Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Telling Time/Date in Ethiopia (also, a good introductory programming exercise)

As the regimes in Northern Africa were getting under intense pressure, I flew to Ethiopia to visit coffee farms and experience its coffee culture. I'll write about the coffee aspect of my visit later, but I wanted to share an interesting cultural anecdote first.

Before going to sleep in a traditional Sidama hut, my host announced that we'll be having breakfast at 1:30. I looked puzzled, as I wasn't sure if he's letting me sleep in really late or planning a very early rising. Upon inquiring, I unraveled a fascinating aspect of Ethiopian culture -- the way they tell time and dates.

We'll start with time. The Ethiopian day starts at 6am. So when they say 1am, they mean our 7am (so my breakfast was actually going to be at a reasonable time). Essentially, they are 6 hours off.

Now for dates: the Ethiopian year starts on September 1st (at 6am, of course). They have 13 months. The first 12 months each have 30 days (none of this 31/30 days). The last "month" is 5 or 6 days, depending on whether the rest of the world had a leap year or not. So now, in our February, it's June in Ethiopia (it certainly felt that way).

To make things a bit more complicated, it's now 2003 in Ethiopia. On September 1st, 2011, the year 2004 will begin.

You now have all the information you need to write a date converter into Ethiopian date/time. Seems like a fun programming exercise for an introductory course.