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Volunteers Celebrate Ethiopian Millennium

Ethiopian people

On Tuesday the 11th of September 2007, Projects Abroad Volunteers in Ethiopia had the rare opportunity of (re)celebrating the millennium!

Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, also called the Ge'ez calendar, which consists of twelve months of thirty days each and a thirteenth month of five or six days, which are usually referred to as the 13th Month.

This ancient calendar has its roots in early Egyptian astronomic calculations, but was abandoned by other Christian nations in 1582, when they revised their estimate of the birth date of Christ, leaving Ethiopia as the only country in the world that follows this system.

As a result, the calendar is almost eight years behind the Western (Gregorian) Calendar, hence Wednesday 12th of September 2007 corresponding with 1st January (Meskerem) 2000.

The celebrations began on Tuesday night with the official countdown, and will continue all week, with the 12th-14th of September being declared national holidays. Thousands crammed into squares and sports grounds all over Addis, the largest being the central Meskel Square, and the huge Jan Meda Sports Ground, where police had to hold back the crowds of dancers all dressed in Red, Gold and Green; the countries’ national colours.

The official opening ceremony in Addis was held in a purpose built celebration hall sponsored by Ethiopian-Saudi billionaire Sheikh al-Amoudi – owner of the Palatial Sheraton Addis hotel. For the princely sum of $160, Addis’ elite, along with leaders from many foreign nations, were treated to a performance by the Hip-Hop group the Black Eyed Peas, and words of encouragement from Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

"A thousand years from now, when Ethiopians gather to welcome the fourth Millennium, they shall say the eve of the third Millennium was the beginning of the end of the dark ages in Ethiopia," he said. He, along with many Ethiopians, has high hopes that the new Millennium will bring peace and prosperity for East Africa, currently so caught up in violence and poverty.

At a recent meeting with a number of other African heads of state, Mr. Zenawi said "The last few centuries of the millennium have not been as glorious. Every generation of Ethiopians during those centuries has paid in blood to maintain our independence…We have come from being one of the most advanced nations on earth to being one of the poorest [however] we have begun to fight back the poverty."

As well as being a chance for a huge celebration, this coming of the Millennium also represents a fresh start for many Ethiopians, echoing Meles’ thoughts.

Thousands gathered at churches around Addis as the countdown began in order to be blessed and healed with Holy Waters by Orthodox priests, hoping for a cure to their ailments, and a blessing that the coming years may be prosperous.

Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis also gave nearly 18,000 prisoners a fresh start by pardoning them at the dawn of this new millennium, including around 230 political prisoners who had been sentenced following the contested 2005 elections.

Meles’ words mirror the optimism of Ethiopians as they enter this new era, despite the many problems this beautiful country has been wracked by. The images that are conjured in our minds when we hear the word Ethiopia don’t reflect the reality of this proud and dignified nation. Ethiopia is the only African nation never to have been colonized, the only country to have written down its own history in it’s own script, and the proud home for the last eight years of the headquarters of the African Union.

Throughout the next week, Projects Abroad Director, Samson Workneh, and the volunteers currently in Ethiopia, will be attending a number of parades and religious services along with our partner organizations and some host families.

We wish you all a happy new Millennium!

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