13 Months of Sunshine
Would you like to go back in time?
Twelve months of 30 days and one month of 5 days. Yes, Ethiopia does really have 13 months, and being in the tropics it also has sunshine throughout the year. So the Ethiopian Tourism Commission adopted the slogan "13 months of sunshine" to promote Ethiopia as an all-year-round tourist destination. Visit Ethiopia and you will not only enjoy the wonderful climate but also go back in time.
Ethiopia's year has 13 months because it uses the old Julian calendar. Most Catholic countries adopted Pope Gregory XIII's more accurate calendar by 1584. In 1752 Great Britain (and the American colonies) accepted the Gregorian calendar. That year Britain's calendar jumped straight from 2 September to 14 September, eliminating 11 days to realign the old (Julian) calendar with the new (Gregorian) calendar. Japan accepted the Gregorian calendar in 1873, Greece in 1924, China in 1949. However, most Eastern Orthodox Churches still use the Julian calendar, as does Ethiopia, with its Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
If Ethiopia were to adopt the Gregorian calendar, it would have to jump ahead not just a few days but 7 years. That is how far the Julian calendar is now behind the Gregorian calendar, it being currently the year 2006 in Ethiopia.
Living in Ethiopia, I often have to convert between the Julian calendar, commonly called the Ethiopian calendar (EC), and the Gregorian calendar (GC). For example, 25 December 2013 is 16 Tahasas 2006, but in Ethiopia it is not Christmas Day, Christmas being celebrated by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians two weeks later on 7 January (GC).
Here I describe the 13 months of sunshine, which have beautiful Amharic names (Amharic being the official language of Ethiopia), and I hope you enjoy learning about the Ethiopian year.
All photographs on this lens are my own. Copyright Kate Fereday Eshete. All rights reserved.
New Year's Day, 1 Meskerem, falls on 11 September according to the Gregorian calendar (12 September on leap years). At this time of year the heavy rains are drawing to a close and with the change from wet season to dry season comes stormy weather.
One Meskerem, I walked the 13.6 miles from the town of Debark to my village. As I came down the escarpment a storm rolled in from the north. Along with three other travellers, I sheltered in a hut used by two militiamen guarding the road. Luckily, the heavy rain and hail missed us. We ventured outside and the men did a weather-check. It is not only in temperate areas that you can experience summer and winter in one day!
Just the gift for weather-watchers
This is one of the most durable handheld weather stations on the market, so very suitable for the mountains. Its jack-knife design prevents measurements being affected by a hot, sweaty hand, or a frozen one. It's waterproof and it floats!
I wonder what the five Ethiopian weather-watchers would make of this high-tech barometer! A basic weather station, it is easy to set up.
This classic barometer looks like one an old naval friend of mine had in the hallway of his waterfront house.
With schools having re-opening in Meskerem, in early Tikimpt I shop for Ethiopian-made shoes for the schoolchildren at Empress Mentewab School. Most of the sandals and flip-flops are made of brightly-coloured plastic.
Footwear is important because of the risk of picking up hookworms, which enter a child's bare feet, travel through the body and attach themselves to the wall of the gut, causing weakness and anaemia.
To protect the schoolchildren's feet and health, I give them each a new pair of sandals. This is done once a year, and more often if funds permit.
new shoes for infants
Empress Mentewab School, Ethiopia
- Empress Mentewab School
My family and I run Empress Mentewab School to provide the poor children in our community with a high-quality education. If you would like to cover the annual school fees for a schoolchild, the sponsorship cost is US$300. With the new school year b
the schoolchildren are thrilled to have sandals
A great time of year to visit Ethiopia
With the rainy season having ended and the countryside lush and green, Ethiopia looks its best in Hidar. Many tour operators have groups travelling around Ethiopia during this month.
In Hidar 2005 (EC) I was invited to join an English tour group visiting the Simien Mountains. We drove in a bus up to Chennek, at 12,000 feet. From there we had spectacular views of the mountains to the north-east, as well as the lowlands to the west.
The red-hot pokers on south-facing slopes were in flower. Usually they flower during the main rains, from Suni to Tikimpt, but where conditions are wetter (such as in the Simien Mountains) the flowering period extends to Tahasas.
Simien Mountains (view from Chennek to the north-east)
The dry season
By now it hasn't rained for a month or so and the countryside is beginning to look dry. It is hot during the day and can be cold at night.
At home the fruit on our peach trees are beginning to ripen. In another month some of them will be ready to pick. We shall have to compete with birds, squirrels and bats for the crop.
Pied crows visit our home and steal food from our cats' bowls.
Much of the rest of the planet is in the grip of Christmas and New Year. In Ethiopia life goes on as usual. (Christian Ethiopians enjoy a commerce-free Christmas next month.) Towards the end of Tahasas the Gregorian calendar's New Year is celebrated by other countries, but most Ethiopians are totally unaware of it.
Should Ethiopia conform?
Should Ethiopia adopt the Gregorian calendar?
Yes, Ethiopia should have the same calendar as the West because it would be easier for everyone.
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Treat yourself to a beautiful African calendar for 2014
Bringing the harvest in
In Ter farmers are busy harvesting. Farm animals such as cattle or horses are driven round in a circle so that their hooves thresh the gathered crop on the ground, separating the grain from the straw. Afterwards the farmers will winnow the grain to remove chaff. This involves somebody throwing the grain into the air while someone else wafts out the chaff using an animal skin.
The lush green vegetation from the last rainy season has all died off. However, some plants have evolved to flower at this time.
This month has two important Christian festivals - Christmas and Epiphany.
farmers at work
Building work in progress
Yikatit is a good month to do building work. Long, dry grass is available for thatching, so thatchers are busy building and repairing thatches. Stone-breakers split big stones into fragments to be used in building projects.
In Yikatit 2005 (EC), a stone-breaker worked to split stones to be used to make the foundations of footpaths, paved playing areas, and floors at Empress Mentewab School. A thatcher made the roof of the sand-pit. All the buildings at Empress Mentewab School are thatched, although a couple of them have thatch laid over sheets of corrugated-metal to provide additional protection from heavy rain.
thatcher at work
Our cats love the hot, dry weather in the middle of the dry season. They explore the garden and climb trees. They bask in the sunshine. Sometimes they retreat inside the house to sleep in the shade.
We have a cat colony, having no way to neuter our cats. Ethiopian vets learn how to castrate and spay dogs when they study Veterinary Medicine at university but they are not taught to neuter cats. We would like to give kittens away, but they never thrive in Ethiopian households and usually die, so now we keep them all. Even so some of our kittens are victims of the killer viruses, for which inoculations are not available here. Because of this, we are not overrun by cats. It's natural selection - the weak die and the strong live. The kittens we lose are happy and loved while they live their short lives, and that's the main thing. I dream of a foreign vet coming to visit us and neutering and vaccinating our cats. I hope it happens one day.
(from left to right) Lily and Rose, with Cassandra Trebuchet
My birthday month
In Britain I used to celebrate my birthday in April with spring showers. It was never quite hot enough for my taste. But here in Ethiopia my birthday falls in Meazia, which is a very hot month, being at the end of the long dry season. Now I am guaranteed a hot, sunny birthday, which is just what I like!
My favourite fruit is the banana and these are plentiful in Meazia. We buy them very cheaply by the bucketful. We have planted many banana trees on our land and hope to savour our own crops of bananas in future.
When a Hemprich's hornbill appeared outside our house one Meazia, my husband said, "Rain's coming". And, sure enough, a day or so later we had a short, sharp shower of rain, which freshened everything up nicely. It is a reminder that the rainy season is only weeks away, so it's time to go and buy an umbrella!
The last month of the dry season
Ginbot is a very hot month. Usually it is dry, but sometimes the rains begin early and so the end of Ginbot is wet and humid. At this time of year, we make sure anything that might be damaged by rain is put under cover. After only a few showers of rain, the parched ground becomes green with growing vegetation. There is an increase in insect activity, with army ants marching across the compound and termites eating the leaves off the saplings we have planted. We see lone locusts, but have never seen a cloud of them.
At Empress Mentewab School the new buildings have freshly thatched roofs that are golden in colour. By the end of the rainy season the roofs will be dark brown like the first classroom, which was built in 2012.
signs of green growth at Empress Mentewab School
The heavy rains arrive
The school year is drawing to a close. The rains begin in earnest in early Suni. Because the season is changing, it is often stormy, with strong winds and pea-sized hailstones. Most Ethiopian houses are made of a mud-straw mix plastered over a wooden frame. Wind and hail can damage thatched or corrugated-metal roofs and wash away the mud rendering on walls. This is the time of year when the risk of damage to buildings is greatest.
The damp conditions suit fungi, which grow in many different sizes and colours.
We have a rescued bitch, Melita, who has not yet been spayed. Every year she has two litters of puppies, which we give away. Before the rains set in, we find families for the puppies so that they can get settled in their new homes before the worst of the Ethiopian "winter".
Melita and her puppies
The rainy season
The schools close in early Hamble. Now there is heavy rain daily. Because thick cloud obscures the sun, the temperature drops. Big, noisy storms roll off the Simien Mountains on top of us, with wind, hail, thunder and lightning. We huddle indoors! There are power cuts lasting days, weeks - even a whole month, as happened in Hamble 2005 (EC). We cook on a wood fire under cover outside. In the evening we light candles, but go to bed early. I like to listen to audiobooks but the thundering of the hail on the corrugated-metal roof can be so loud I can't hear a thing, despite having the earphones in my ears! Sometimes we wake to find haildrifts outside and the children have fun making hailballs!
Despite the bad weather, it is unusual not to have sunshine for at least part of each day during the rainy season.
The month with the heaviest rain
During Nehasi it buckets down with rain every day. Our tall red rose bush enjoys the humid conditions and flowers profusely. The scent of the rose is exquisite and is one of my favourite smells.
By now Ethiopia's reservoirs and lakes are full. Rivers are swollen and dangerous. Bridges, cars, people and animals are washed away. There are landslides and mudslides on mountainsides. Every rainy season there are fatalities because of the heavy rain.
In Nehasi 2005 (EC), a family of four wattled ibises (parents and two youngsters) visited us and liked to walk noisily across our roof. They stayed about ten days before leaving. Wattled ibises are found in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where they are common. They have a very distinctive kowrr-kowrr-kowrr call.
tall rose bush in the rain
The thirteenth month
Quagme is only 5 days long (6 days in leap years). Workers are not paid for the month of Quagme. It's a time when everyone's thoughts are turning to New Year's Day on 1 Meskerem. Many people give their homes and businesses a thorough deep clean (a "spring clean") before New Year. They move all the furniture out and scrub the floors.
Cattle, sheep, goats and chickens are bought ready for slaughtering at home to celebrate New Year. Sometimes families club together to buy an animal and the meat is shared between then. My family is vegetarian so we don't participate in the mass slaughter.
And so the Ethiopian year comes to an end. The cloud disperses, the rains ease and the land is warmed once again by glorious sunshine. After New Year, the schools will open for the new academic year.
Before reading this lens, did you know that there are countries that do not use the Gregorian calendar? Do you know of other countries or peoples that use different calendars?