Ethiopia: From a Different Time

Ethiopian Calendar

After the 911 attacks on the two towers of New York more than a decade ago, all the Ethiopians that call these towers their workplace were taken in for questioning. The police had a good reason to believe that they were potential suspects. Now, how did these people who are from a country that is allies with the US and moved to the land of opportunities to get the taste of the “American dream” end up being suspects for the terrorist attack? The reason is amusing;

As one can imagine when the Ethiopians were rounded up and taken in to the interrogation rooms they were undoubtedly shaking with fear and some might have even wet their pants. But this panic and fear that can be read from these Ethiopians’ faces can only be mistaken for culpability for the first 5 minutes of the questioning, till the million dollar question was asked; ‘Why were you not at work on the day of the attack?’ The interrogators surely have heard it all when it comes to reasons, lies and alibis. But not this reason, not ever. And the reason was

‘It was New Year’s Day, It was a holiday’

I’m sure the questions that followed were something like ‘in mid-2001?!’, ‘in September?!’, ‘and why in God’s name on the 11th?’ but little did they know; it was not 2001 for Ethiopians, it was not September and it sure was not the 11th in the land of thirteen months of sunshine, oh yes, thirteen months!

It was Meskerem 01, 1994.

Breaking Down Ethiopian Calendar and Time System

This calendar system belongs to the Orthodox Tewahido churches and Coptic Orthodox Church and it is used by the whole of Ethiopia and Eritrea (once part of Ethiopia) as a primary calendar system.

The Year

It is believed that the difference between the Ethiopian and the Gregorian calendar system came about when the counting started. Somebody was lazy? No!

The Orthodox churches believe that the Ethiopian calendar started counting from the year of the birth of Jesus and that is why the Ethiopian year is called ‘Amete Mihret’ meaning ‘year of mercy’.    And this means that the Gregorian calendar must have started somewhere between 7 and 8 years before the birth of Christ. Who knows the birth year of Jesus more than the church really, right?!

The Months and Days

The Ethiopian year is consisted of thirteen months, lucky people huh! Well, not too lucky. Why? Let me explain.

Just like the rest of the world the Ethiopian year has 365 days and 366 on a leap year. But here’s the trick; the first twelve months of the year have 30 days each, and that means that at the end of the twelve months there will be 5 or 6(leap year) more days left to enjoy before calling it a year. And that is when the thirteen month ‘Pagume’ is born determined to entertain the extra few days that the rest of the months couldn’t handle.

The Ethiopian new year starts on the Meskerem 01 which the 11th of September for the rest of the world and it ends on Pagume 05 which is the 10th of September.

The Time

I know what you are wondering, there is no way that the time could be different?! Ohh yes! If you are Ethiopian there is a way.

Since Ethiopia is located close to the equator, the land enjoys an equally shared 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night throughout the year. So when the sun is out and it is day the Ethiopians start the new day which is at 1 se’at (7am for the rest of the world) and when the sun sets and it is dark the Ethiopian  night time starts which is at 1 se’at (7pm). The day changes when the sun rises and the time system counts the lengths of day and night.

There is no AM and PM in Ethiopia so to distinguish the difference between AM and PM all you have to say is Qen or Mata (day or night). Get it?

So 8 se’at Qen is 2 PM and 8 se’at Mata is 2 AM. Quite fascinating really.

Pros

  • You will get to enjoy two New Year’s celebrations and two Christmases.
  • Christmas is on Tahisas 29 7th of January, more time to buy presents.

Cons

  • The time system is confusing for expats to arrange meetings and appointments untill they get used to it. Or untill they start saying 2pm ‘ferenji time’ (meaning foreigner time) at least.

Bottom Line

No need to fantasize about time travel after watching all these Hollywood sci-fi movies. Buy a round trip ticket to Ethiopia. One to the past, one back to the future.

Ethiopian Calendar: Gregorian Calendar:
Meskerem (New Year) 11 September – 10 October
Tikimt 11 October – 9 November
Hidar 10 November – 9 December
Tahsas 10 December – 8 January
Tir 9 January – 7 February
Yakatit 8 February – 9 March
Maggabit 10 March – 8 April
Miyazya 9 April – 8 May
Ginbot 9 May – 7 June
Se’ne 8 June – 7 July
Hamle 8 July – 6 August
Nehase 7 August – 6 September
Pagume 6 – 10 September
Written by Guta Wakuma
When faced with the atrocities of different sorts of life, Guta likes to tell people that his day time job is branding and communications and that he has no middle name to differentiate him from all the other Gutas in Addis Ababa.