Saturday, August 7, 2010
Back from Ethiopia: Lalibela
We went to the airport early in the morning. The plane is a Dash 8 and looks brand new. It's a super fun flight and less than an hour long. The countryside is beautiful and green. We go on a wild twenty minute ride from the airport to town. We see tukuls, livestock, barefoot children tending goats and a few woman carrying the bright yellow water containers. We hire the guide that is associated with our hotel, Derabe, and he proves to be the best guide ever. We are staying at the Tukul Village Hotel, and it is beautiful and luxorious. We quickly meet Getu, a teenager that is sponsored by one of my forum friends. I had promised to bring him a bunch of winter clothes and books for him and his brother as a favor to her. We also included a lot of things from us. It proved to be one of the highlights of our trip. Getu invited us to coffee at his house. His brother is currently in another city going to school for nursing, so he lives by himself in a one room house. Derabe goes with us, and Getu leads into his neighborhood. We climb around mud houses, up hills, and around holes. People walking down the street stare at us as we fumble to get to his house. We are one of only about six farenjis on this side of town. Getu has a neighbor girl fix the coffee. His house has a dirt floor with mats on it and two bed rolls. His walls are covered with posters of Obama, Mary and Jesus. Cds also decorate the walls, shiny side out. I am so humbled when he offers us seats and serves us popcorn (it is salty and sweet and quite good), while the girl starts washing the coffee beans. The water comes from two big yellow water containers that sit near the door. It was amazing to be able to watch the full coffee ceremony. She lights charcoals and roasts the beans, then she uses a mortar and pestle to smash them over and over. She uses the old style coffee pot to heat the water and cook the coffee grounds in it. I should mention here that I hate cofffee, and I determined ahead of time that I would drink the whole cup regardless of what it tasted like. It was served to us in little cups and saucers with raw sugar offered in a jar. I added sugar, and took a sip. Amazingly, I loved it. It was not bitter like coffee I've tasted before, and it was very dark. But it was wonderful. I had two cups! Later we start our tour of the churches. For those traveling to Lalibela, the price of admission to the churches has gone up again. It is now 350 birr per person, which is still good for four days. It is worth it, but we had not anticipated that price ahead of time. We climb up and down, and we take our shoes off and put them on again for every church. I cannot describe how amazing it is to see churches carved from the cliff side 800 years ago. These are churches that are still in use today. It's just awesome! When it starts to pour down rain on our way to see the church of St. George, we stop and take shelter at an artist's tukul. He makes his own paints and paints religious pictures on goatskin, and he also has about 30 students that he teaches to become deacons (the next step would be priests if they choose). While we're in his tukul, two more women come in, and the man just keeps moving his little table toward the back. At one point, there were eight people in the tiny tukul, and it felt like a clown car. I was glad we stopped there. He had very low prices, and even signed the back of his art for us. My favorite is a little picture of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago in the fire. As the rain dried up and we walked away, two boys appeared at the door and started reading very loudly from their prayer books and another boy started singing a few feet away. It was like they were all trying to be heard the most. We invited Getu to dinner that night at the Jerusalum House. He said the last time he had eaten there was two years ago when my sponser friend took him there. He said it is normally too expensive for him. He ordered injera with beef tibs and an orange soda. He tells me about how much he loves injera. Getu is endearing.
The next day we went to see the rest of the churches. I particularly like Bet Abba Libanos. In my head, I call it the hobbit church. It is more of a cave church, but it has a gigantic tree towering over the facing cliffside. It is secluded and peaceful and lovely. We are fortunate to have come during the rainy season when everything is exploding in bright green and the rocks are covered with moss. We've finished seeing all the churches by mid morning, and Derabe takes us to see the market. They have a market day once a week, where people come from all around to sell their wares. Some people walk an hour, some a day, I am told. They seperate themselves by what they sell. We pass piles of firewood first, then a row of men selling "tire shoes". Simple shoes made from tires. They cost about 10 birr. I am told they last much longer than the prettier plastic shoes that sell for 20 birr though. Although, I think the plastic shoes look a little more comfortable. There are many people selling livestock, goats, cows, mules, chickens and eggs too. I see one woman emptying eggs out of a carrier made of fur turned inside and sewn up. It actually looks quite a bit like an inside out rabbit. There are rows of teff flour, legumes, sorghum, hops (for beer), rock salt, sugar, then rows of woven fabrics and dresses and scarves. It is quite a sight to behold. We take it easy that afternoon and get packed up to go to the airport in the morning. We see Getu, and he ties a small wooden cross around my neck, and then one around my mom's neck. He tells us that he bought them at the market for us to remember him and remember Lalibela, and he will pray for us. Positively endearing.