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Ethiopia Musing: 3) Time and Date

 Clock, courtesy Wikimedia


I tend to be a bit of a time conscious freak. Consequently, I look at calendars and clocks with some regularity. You can imagine my surprise on Monday morning at 6:30 am when I went down for breakfast to see that the clock said 00:30 am.  I chalked it up to “African time,” i.e., the clock was not working. I thought I would watch the television in the dining room as it was set to a news station, and wondered why it said 2007.  I thought it must be a commemoration of some sort. However, 15 minutes later, still behind a now different broadcaster, was 2007! It felt a bit like a weird time warp. I just really didn’t understand why there was such a fixation on 2007!


Addis Abba,Ethiopia. Courtesy Giustino and Wikimedia


I had been given instructions on how to walk to the hospital and where to go, so I set off at 8:30 in the morning, noticing that the clock now said 2:30. Upon arriving in the hospital, I also noticed all of the clocks seemed to be wrong.  Well, electricity comes and goes with great regularity, and so it is often difficult to know if the clocks have just died, if they have been reset, or if they really are just wrong! I told the residents I would meet them after lunch at 2 o’clock. The senior resident said, “You mean 2 o’clock your time, right, since that time has already passed for us.” Befuddled, I queried on. 


Taxis, Addis Abba. Courtesy Sam Effron and Wikimedia


It turns out all of the time, dates, months and years are unique in Ethiopia, completely separate from the rest of the world, sort of their “snubbing” of the world to show they will not adapt and be “taken over by other insidious powers." Of course, I saw a couple of iPhones, and they were reading “European-type” time!


Clock. Courtesy Kimberly Wilder and Wikimedia


While the country is technically on the East Africa Time zone (GMT + 3 hours), they actually have their own time system. It is a 12 hour clock with 2 cycles: the first is from 1-12 and is from dawn to dusk, while the second is from dusk to dawn. Therefore, dawn is the start of the day (not midnight), and corresponds to 00:00, with 7:00 am “our” time, 1:00 daylight in “their” time, and so forth, with 12 noon 6:00 daylight time. To say the least, I never got used to this and would ask what time things were about 4 or 5 times before I actually decided I knew when it was.


Clock, courtesy Roland zh and Wikimedia


They also use a different year calendar, based on the old Alexandrian or Coptic calendar, that is a solar calendar. This means it is 2007 not 2015 (8 years behind), and all months have 30 days, so they then have epagomenal days which make up a 13th month. So, their tourism slogan of “13 Months of Sunshine” is really valid and true and not just a euphemism. This liturgical calendar also means they celebrate new year in September. The Coptic (Orthodox Tewahedo church) is quite dominant, and hence the adoption of this calendar, thought to be brought by missionaries to Ethiopia millennia ago! Again, I just ignored this completed, and figured I was here in May of 2015, and that is what I was going to stick with! 



  • Dr. Thompson's Ethiopia series continues next week, with 4) The Food
  • For part 1, Getting to Addisclick here
  • For part 2,  Languages and people, click here


Images (5)
  • Addis Abba,Ethiopia.  Courtesy Giustino and Wikimedia
  • Clock, courtesy Roland zh and Wikimedia
  • Clock, courtesy Wikimedia
  • Clock.  Courtesy  Kimberly Wilder and Wikimedia
  • Taxis, Addis Abba.  Courtesy Sam Effron and Wikimedia

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