E&E RPCVs
Going Back (page 4)
Going Back
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Click on any of the photos shown here to go to a site where there are more than 40 photos from the trip. The password is "lalibela."
Each photo can be clicked on to see a larger version
.
There are also many photos taken by John during his Peace Corps service in Ethiopia from 1963 to 1965.

Harar
After returning to AA, we flew to Dire Dawa to visit Harar — according to one guidebook, Islam's fourth holiest city. Here we were confronted with a side of Ethiopia that we had not
seen much of, not only Islam but also a city clearly dominated by an ethnic group other than the Amharas.

The drive between DD and Harar was itself an experience. This is one of the provinces most affected by the drought and the resulting famine. The villages along the road seemed to give new meaning to the term "dirt poor." We saw huts covered with filthy rags, and the trench along the road was filled with garbage, mainly plastic bags. As we passed through one of these villages, the driver said the inhabitants were known to be Islamic fundamentalists, and Scott spotted someone wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Osma bin Laden — the only such occurrence in our three-week trip. The villages were inhabited by Oromos, but any stereotype created in our minds by these villages was countered by the neat, orderly, and well-organized Oromo villages we would see later outside of AA along the road to Debre Libanos.

Harar itself was somewhat of a disappointment. It seemed even more run down and neglected than other towns we had been in. Even what were once proud mansions looked dilapidated. All kinds of people — beggars, people selling things, men chewing "chat" for a mild narcotic effect, people sleeping — were sitting or lying on the sidewalk or along the street, more it seemed than in other towns. The old town did not have the picturesque streets one might expect in the 4th holiest city of Islam. Nor was as much of the population as colorfully dressed as my memory of a visit 40 years ago suggests.

Rimbaud's home
Rimbaud's home

A building where the French poet Rimbaud taught is being nicely restored and affords a nice view of the old town. An exhibit of photographs there from the early 20th century suggests how little things have changed. There are many mosques — over 50 — most of them small, neighborhood mosques. Unfortunately, we were told that they could not be visited by non-Muslims. Here also children and even some adults seemed less restrained in chanting "ferenjo" or asking for money. In one case a healthy — even stout — and relatively prosperous-looking woman came up to me while we were sight-seeing and persistently stuck out her hand for money. Clearly, this is one of the poorer areas we visited, and the rural areas of the province were suffering from drought and famine. Still, we were able to wander around the streets freely. But the once famous Harar baskets can only be found in a special craft shop — the art is dying out. We did, however, find a delicious local fruit unknown in the rest of the country.

Scott and I, along with our guide, hiked to the Harar brewery in the hills overlooking Harar. Built by the Czechs, it has a cafe, tennis court, and its own source of water — it was as if we were in another country. The guide (whom our taxi driver from DD put us in touch with) is a Pentecostal. He spoke very pessimisticly about Ethiopia's future and regards the current government as very repressive of any opposition or freedom of speech.

The region of Harar was not conquered and made part of the Ethiopian state until the late 19th century. In the old town of Harar, which is otherwise Islamic in character, there is a large Ethiopian Orthodox church in the center, at a main square. It replaced a mosque torn down after the conquest. That the church exists there undisturbed suggests the ability of Muslims and Christians to live side by side in Ethiopia — though the taxi driver who took us from Dire Dawa to Harar asked if we were Christians, and when we said yes, he jokingly said that he would not give a ride to Muslims! Also, just before we got to Harar, he stopped at an Orthodox church under construction and asked us to contribute to its building fund, as he claimed he did from his meager earnings. He also suggested that Sadam Hussein and George W. should be put in a prison together and fight it out so that the rest of us can live in peace. Asked if he prefers the current government of Ethiopia to the Derg, the previous revolutionary government, he replied by quoting an Ethiopian saying that one cannot judge the beauty of baboons.

Scott Morgan helps the Hyena Man
Scott Morgan helps the Hyena Man

One "touristy" thing to do in Harar is to see the "Hyena Man." For 250 Birr, which in Ethiopia is a lot of money but for us was $30 U.S., our guide arranged for us to be picked up one evening and taken to the outskirts of town, where by prior arrangement the "Hyena Man" fed hyenas that came to the area. John and Scott took their turns, but Regina and I declined, content to watch the proceedings from only a few yards away. The hyenas seemed surprisingly timid and almost tame — in any case, they were obviously quite familiar with the routine and seemed to think the "performance" was worth the free meat.

Addis Ababa
We did not really spend much time in Addis Ababa with two full days only at the beginning of the trip, when we were still getting used to the time zone and climate, and two full days at the end of our stay.

We visited the wonderful ethnographic museum with its Ethiopian music and large collection of icons, and the National Museum where the bones of Lucy are on display.

There were things we did not manage to see: an attempt to visit Menelik II's tomb on our last day was frustrated when the priest who had the key refused to come to open the church because it was after 5 pm and he had fasted all day — it was the first day of Lent. Elsewhere our guides had complained that priests, who have the keys to churches, are not very accommodating to tourists despite the money they bring to the country and the church. We also never made it to the AA Mercato or market place, but we felt we had visited enough markets elsewhere.

Sheep cross road in Addis
Sheep cross 12-lane road in Addis

AA is a rather ramshackle city. There are broad streets — the one outside the Ghion hotel is six-lanes wide in each direction — crossing even with the lights is a dangerous undertaking. First of all, the sequence of lights is not entirely clear. Fortunately, we also learned early that traffic in the right-turn lane does not have to stop for a red light — or even slow down. Yet, we more than once saw an Ethiopian shepherd a small herd of goats across this street. Goats and donkeys are a common sight in the capital city. And if you walk around as we did, you soon notice that behind the tin fences, there are whole settlements of shacks where the majority of the population live.

Debre Libanos
From AA we hired a driver and guide to take us to the Debre Libanos monastery. There the priest selling admission tickets to the shrine pointedly asked us to read the rules posted in English as well as in Amharic. The included the prohibition of women who were menstruating and men and women who had had sexual relations in the last 48 hours. The shrine is modern and not of much interest. More interesting was the monastery bakery which we males were allowed to visit. It was in a building into which little light filtered, filled with smoke and dust — a scene from some dark age. They gave us a sample of the special dark bread that the monks eat — a fermented sour dough made from millet, barley, and sorghum.

The tradition of someone committing his or her life to one of fasting and prayer near a church or monastery is alive and well in Ethiopia.

The scenery along the way was quite beautiful — the neatly laid out Oromo villages mentioned previously, and the fantastic gorge of one of the tributaries of the Blue Nile. On the way back we had a nice view of AA from the Entoto hills. From a distance high in the hills, AA looks attractive with seemingly many trees and green areas. But the largest building dominating the city is the Sheraton hotel. On the way down the hill we witnessed one of the more depressing scenes: a whole file of women walking on the road carrying huge bundles of wood on their backs. The guide guessed that they would be able to sell the bundle for 15-20 Birr (about $2 U.S.) at the market. This is traditionally women's work!

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