family was in no position to do so. Once at university, the opportunity of travelling to these historic sites in northern Ethiopia presented itself so I headed off to explore. After graduating, I realised a life in travel would allow me to regularly visit all these places and more so I undertook a guiding course shortly thereafter.

What is your earliest travel memory?

Visiting the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, unofficially known as “the Eighth Wonder of the World”. It’s almost impossible to believe that these ancient rock-cut churches, dating to the 12th century, still function as places of worship. Even after more than ten years visiting Lalibela, I never tire of sharing the incredible site with my guests, particularly Bet Giyorgis for Sunday Mass.

Name a favourite location in Ethiopia.

There’s a particular viewpoint at Aymetre in the Simien Mountains National Park which is absolutely breathtaking and an unforgettable picnic spot just a short walk from the road. Jagged peaks loom all around with alpine meadows where exotic plants grow. It’s an otherworldly experience.

What is one of the most interesting things you’ve learnt through your research work into Ethiopian church art?

What has been fascinating to learn is that in executing church paintings almost all Ethiopia’s church artists based their themes on written accounts such as hagiographies (biographies of saints or ecclesiastical leaders) and the Book of Saints of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. For instance, I found out that the scene of the Apparition of the Virgin Mary in Egypt is based on stories found only in ancient Geez (ancient Ethiopian church language) on parchment manuscripts. To the best of my knowledge, no other researcher has ever found the textual basis of the Apparition of the Virgin Mary.

Name your favourite dish and the best place to get it.

Enjera the staple food in Ethiopia is my favourite dish. It is a pancake-like fermented bread made out of teff, a tiny cereal mainly grown in my country, and eaten with a variety of stews or sauces. There are many good enjera restaurants in Ethiopia but my favourite is Dashen in Addis Ababa and the Four Sisters in Gondar.

What might travellers be interested to know about Ethiopia?

It is the second country (after Armenia) to accept Christianity as a state religion. The official calendar is seven to eight years behind the Western calendar. It is currently 2012. Ethiopia has never been colonised which is the reason it has kept its indigenous culture and language.

What’s next on the radar for adventurous travellers in your country?

The Danakil Depression in the far north of the country is the new frontier. It is the lowest (125m below sea level) and hottest place on Earth – boasting a mesmerising landscape of colourful hot springs, lava flows, salt pans, sulphur springs, mineral lakes and volcanoes. It is also the region where Lucy (the famous 3.2 million year old fossil) and many other hominid fossils have been discovered.

Do you have a favourite hotel in Ethiopia?

Limalimo Lodge in the Simien Mountains is small and simply furnished but with a breathtaking location on the edge of an escarpment. Sustainably designed, the lodge has been built in the rammed earth style favoured in rural Ethiopia that blends perfectly into the surrounds. I hope to see more small lodges like this one popping up around the country.

In your travels through the ethnic villages of the south, what is one of the most memorable experiences you had?

I was lucky enough to time one of my visits with the Hamar cattle jumping ceremony. The Hamar is one of the most famous tribes of the Omo Valley and it is every Hamar boy’s rite of passage to take part in the ceremony which involves running across the back of seven to 10 steers without falling. Traditionally taking place in October or November, it is hard to pinpoint the date in advance as the area is very remote with poor communications so the date may only be known a few days ahead of time.

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