Ethiopia Trip Info

Note: Since this trip is now complete, the trip info has been condensed into one (very long) page, with the following sections:

Basics: Food, Water, Shelter, Money

Building in Ethiopia/Meet the Community

Customs and Culture

Facts and Figures

Health and Safety


Logistics: Flights, Visas, and Scheduling

Packing: What to bring


Basics: Food, Water, Shelter, Money

Food & Water

Breakfast will be eaten at the hotel in Harar before we depart for the worksite each day; there will be a lunch break every day at the worksite, with lunch provided on site. The evening meals will be eaten at the hotel or other restaurants in Harar- get ready for some delicious Ethiopian cuisine!

If you have any special dietary needs, please let me know so that provisions can be made to assure your needs are met.

Hydration is very important on GV builds- bottled water will be available at all times on-site and with meals. Some participants choose to bring electrolyte drink powders (Gatorade, Powerade) to add to the water, or gels (typically used by runners). You’ll be sweating a lot!

More info about food, from Habitat Ethiopia:

In Ethiopia, traditional food is prepared mainly from cereals, meat, milk and milk products. In most parts of the country Wat, a hot spicy stew accompanied by injera (traditional large spongy pancake made of teff flour and water) is used as staple food. Teff, rich in iron and vary in color, is unique to the country and is grown on the Ethiopian highlands. There are many varieties of Wat, chicken, beef, lamb, vegetables, lentils, and ground split peas stewed with hot spice called berbere.

Berbere is made of dried red hot pepper, herbs, spices, dried onions, garlic and salt. Wat is served by placing it on top of the injera which is served in a mesob (large basket tray). The food is eaten with fingers by tearing off a piece of injera and dipping it in the wat.

Vegetarian food such as lentils, ground split peas, grains, fruit, varieties of vegetable stew accompanied by injera and/or bread are also served, specially during orthodox Christian fasting days. In law land areas porridge from maize, sorghum and barley is used as main food. Fish is common in major river valleys and lakes region.

The favourite drink of many Ethiopians is bunna (coffee). It is served in a traditional way known as a “coffee ceremony”. First the coffee is roasted, then ground and placed in a Jebena (coffee pot) with boiling water. When ready it is then served to people in cups, up to three times per ceremony.

Other locally produced beverages are tella and tej, which are served on major religious festivals, Saints Days and weddings. Tella and tej are also sold by numerous designated commercial houses all over the country. Bear and vines with varieties are also served in hotels, bars, restaurants, and at home.


Our first night will be spent at a hotel in Addis Ababa. After that, we will be staying at a hotel in Harar. Please keep in mind that hotels in Ethiopia do not have all of the luxuries of western hotels (e.g. elevators, constantly-available hot water, internet, etc). Make sure that you are able to carry your suitcase up a flight of stairs if you need to! You will share a hotel room with a team member of the same sex. Minors will stay with parents. I do not post the names of our hotels online for safety reasons, but you should have received an email with the hotel names and phone numbers, which you can give to your family/friends in case of emergency.

Valuables such as electronics or expensive jewelry are best left at home!

Electric outlets are 220-240 volts (50Hz cycles). If you plan to bring any electrical appliance, please make sure it can handle a 220V outlet. If not, you will need a converter/transformer. Ethiopian outlets accept round two-pronged plugs, so you may need a converter or adapter, depending on your country of origin. US electrical devices will need an adapter or converter.


Your trip cost covers your housing, transportation, food, and cultural activities; the only money you need to bring is for any personal souvenirs or extra purchases you may wish to make and for departure tax at the airport ($20 USD). Amounts will vary widely from person to person; in general, $100-200 should be more than enough. (Per Habitat policy, alcohol cannot be covered by trip funds, so if you wish to have a beer with dinner, you will need to pay for that separately.) You will be able to exchange money in Addis Ababa before we leave for the building site- USD and Euro have the best exchange rates, so it’s best to bring those.


 Building in Ethiopia/Meet the Community

Please read the following pdf for information about how construction is carried out in Ethiopia! There is also a small section on cultural norms that you will find helpful:

Construction Tool Kit Ethiopia

Please note that while you should bring a good pair of gloves, the constructions materials themselves will be provided on site!


Meet the Community:

(Photos courtesy of Marty van Der Burg)

BESEDEMO JAN14 (135)Abdala_ Amenah_ Maemaed_ Ahmad_ Dabo_ Bontu











A family in Bisidemo; the father has been affected by leprosy.












A house currently being built; an existing home is on the right.













The village of Bisidemo




New Habitat home being built next to an old home.





















Customs and Culture

The following information has been provided by our hosts:

As many of us cross over cultural borders, it would be fitting for us to respect, learn, and understand more about the effective, yet powerful “silent language” of gestures.  Gestures and body languages communicate as effectively as words- maybe even more effectively.

Common Gestures that need attention while you are in Ethiopia:

  • Handshaking
  • Bowing
  • Avoid direct eye contact
  • It is considered rude to get hands in your pockets, especially when greeting someone or when addressing a group of people.
  • To beckon someone, the palm faces downward and the fingers are moved in a scratching motion.
  • Avoid using fingers in pointing to an object.
  • Also, avoid using your feet to gesture or to move or touch other objects because the feet are considered lowly and dirty.
  • Respect to elderly people
  • Smiling often can cover a range of emotions: happiness, anger, confusion, apologies, or sadness.
  • Displaying an open mouth (such as yawning or a wide-open laugh) is considered rude.
  • Silence (listening) is a sign of politeness and of contemplation. During conversations, be especially careful about interrupting.
  • When walking in public places, direct eye contact and staring is uncommon. However, in smaller communities, visitors may be the subject of much curiosity and therefore you may notice some stares.
  • On public streets, spitting and blowing the nose without the benefit of a handkerchief is fairly uncommon
  • Crossing the legs at the knee or ankles is the preferred form rather than with one ankle over the other knee.
  • It is considered impolite to enter a room without knocking first.
  • Holding hand is common, but avoid any prolonged form of body contact.
  • Public displays of affection are very rare. On the other hand, you may note people of the same sex walking hand-in-hand, which is simply a gesture of friendship.
  • Don’t worry about a bit of pushing and shoving when groups board public buses or taxis. Apologies are neither offered nor expected.

Specific clothing

In most parts of the country, men wear coats, trousers, shirts, sweets and other under wears. Women wear dresses and in towns and some rural areas they wear trousers.  In Addis Ababa and other major towns there is no specific dressing style, varying from jeans, suits, shirts, etc. for both men and women.

Foreigners can wear based on their choices. But it is preferable for women to keep dresses or trousers just below their knees when they are in rural areas. 



The main religions in Ethiopia are Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Waqefecha and other indigenous beliefs. Christianity began in Ethiopia when two Syrian Christians (Frumentius and Aedissius) came to Aksum and started to teach about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. Frumentius and Aedissius influenced King Ezana, who ruled Aksum in the early part of the fourth century, and successfully converted him to Christianity. In addition to Orthodox Christians there are also considerable number of Protestant and Catholic Christians in Ethiopia.

Islam was introduced to Ethiopia in 615 AD when the followers of Prophet Mohammed, including his wife sought refuge in Aksum. The king of Aksum welcomed them, respected their religion and offered them protection. They later settled in Negash, east of Tigray, which became the foundation and one of the most important places for the Islamic faith in Ethiopia.

Waqefecha is practiced in some parts of Oromia region and  indigenous religious beliefs are common in Gambella, Southern Peoples’ State and Oromia administrative regions. These regions also contain considerable animist communities.


Cultural and traditional preferences(not obligatory, recommended)

Some of the traditional preferences are listed below.

  • Greetings are important, please try to learn them.
  • Holding hand is common between friends regardless of gender, when having a personal discussion, or sometimes when walking.
  • Better to remove hat when greeting.
  • Preferable to bow head and shake hands when greeting.
  • Better to rise when someone enters the room.
  • More preferable to shake with right hand and support with left while greeting.
  • Advisable not to smell food before eating it.
  • If you don’t want to eat particular type of food, you can say ,’No, thanks!’

Prohibited practices:

  • Ask permission before taking pictures at government offices, military institutions, police and airports.
  • Some families may not allow alcoholic drinks or smoking of cigarettes in their homes.
  • Smoking is not accepted when you are invited to some one’s home and in restaurants as well.


Facts and Figures

The following is information provided by our hosts about Ethiopia:

Habitat Ethiopia

Habitat for Humanity started its operations in Ethiopia in 1990, when the first affiliate was approved in Addis Ababa. The affiliate consisted of several housing cooperatives, which had separately petitioned to Habitat for Humanity International for assistance in constructing houses. Many of the affiliate members had first heard about Habitat through American missionaries working in Ethiopia.

In 1993, the National Office was opened, the first National Coordinator was appointed, and HFH Ethiopia was registered by the Ethiopian government. A new affiliate was set up in Wolayta Sodo, and construction of  houses began in Addis Ababa and 43 Wolayta Sodo.


Located in the horn of Africa, Ethiopia is a country with long history. The Afar region, in the north east of the country is called the ‘cradle of mankind’ due to the discoveries of large numbers of hominid fossils aged to millions of years.

Its history extended to Axumite civilization. Axum is home to many other extensive historical sites. Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia in the fourth century, and the seventh century witnessed the rise of Islam. A century of religious conflict followed resulting in the expulsion of all foreign missionaries in the 1630s.

In 1855, Emperor Tewodros brought many of the princes together for unification. He was succeeded by Emperor Yohannes, who built upon the efforts made by Tewodros, as well as beating off foreign invaders.

Emperor Menelik II reigned from 1889 to 1913. Following the death of Emperor Menelik II Lij Iyasu(young prince) became the sitting king. The nobility deposed Iyasu  and  Menelik’s daughter, Zewditu became Empress.

Zewditu died in 1930, her cousin Ras Teferi Mekonen – adopting the name Haileselassie – became Emperor. Haileselassie was deposed in 1974 and a provisional council of soldiers (the Derg, meaning committee) seized power.

In May 1991, the EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa forcing Mengistu to flee to Zimbabwe. In 1991, the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) was set up from the EPRDF and other political parties in the country.

Other Facts about Ethiopia

Ethiopia is the second populous nation in Africa next to Nigeria. According to Central Statistics Agency (July 2012), the population of Ethiopia is 84.3 million with the annual growth rate of 2.7%.  There are about 80 different ethnic groups with their respective languages and as many, if not less, cultural varieties.

Ethiopia’s landscape is terrain, a mixture of rugged mountains throughout its central plateau and lowland in its entire frontier. The climate is moderate, with deserts and semi arid in the northeast and southeast. It is believed to be the place where coffee is discovered for the first time. The country is rich in minerals including gold, copper and platinum.

Ethiopia is also rich in wild lives; some of them are endemic to the country.  Most of the wild lives are concentrated in more than 10 national parks and reserves. The majority of Ethiopian lakes are located in the Great East African Rift Valley, but Tana, the largest lake, is in the highland near the town of Bahr Dar. There are also rivers, among which the Abay(blue Nile) is the longest river in the world flowing into Mediterranean sea.

  Population: 84.3 million  
  Capital: Addis Ababa  
  Area: 1.1 million Km2  
  Ethnics Groups: Oromo 36.7%, Amhara 23.3%, SNNP 20.4% and Tigre 5.8%  
  Languages:Amharigna, Oromigna, Tigrinya,  Sidamigna Guragigna, Somaligna  are the main languages in terms of population. English, French  and Arabic  are spoken in Addis Ababa and other towns.  


Housing, Water and Sanitation Needs

According to some housing and urban development agencies a housing unit is substandard if it is dilapidated, that is, it  does not provide safe and adequate shelter, endangers the health, safety or well being of a family in its present condition and has one or more critical defects. HFH Ethiopia also defines poverty housing as one or more of the following conditions:

  • broken walls and leaking roofs
  • too narrow for a family, overcrowded
  • no toilets and kitchens
  • no or inadequate access to potable water
  • infected with pests
  • no adequate ventilation

In Ethiopia, almost 90 percent of the urban houses in are with (1.3 million housing units) have poor type walls. Houses in slum areas are old and dilapidated and too narrow to accommodate families, where the health and dignity of families is compromised. There is not enough and clean space for children to study and grow well. Most families who live in dilapidated homes in slum areas share a latrine; most homes lack dedicated kitchen space.

Combined with poverty housing, the lack of potable water is a critical challenge to most families. In urban Ethiopia only 27% of the total housing units have access to piped water within the compound they live in while access to tap inside house is found to be only 3%. One in five housing units in urban Ethiopia get water to drink from open wells or rivers. Families are susceptible to illness and diseases caused by poor sanitation and contaminated water supplies.

In the capital city Addis Ababa, 80% of the houses are in poor condition and below standard. The water supply satisfies only 60% of the demand of the population. 24% of the households do not have any form of toilet facility and 63% use shared pit latrines. 25% of the solid waste generated from the city is left unattended.

Mostly for poor families, there are no water points within reasonable and or acceptable distances. When water is obtained from individual retailers, costs are 10-20 times greater for the poor compared to water municipal water supplies.

Only 18 per cent of households in Addis Ababa have access to sanitation facilities. Poor families do not have toilets at all or use too bad toilets that are nearly abandoned. Bad toilets are without walls and roofs which makes them very difficult to use, particularly during the rainy season. Families who do not have toilets go to nearby rivers or even use plastic bags and containers to dispose human waste into storm water ditches, sewers, or even rivers. There are very few or no agencies who are attempting to address these problems in a regular, sustainable and on-going manner.

HFHE’s response to housing, water and sanitation needs

The HFH National Office in Addis Ababa frequently receives applications from communities interested in HFH’s affiliation. The needs for decent housing especially among the vulnerable groups are increasing exponentially and HFHE continuous to respond to these pressing needs.

By June 2012, the number of houses built with support of Habitat rises to 2140 serving same number of families.

HFH has provided 5931 improved kitchens targeting low income and vulnerable families.

Under its Water and Sanitation project, HFHE has served 2659 families by constructing toilets and communal water points in Addis Ababa and other affiliates.


 Health and Safety

Medical Insurance

Medical insurance is included in your trip cost- please see the information in your orientation packet for details. The medical insurance covers you for the official dates of the trip (April 11-20). If you plan to extend your trip any longer, you are of course responsible for your own medical insurance.

Embassy Registration

Though it is not required, I would highly encourage you to register with your country’s embassy to inform them of your trip to Ethiopia. In the event of an emergency, this helps your embassy to know that you are in the country and to provide you with any assistance you may need. This is also helpful in more minor cases, such as a lost passport.

US citizens can register their trip plans online at

New Zealand citizens can register online at

Canadian citizens can register online at


Habitat for Humanity cannot make individual medical recommendations on vaccines or medicines needed for participants- please check with your personal healthcare provider for any final vaccines or medications that you need for the trip!

In Ethiopia, I will have a first aid kit with us at all times. Our hosts will also have contacts for doctors, dentists, and hospitals should the need arise. Please be sure that your emergency contact’s info is current!


Participants should not carry valuables (electronics or jewelry) or large amounts of money. There will be a safety deposit box at the hotel, but valuables are generally better left at home. Do bring a camera to document our build, but make sure to keep an eye on it at all times!



The following information has been provided by our hosts in Ethiopia:


Ethiopia has 83 different languages with up to 200 different dialects spoken. The largest ethnic and linguistic groups are the Oromos, Amharas and Tigrayans. The Ethiopian languages are divided into four major families. These are Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic, and Nilo-Saharan. The Semitic languages are spoken in northern, central and eastern Ethiopia (mainly in Tigray, Amhara, Harar and northern part of the Southern Peoples’ regions).

The Cushitic languages are common in central, southern and eastern Ethiopia (mainly in Afar, Oromia and Somali regions). The Omotic languages are predominantly spoken between the Lakes of southern Rift Valley and the Omo River.

The Nilo-Saharan languages are largely spoken in the western part of the country along the border with Sudan (mainly in Gambella and Benshangul regions).


Useful phrases in English and Amharic

Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia and is widely spoken in most part of the country. Here are a few words and expressions for basic communication.

Talking to female and male

English                                 Amharic(female)                      Amharic(male)         

Good morning!                     Indet adersh!                                    Indet aderk!

Good afternoon!                  Indet walsh!                                      Indet walck!

Good evening!                      Indet ameshesh!                             Indet amesheh!

Are you fine?                        Dehna nesh?                                      Dehna neh!

How are you?                        Indet nesh                                         Indet neh

What is your name?            Simsh man newu?                           Simh man newu?

What do you want?             Min tifelegialesh?                            Min tifelegialeh?

Her/His                                   Yesua                                                    Yesu

Your                                         Yanchi                                                 Yante

Your                           —-        yenante(plural, for both)  —–

Please                                       Ibakish                                                 Ibakih

Thank you                              Ameseginalehu

Ok, I agree                             Ishii(with positive node)

No, I do not agree                Iyi(with negative node)

Other key words

English                                    Amharic      

Where is….?                         … yet newu?

My (mine)                                   Yenie

Thank you                                  Ameseginalehu

Food                                            Migi

Water                                         Wuha

Break fast                                   Qurs

Lunch                                          Misa

Dinner                                        Irat

Coffee                                         Bunaa

Bread                                          Dabo

House                                         Bet

Hotel                                           Hotel

My name is Jonny…           Simie Jonny Newu (Simie Jonny Yibalal)  Simie Jonny Newu



Logistics: Flights, Visas, and Scheduling


Thanks for sending your itinerary- if you are arriving on the 12th, Habitat Ethiopia will pick you up at the airport. (I will send out info individually to those who this applies to!) If you are arriving earlier to do some exploring on your own, you can meet us at the hotel in Addis on the 12th- I will send an exact time a few days before our arrival.


You should be receiving your business visas back from your respective embassies shortly- if you have any visa issues, please let me know as soon as possible. Habitat is happy to call embassies on your behalf if need be.


Our trip begins with a welcome and orientation in Addis Ababa on the afternoon of Saturday, April 12. We will spend the night in a hotel in Addis Ababa, and the next day we will take a group flight to Harar, where we will be staying during our build.

We will begin our workweek on Monday. Each day, we will eat breakfast at the hotel, and then travel from Harar to Bisidimo to build! Our days will go from roughly 8 am to 4 pm, with time for breaks. Lunch will be provided on-site. After our workday is finished, we will head back to Harar for showers, a nightly team meeting, and of course, dinner! On the last day of the workweek, we will have a farewell ceremony with the community.

At the close of our trip we will take a group flight from Harar back to Addis Ababa, and will spend the night of the 19th in Addis. On the 20th we will part ways- to either continue travels or return to our homes.


 Packing: What to Bring

General guidelines:

A packing list can be found in your orientation packet, but here are some general guidelines:


When packing clothing for the trip, please keep in mind our daily activities: we will be working during the day (bring clothes you don’t mind getting dirty) and after showering, will be eating dinner and socializing in the evenings (bring clothes other than working clothes). For the worksite, loose, comfortable clothing is best- think T-shirts or light long-sleeved shirts (for protection against sunburn and mosquito bites). It will be pretty dusty! Please note that in Ethiopia, women typically wear long skirts, always keeping their knees covered. Women team members don’t have to wear skirts, but please make sure that your knees are covered to respect the local custom. Pants or capris that cover the knees are are great! Men typically wear long pants rather than shorts- again, think light and loose!



Small backpack or bag to carry your things to the worksite or when we go out for dinner

Hand sanitzer

Insect repellent

Work gloves

A hat and/or a bandanna (bandanna can double as a sweat rag!)

Sunglasses, chapstick with SPF, and lots of sunscreen- it will be hot and bright!

Small flashlight, just in case

Any medication you may need

Zip-lock bags for soiled clothing

Shower shoes

Earplugs (you will be sharing a hotel room)

Power adapter and/or converter

A personal journal, if you care to record the daily activities

Rainjacket- it’s likely to be quite dry, but April is the very start of the rainy season in Ethiopia, so anything is possible! Check the weather closer to our time of departure to see the exact weather predictions!

A note on footwear: You must wear closed-toe shoes; you’ll notice that the list below says steel-toed boots are best. While this is true, you by no means need to go buy steel-toed boots. If you own them and want to bring them that’s great, but tennis shoes are fine! The main goal here is protecting your feet.

And of course, don’t forget your passport, ID, and money!


What not to bring:

Anything expensive or valuable

Large amounts of cash

Gifts for the village


As you have read in your Orientation Handbook, Habitat for Humanity has a very important policy on gift-giving. I’ve pasted it below, but essentially, giving gifts can cause major disturbances (even though you have the best possible intentions and may not even be aware of the effects of your gift.) If you would like to donate anything, we will give it to the affiliate, who will distribute it appropriately and fairly. You joining this trip is a huge gift in and of itself! See the policy below:

Habitat for Humanity takes a very strict stance on avoiding paternalism and fostering any sense of dependency or inequality among our partnering communities. Our Habitat partners have asked that team members not bring gifts such as radios, watches or special favors for individual families on any trip. The most well-intentioned and (from our perspective) most minor gift can often create jealousy, competition and enmity.

Donations to the local affiliate that benefit an entire community such as school supplies, small tools and clothing are welcome and appreciated and will be distributed by host affiliate personnel. We ask that your team leader always remain the first point of contact for this type of in-kind or monetary contribution.

Team members occasionally are approached by hosting community members about sponsoring a child in the community. This too is discouraged; Habitat strives to promote independence and personal capacity, not create dependence on others— especially those outside of their own community. Such acts of generosity also raise the community’s expectations of future GV teams. If you are interested in further supporting the host community, please contact your GV team leader.




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