A journey and a trek.
Our journey lasted a day and a half and involved a taxi, a taxi bus , a very large crowded, smelly dirty bus a night in a very noisy hotel and an encounter with a very helpful vet who led us to the hotel and took us to a restaurant in the evening and introduced us to some of the delights of coffee drinking in Ethiopia.
The next day we caught another large smelly dirty bus and met another intersting man who showed me a picture of his 16 year old bride confinding that she had been a virgin and that for him also she was the first. One just loves these intimate revelations.
We then jumped into a truck driven by an enterprising man who brought us to our rendez-vous with the guide and other trekkers (2 Canadians - mother and son and lovely Deepeka from India), just in time to go and have lunch!
A walk to our first night on the edge of the escarpment - stunning position overlooking blanket folded hills below and sharp cliffs all round. Rondavels equipped with comfy beds and a communal bar/eating room. Bucket showers and a very eco-friendly loo with a glorious view - if somewhat perilous! None of these dites were positioned with the unsteady in mind. One false step and the rocks would have reverberated with the screams of the tumbling tripper!
The next day was wet, cold and misty. Apart from when I needed to warm up I sat on the back of a small but sure footed pony with an umbrella over my head. Not much to see and the last few hundred yards, on foot, were quite challenging - over loose stones and down the side of what seemed like a precipice! A fire was lit to dry us and our clothes and we thankfully downed a few whiskeys!
The third day was clear and we were able to appreciate fully the marvellous vistas and country through wihich we were passing. I'll never again pay any attention to Welsh farmers complaining about the terrrain. The Ethiopian farmer ploughs with oxen on the side of a vertical hill in terrain largely composed of rocks and boulders. How anything grows I can't imagine! Once again I travelled on horse back which gave better views that the footsloggers! We visited a woman in her simple but beautifully organised house - shelves in the walls for pots and pans, admired her baskets and elegant pots for collecting water, storing food and brewing cioffee. The people here are so slender and graceful although they don't seem to go in so much for carrying things on their heads as the Rwandans. We were lucky to see a large troupe of geleda baboons - very hairy with an exta -ordinary red mark on their chests.
One last night in which we lay shivering in our beds while the wind whistled through the walls, the thunder rolled and the rain and hail lashed! Happily all clear by the morning so we were able to set out to meet the minibus which was to take us to Lalibela.
Ethiopian Exploration - Churches, manuscripts and castles
A visit to Ethiopia has been one of the Cultural highlights of the last few years. It was very exciting to visit a country so full of tangible history, where the religion is still a very living part of every day life and where the people still follow traditional customs and practise hospitality with a natural ease and graciousness.
Alas! In two weeks one can only visit a small part of the country which is huge. We decided to do the historical tour of the North which involved a flight to Bahar Dar on the shores of Lake Tana. Here we strolled along the lakeside looking at pelicans and joining the locals who were sitting watching the sun go down and chatting over a drink or cup of coffee and dined under the stars in the restaurant of our hotel which was built around an enormous baobab tree. The next day we took a boat and visited 2 monasteries -both in very peaceful sites with beautiful trees growing round them and colourful birds flitting around. One monastery had some lovely ancient manuscripts and the other some wonderful paintings depicting Ethiopian Saints- some rather obscure and quirky, including a cannibal who was allowed into Heaven because he once gave a beggar a drink of water! There's hope for all of us! Every church has a copy of the Ark of the Covenant kept in the inner part where only the priest can go.
We went on to Gondar by local taxi bus and stayed in a friendly and clean back packer guest house. Here we visited another wonderful church - surrounded by a wall and pepper pot sentry boxes (made of stone) although legend has it that a swarm of bees protected the church from being desecrated by infidels! More wonderful bright paintings here including a ceiling entirely covered by angels, splendid medieval portrayals of hell and Mohammed riding a camel! On our way back from the Church we took shelter from the rain under the overhanging roof of a house and were invited in by a charming old lady who then gave us a cup of tea. the house was very simple with an earth floor and minimal possessions. We spent a happy hour talking to her delightful grandson who spoke good English and showed us the way back to our hotel.
Gondar is Africa's Camelot and we spent the next morning being guided round several wonderful castles. The main one built by King Fasildas in the 16th century and incorporating elements of Arab, Indian and Portuguese architecture. I was especially taken with the ebony floors and an impressive saddle shaped roof. We were given detailed descriptions of the preparation of the mortar/lime mix used to construct all these magnificent buildings and the fact that they are still in fairly good condition bears witness to its effacacy!
Fasildas also built a VAST swimming pool with a mini castle in it just outside the town where he would go to chill out when affairs of state become too much. this was a beautiful spot surrounded by lovely trees and more pepper pot guard houses or sentry boxes set in the encircling wall. That night both annemiek and I were rather sick which somewhat delayed our departure in the general direction of Filakit - a very remote town, of which no-one had heard, quite near Lalibela, which was to be the start of our eco-trek.
Will the term ever start? message from Bangor!
Today should have been the first day of the new term - delayed by a week because all the teachers, (40,000 of them), had been in Solidarity Training for most of the holidays learning about how to combat genocide ideology, and so needed a week to recover - not surprising when one hears that they were up at 5 each morning running and doing PE!
I arrived at school to find 2 teachers and about 3 pupils, the drains which certainly needed cleaning are still open and the septic tank being emptied - why do things during the weeks while there are no children when you can risk losing a few into the tank?! - so I think that nothing much is going to happen for quite a few days! I think that I shall go to Kibuye as one of the teachers has defected to a Centre for Deaf children run by, I think Jesuits! it will be most interesting to compare management techniques of the two orders of Catholics!
And then to Ruhengeri where we are to have another parents and children meeting.
I spent Friday and part of Saturday helping Cathie do some training with the teachers at the school where she is currently based - I rather enjoyed being part of a class when they did their practice lessons and being a disruptive pupil!
Last Wednesday Han spent the night with me and we went for a walk on Thursday morning which finished at the agri/biology library - I was astonished to find there several copies of the Bangoriad - Bangor University's magazine. I imagine someone from Bangor must have visited at some time! This was in the days before the University was run by those who are now reducing Bangor to a Cultural Desert - threatening to close the Museum, pull down the theatre and deny Oxfam the chance to raise money by selling refreshments during concerts. And people say Africa is backward!
I was going to write a long description of our trip but have to cut short my time in order to go to talk to Sammy, the Congolese actor who has been helping with drama and is just about to defect and go to Kampala to work, so the details of the experience will have to wait.
Ethiopia is a fascinating country with charming people, wonderful topography, delightful customs - we loved the coffee ceremony and remarkable history. We visited monasteries, saw centuries old manscripts, froze in huts on the edge of huge escarpments, met lots of delightful people, drank local wine and gin, travelled on local buses, danced in a local flavour bar, drank honey wine and bought shawls and baskets. The rock churches are truly amazing and the castles in Gondar really are like a fairy tale!
To be continued!Pause in Paradis
The experience with the Deaf and their families left us feeling rather weary and it was lovely to spend a couple of nights at the guesthouse/restaurant just outside Gisenyi on the edge of Lake Kivu. Here we sat sipping wragi watching the fishing boats go out at dusk silhouetted against the other side of the bay and returning in the early morning - singing or whistling if they have had a good night's catch- and the sun going down in a blaze of gold behind the mountains of Congo.
Swimming in the lake, reading our books and chatting we passed a very pleasant relaxing day - enlivened by a visitation from a mission of mullahs who came with their prayer mats, gave us glossy booklets about the mystery and truth of Islam and chatted briefly with us before continuing on their mysterious way!
We also talked to a French couple on holiday from Angola, which they said was abominable!Forest and Volcanoes
Once Mair had arrived I whisked her away to Kigeme - in the South- so that we were ready to join a group of other volunteers in a trip to Nyungwe. This is the wonderful forest full of marvellous towering trees dripping with epiphytes and inhabited by monkeys, exotic birds and leopards!
We walked for a few hours through swamps and it was so strange in this very densely populated country to be alone and with only the noises of the forest around us.
We stayed with Annemiek for Easter and enjoyed some of the goodies (cheese and bacon) that Mair had brought while we watched the film of Cathie and Elson's wedding.
Then back to Butare to help some Danish men make a film about 2 Deaf orphans. This took several days and was very interesting as they both demonstrated skills that I hadn't previously seen. Jules has a black belt in karate and was impressively focussed and lithe while Jean Damascene is a talented athlete and ran and jumped in the blazing sun until I was worried that he would pass out and they both recounted what they remembered of the genocide which was very moving and powerful.
We then went up to Ruhengeri to help with the day with Deaf children and their families. We stayed with Elie and his wife - a Rwandan with a mission to help the vulnerable and marginalised but spent Saturday with Louis- my ex-colleague who now works with the Deaf at a centre set up by Elie. His wife has recently had a very adorable baby girl.
The volcanoes were all visible and they are indeed a majestic sight towering over the town and villages and visible for hundreds of miles when it is clear.
Despite the directive to invite 10 or maximum 15 families with Deaf children Louis had actually invited 23! They all seemed to be desperately poor but were so grateful that anyone cared enough to help them and their children. Luckily we had asked some adult Deaf to come and help and this too made the parents feel that there was hope for their own children.
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