Monday, March 28, 2011

Ethiopia Roundup: Photographing the Ordinary

As I clean up my Ethiopian blog posts, adding photos, I regret I have very few photos of the ordinary. The bus stations, the buses, food dishes, the pit toilets, the roaches in the bathroom, hotel rooms, etc.

These would have provided a lot more color to the text.

A lesson learned for the future.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rootless Rule #1: Spare Glasses Don't Help if You Don't Have Them With You

When I went to Ethiopia, I took a spare pair of reading glasses with me. Didn't need it, fortunately,

Photo credit: Today's Deals
So after I return, I chill for a few days, then go to one of my vacation homes on the Missouri Rivieria (@ Chez Katherine), only to leave my spare safely in a drawer at home base. What happens? My glasses break.

Important lesson: When one is rootless, that means keeping a spare set of glasses in one's bags at all times. I now have a spare in both of my bags.

Another thing - I purchased my glasses (bought two pairs at once) at Walmart Vision Center. Yes, I freely admit this. Two pairs for a hundred bucks. If my glasses break I can go just about anywhere in the country and get them repaired. If they're still under the one-year warranty (at no additional charge, thank you very much, Sears), I can get my lenses popped into replacement frames on the spot.

It happened that the local Walmart was out of my frames, but the employee called my home-base Walmart, which had one last pair. That Walmart set this pair aside til I returned the following day. Replaced my old frames. No charge.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ethiopia Round-up: Wheeled versus Not?

Here's what I wrote on luggage before I left for Ethiopia.  

I took this eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21" with me to Ethiopia:

Am I glad I took the wheeled bag instead of my soft-side, convertible tech Weekender, also from E-bags? 

At the end of the day, yes, I'm glad I took the wheeled bag, even though I don't love it the way I love the Weekender.

The wheels were very sturdy, the bag rarely tipped over, and with a lifetime warranty, I did not hesitate to roll it over any terrain. As a matter of fact, I had to get downright insistent about rolling it when bus or hotel staff felt the need to carry the bag rather than set it down and roll it, for fear of hurting the bag. And, I will say, it was more awkward to carry than a soft-sided, unwheeled bag. And yes, stairs necessitated carrying rather than rolling. But I didn't encounter stairs all that often. And, finally, I didn't feel the need to prove anything by hefting my own bag up the steps if there was someone at hand practically pulling it out of my hand to do it for me. That was an opportunity for me to help the local economy.

Having said all of the above, the Weekender would have done OK also.

When it came to air travel (and the lengthy treks to distant gates), it wasn't an issue, as I checked the bag. (Free because it was international travel.) If I hadn't checked the bag, the advantage of my wheeled bag over the soft-side carry would have been even clearer because of the ease in rolling it down those long gate ways.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ethiopia roundup: Replacing stolen camera

Canon Powershot SD800IS. Photo credit: Amazon
See story of stolen camera here.

I assumed I'd get a new camera when I returned home, one with more megapixels than the six I had in my four year-old camera.

But I didn't: I bought a used camera: Canon PowerShot SD800 IS 7.1MP Digital Elph Camera with 3.8x Wide Angle Image-Stabilized Optical Zoom.

In my price range, the reviews were just too good for this older camera. I had thought more megapixels = better photos. Not necessarily so. Over and over, I read comments that showed the older Canon PowerShots had sharper images than the newer cameras. 

Will add a review of my new old camera once I've used it for a bit.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ethiopia Roundup: How'd the Pack List Turn Out?

10 most useful things I packed:
  1. Flashlight
  2. Wide-brimmed hat - the Ethiopian sun is brutal, and shade is sometimes scarce; sunglasses alone were not sufficient for protection from light for vision, not to mention skin protection.
  3. Anti-diarrhea medicine -- should have taken even more. I was able to buy Cipro in Ethiopia, but not Imodium or similar. 
  4. Camera
  5. Two, one-cup size Rubbermaid "take-along" cups with screwtop lids, which I used for brushing my teeth every day or drinking coffee on a bus. 
  6. Universal plug (and a largish prescription bottle filled with powdered laundry detergent)
  7. Wristwatch with alarm - for those early buses. Inexpensive and alarm only sounded for 20 seconds, but it did the trick.  
  8. Flash drive for uploading photos onto same; because I had this and used it, I still had half of my trip photos when my camera was stolen. (But I'd also uploaded the same onto Facebook, so that was another safeguard.)  
  9. Paperback books that I released to the wild along the way
  10. Pacsafe money belt with plastic buckle (I also wore an Eagle Creek hidden pocket, which is very good) -- the belt was so ordinary, casual, and comfortable - loved it; fit many bills; and it was very inexpensive.

    Things I most wish I'd brought:
    • Immersion coil or mini kettle for coffee or oatmeal in my room in the morning. I looked, but never saw one in Ethiopia. (There were kettles, but too large.)
    • Scarf or bandana to protect mouth and nose from the cursed dust on Ethiopian side streets (and sometimes main streets); I did finally buy one in Ethiopia, but it would have been so much more convenient to have brought one with me. 
    • A serious exfoliater for my feet, such as a pumice stone, specifically for my heels. I looked for this in Ethiopia; could not find anywhere.

    Things I'm glad I brought, though not essential:
    • MP3 player plus mini speaker - this plus the voice recorder provided sustenance when the electricity went out in hotels, a not-infrequent occurrence in Ethiopia
    • Voice recorder onto which I'd loaded inspirational podcasts
    • Single-serve powdered drink "straws," e.g. Crystal Light; wish I'd brought more, especially since I gave some out to curious wait staff along the way.

      Wednesday, March 23, 2011

      Ethiopia: Going Home, Wednesday, Part 2

      Sitting at Frankfurt Airport, Germany, drinking an unimaginative yet satisfying Americano from a big, chunky cup and saucer.

      Photo credit: francisfrancis

      I am now a "majority" again, instead of a minority, back in the Land of Faranji. I feel a perverse desire to whisper "habesha" to the diluted numbers of fellow travelers who are Ethiopian.

      Bought a book about "HeLa," Henrietta Lacks.

      Paid an extortionist rate to shoot a touch-base email to people back home.

      Photo credit: Sheabell

      At 6:40 a.m., an astonishing, neon-orange sun crept skyward.

      Eight rolls of toilet paper in the Frankfurt Airport bathroom stall. The decadence of it. I pulled out my roll of "soft" from my purse, purchased the day before yesterday for 7 birr, and added it to the collection. I don't need to carry toilet paper with me anymore.

      Talked with two women who were also on the flight from Addis and who waited for the same plane to Chicago. One was an Ethiopian-American woman with her young daughter, returning home to Chicago after a visit to Ethiopia. The other woman was joining her husband in Sioux City, South Dakota (brrr!); they haven't seen each other in 7 years. This woman is Eritrean, but has been living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for some time. Her two children, ages 12 and 8, live in Eritrea with her parents.

      After a lengthy layover in Frankfurt, it was finally time to board our plane. But what was this? A fight erupted between two men, almost coming to blows (where are we, Harar?). One man even said, "You're touching me! Stop touching me!" Better than an in-flight movie.

      Lufthansa is a civilized airline -- it serves wine with every meal (or beer), no extra charge. And the lunch was actually good: an Indian dish with spinach, rice, tofu, and other delectables. When I was almost finished with my after-lunch coffee, the attendant asked if I'd like a Bailey's. Well, hell, yes. I poured the balance of my coffee into the Bailey's on ice. When I finished drinking it, I licked my chops like a cat.

      We arrived in Chicago, went through customs. I was able to say goodbye to the Ethiopian-American and her daughter; they'd arrived at their final destination. The woman looked forward to donning a traditional dress and then presiding over a coffee ceremony tonight, a ritual she loved to perform and participate in for its tradition and beauty. 

      Unfortunately, the Eritrean woman was on a much slower track through immigration, and I lost sight of her. I silently wished her well.

      (Back in Addis at Bole Airport, a 30-something couple and their three or four young kids vibrated with excitement, happiness, nervousness. They were on their way to Austin, TX, their brand new home as future Americans  - the lucky winners of a "diversity lottery" slot. It was so fun for me to be among the first to welcome them with congratulations and a smile. )

      The plane to St. Louis was delayed, and I borrowed a cell phone from another passenger to call Cat about it; I left a voice mail.

      Finally, we boarded, took off, and landed in St. Louis. Cat, Tim, and Jasmine were waiting for me. Three year-old Jasmine took immediate, no-nonsense charge of my wheeled bag and steered it all the way to the car.

      Cat had brought me a bag of kettle corn as a welcome home treat. What a good girl.

      As the bus driver from Gonder to Gorgora said at the end of the line: "Complete."

      Tuesday, March 22, 2011

      Ethiopia: Going Home, Tuesday, Part 1

      Woke up at Azeb's house in Nazret. Drank the last of my Nescafe, made with water heated via Azeb's propane stove.

      Yesterday, I'd begun the end-of-trip discarding process -- I will go home much lighter than I arrived, shedding two pairs of pants, a blouse, some medications, a parcel of duct tape, two pairs of white socks, my fast-dry towels/washcloths, two pens, the cell phone I "bought" from Habtomi, and some birr. (I sloughed off my tennis shoes in the Bale Mountains.)

      For a week I've coaxed the last bit of anti-perspirant from a stick I'd bought in a Chicago hotel when I forgot mine at home. This morning, I used the last of it.

      Photo credit: Wastegeneration
      The travel-size toothpaste is almost spent, as is my sunscreen.

      I gave Stephanie the orange scarf I bought for cover against the dust on side streets.

      When I completed my packing (plus finished reading a book of Stephanie's), I walked up to the Dire International Hotel to upload the photos I took yesterday. Unfortunately, no internet connection, but I was able to transfer the photos from the camera to my flash drive.

      Presently, I took a minibus taxi to the bus station to pick up a public bus to Addis. Even on my last day in Ethiopia, there was a bit of excitement. First, there was this crazy man, teeth almost completely blackened from .. what? Chat? Poor dental hygiene? I don't know. He lifted my very-light bag into the bus and then says, "tip," "tip," "tip." I just look at him stupidly. As it turned out, I don't think he was even with the bus company; at some point, he gets off the bus and disappears into the street after a mystifying, angry exchange with the bus assistant.

      Photo from travelpod

      The bus took a cruise around the block to muster more passengers, and we eventually pushed off for Addis. It was early afternoon, thus chat-chewing time, and not a few passengers climbed aboard with chat "bouquets" in their hands. (I noted the chat in Nazret is a treacly version of the robust green product sold in Harar.)

      Several bus passengers (and, possibly, the driver) chewed chat in the bus. One idiot, seated on the upholstered hump between the driver and the two front seat passengers, manicured his cluster of chat twigs, breaking long sections of the twigs and dropping them on the bus floor right smack in the passenger off-on area. I observed this for a few minutes, irritated, then picked up two offending sticks and tossed them over to a safer location on the floor, ensuring the slob could see what I was doing. He didn't get the hint, however, and when he again tossed his chat detritus onto the bus floor, right where all passengers had to walk, I clapped his arm and said, "Hey!" and pointed to the twigs, "people can break their necks tripping on these!" and I gestured for him to pick the things up and move them. Which he did. I wondered if there is an Ethiopian equivalent to the American phrase, "Were you born in a barn?" Probably none of this would have bothered me if it weren't for the fact this bus was identified as a "1st level bus," indicating it is in the best condition and has the most comfort of the three levels of buses (for which passengers pay a premium).

      The good part of the bus trip was that the driver played this song by Aster Aweke several times. It's Ameseginalu ("thank you"). This happens to be a word I like to say to Ethiopians because it almost always makes them smile at me.  Don't know if it's because of my accent or what, but I like the reaction.

      Photo credit: quarrygirl
      Photo credit: quarrygirl
      Got to Addis around 3:00. Bought my last samosas from Ethiopia to share with Dawit, Stephanie, and their family. Dawit picked me up and we went to their house to hang out til it was time for me to go to the airport. We talked budgets and fundraising for the school.

      I'm not sure Stephanie and Dawit fully appreciate all of the good they're doing -- in addition to providing a good education for many children, they provide jobs for almost 20 people, including teachers, administrators, cleaning staff, and guards. That is impressive in a country with such a high unemployment rate.

      Stephanie served a delicious dinner with shiro and misur -- so simple and traditional, so good. Perfect meal for last day in Ethiopia.

      Stephanie stayed back with the two kids while Dawit took me to the airport. I'd kept back 100 birr for spending at the airport -- not sure for what exactly; I"d given all of my other birr - a little over 200, to Stephanie and Dawit.

      So I went through security with my one, now-slender wheeled bag and my shoulder bag, feeling very carefree. I had a pleasant chat with the immigration officer; she was so gracious and smiley -- turns out she came from Gorgora (that tiny town on Lake Tana).

      Had a coffee. Then caroused the souvenir shops thinking I had to burn those birr by buying something - anything. 'Course I couldn't bring myself to buy junk food or junk souvenirs, and the amount I had was insufficient to buy what did look attractive. I wasted an hour going from shop to shop in the airport, wishing I'd given Stephanie and Dawit all but 20 birr.

      Bole Airport, Addis Ababa. Photo credit: vobo8

      But then I got it - I took out a 50-birr note, sidled up to the bathroom attendant, said "tenastalin" and slipped her the note. I had 38 birr left, and I gave that to a woman cleaning the floor.

      And away I went. 

      Monday, March 21, 2011

      Ethiopia: A Sweet Coffee Goodbye in Nazret

      Seble and Membre, teachers on the KG campus
      I visited the English Alive Academy campuses for the last time today. Took photos to replace those lost when my camera was stolen.

      The teachers gave me a beautiful coffee ceremony:

      The cups are clean and ready, as is the herb to add to the cup.

      Fragrant and beautiful flora grace the "stage."

      Membre roasts fresh coffee beans on a charcoal brazier.

      Mekdes culls poor roasted beans, leaving only the good. In the jabena is hot water.

      Mekdes grinds the coffee.

      Mekdes adds the freshly ground coffee to the jabena, filled with hot water.

      An experience treasured. 

      Saturday, March 19, 2011

      Ethiopia: Countdown for Landing, Nazret Again, Day 2, Saturday

      A laid-back day in Nazret. Stephanie and I talked school budgets and fundraising. Dawit arrived from Addis later with the mission to repair student chairs and desks.

      I took new photos of Azeb, Stephanie, and Dawit to replace those lost with my stolen camera. I used a camera someone donated to the school.

      After lunch, Azeb, Stephanie, and Dawit took off for Addis, leaving me alone in "Hotel Azeb" til Tuesday.


      Walked up to the Dire International Hotel to upload these few new pictures and key in a journal entry. The work on the hotel terrace now complete, I stepped outside for my habitual cold Ambo and lemon before
      walking home.

      Mosquitoes again a problem at night. Damn things.

      Friday, March 18, 2011

      Ethiopia: Leaving Harar, Friday

      Photo credit: Jungle Walk
      Got up at 3:30 a.m. to prepare for my Harar departure. I was ready with time to spare, and walked down to street level with the night clerk, who awakened one of the young hotel boys to walk with me to the bus stop and to lug my bag (which I was prepared to lug myself, but had learned early on that was a futile fight on my part). It was around 4:45 as we walked up the road in the dark; even so, the city was rising. I turned around once to look back at the Harar Gate. A hyena stood quietly in the middle of the street. A fitting goodbye to Harar.

      Photo credit: YETEGLFRIE MENGESHA

      I slept sporadically in the bus, but appreciated the second time seeing the quiet, vast beauty of Lake Beseka in the Awash area.

      Photo credit: Currently unknown

      Oryx. Photo credit: African Butterflies
      I even saw a herd of oryx.

      If only it looked this nice. Photo credit: Helman

      The only other event of note occurred when the bus rolled into the town of Fentale. Time for the lunch stop. We passed a couple of hotels where I thought, "Oh, I bet they've got decent toilets ... " But we passed those by and pulled into a hotel courtyard where I knew, with a flash of annoyance, that the toilets here would be dark and dirty. And when I saw the women rolling up their pants legs before even entering the toilet area, I started getting really annoyed. You know why? Our Selambus had joined a Skybus already parked. A few minutes later, a second Selambus pulled in behind ours. Later, two public buses piled in. Five big buses, with the bus companies surely getting compensation for stopping at this particular place and the hotel/restaurant owner raking in money from the debarking bus passengers who ate here -- and to have filthy toilets?! All these women passengers with their long skirts or pants, sometimes with children in tow?!

      After a fascinating lunch of two whole fish (with eyeballs removed, thankfully, leaving only the empty sockets upon which to gaze), fried, I asked the waiter for the owner or manager. Said individual happened to be within earshot and he (to his credit) identified himself. I pointed out that he had five (five!) buses with many ladies (and I pointed out several of us for emphasis), spending money at his establishment and they had to contend with dirty toilets! I told him he ought to be hosing these out every hour, that his lady customers shouldn't have to suffer these conditions, particularly when he received income from them. The owner was appropriately apologetic, but this only matters if he changes conditions in the future. And Selambus and Skybus are just as much to blame for allowing their customers to tolerate such conditions - the companies should be ashamed of themselves, their lofty, wordy mission statements about quality customer service notwithstanding.

      See? A clean toilet. 
      The fact that these are the traditional hole-in-the-floor latrines is irrelevant; these should be easier to keep clean than seat toilets -- all you have to do is is hose them well. And for God's sake, why are there never any hooks on which to hang one's bag?

       OK, we moved on, and arrived in Nazret around 1:00 p.m. (Much to Stephanie's surprise; she was expecting me much later, even though I said it'd be around 1:00. Despite my kvetching above, what used to require an overnight trip between Harar and Nazret, really only takes a half day now, and this will only improve nationally as more roads get improved, i.e., paved). I got dropped off in front of the Dire International Hotel, and walked to Azeb's.

      Stephanie and I talked school business for most of the afternoon, then we walked up to the Rift Valley Cafe, where we met the school's new volunteer teacher, Paul, from San Diego. He is here for about 10 days, and seems very congenial.

      Poor Azeb suffered from flu -- headache, congestion, coughing.

      Mosquitoes plagued me throughout the night. The damned bimbies.

      Thursday, March 17, 2011

      Ethiopia: Camels and Osama in Babile, Harar, Day 7, Thursday

      The camel market! Visions of colorful blankets and tassels and cushions adorning the animals; people calling out to each other; hustling and bustling in a bazaar-like atmosphere. Maybe that's at the Monday camel market, but this was Thursday.

      Photo credit: zz77

      Thursday at the Babile Camel Market (about an hour from Harar) is a hot and dusty field enclosed by a not unattractive cement-block wall overlooking a beautiful vista of mountain paths and unusual rock formations. Men hang about chatting. Camels - and there are plenty! - stand around, sometimes lie around - in groups. A few women.

      There is, of course, always the would-be guide hopeful of some (in this neck of the woods) baksheesh in return for his so-called services. One such urged me to follow him to a particular location in this vast field, while I, like a recalcitrant donkey, persisted in going my own way, thank you very much.

      Photo credit: Carole Rich

      On several occasions I found myself in the center of a circle of men, which felt a little odd. They shot me questions (the usual) and I responded. (Once a woman approached me to try out her French. We did exchange a brief conversation in same, taxing our limited vocabularies.)

      Some folks encouraged me to buy a camel (50,000 birr) because, after all, I was rich. I demonstrated to each joker that I could not fit a camel into my bag ... (isn't there a Biblical verse along these lines?)

      Another guy suggested I buy him a cup of tea, to which I responded that everyone would like the same, and I estimated up to 100 people here, and besides, he and his compadres had now been interviewing me for 15 minutes, so he should be buying ME a cup of tea.

      In each circle where I found myself, at turns, the individual with the best English translated his companions' and my questions and comments. In one circle, the translator pointed to a man outside the circle, "He says he is Osama bin Laden." I looked over at the guy and said, "Hey, we've been looking for you! There's a reward! Come with me!" Later, the guy said he was a soldier for bin Laden. Who know; maybe so.

      Photo credit: motionpictureart

      Another individual, a Somali, said he was on the refugee list to go to America; his brother was already in Dallas. I think he expected his name to come up in two years.

      Eventually, I moseyed out, ready to get back into Harar. A couple of boys attached themselves to me en route, again as would-be guides, later asking me for baksheesh as I got on the return minibus. No.

      The minibus ride back was fun - lots of back-and-forth among the passengers and with me. I regurgitated, upon request, my vast Amharic and Oromiffa vocabularies, plus my one word in Somali, learned just
      that day -- "nebbit" (hello).

      We were stopped for a military search just outside Harar, with all of us being patted down and our bags peered into. The driver said they looked for contraband guns; another person later said contraband
      electronics from Djibouti. Probably both.

      Back in Harar, I sought out a woman vendor who'd gifted me two bananas in the morning. She and I had exchanged friendly shouts of "faranjo!" and "habesha!" along with smiling, Ethiopian chin-and-brow lifts. I
      bought a kilo of mangoes, then distributed most of them among the hotel guards and other hotel staff at the entrance, then ate the rest for my lunch. Juicy.

      In the afternoon, I put in some time in the internet, then picked up tiny potato-and-hot pepper sambozas for dinner, along with a small round of traditional country bread for breakfast in the bus tomorrow.

      I wish I could stay longer in Harar. Sean McLachlan, the online travel writer, told me of the pleasure of walking in the walled city (Jugal) by moonlight. In the narrow, curving, cobblestoned streets, a hyena might brush against your thigh as it made its silent night-time rounds.

      Sean was also in the practice of spending an entire day hanging out with a tailor in his streetside shop. I saw Sean doing exactly that one day. Borrowing Sean's idea, I would spend an entire afternoon and evening with a woman vendor, pulling up my own stool to sit under her umbrella. Maybe I'd even shout out "faranjo!" when I saw one pass. Or maybe I'd shout out "habesha!" to all Ethiopians who walked by.

      But not enough time for either of these things.

      As it was, I showered with my bathroom light turned off so I could look up at Harar's full moon through the high window.

      Wednesday, March 16, 2011

      Ethiopia: Hyenas, Fresh Goat, and a Crispy Roach in Harar, Day 6, Wednesday

      Credit: Marcus Baynes-Rock at Hyenas in Harar
       Woke up still feeling a little queasy, but far better than yesterday. I popped another Cipro then went upstairs to see Irish Edith off for her return to Addis. The thought of coffee didn't send the right signals to my stomach, so I skipped that and had cold water with bread and "marmalade," the ubiquitous orange-transparent gelatin that passes nationwide in Ethiopia for something nothing like marmalade.

      I had work to do online, so after a pleasant breakfast chat with Edith, I walked up to the internet cafe. By the time I finished there, it was time for lunch. This was a great day to check out that hotel/restaurant, more or less across the street from the Ras Hotel, that had caught my attention the first day I arrived in Harar.

      It sat high behind a wall amidst flowering trees and shrubs. The adobe building looked immense, and was tropically pretty in its "fascist yellow" facade.

      How odd, a military guardhouse at the gate. Came to find out it was a hotel owned by the Department of Defense. After checking out the bathroom, I selected a seat at one of the outside tables. No menu. I just ordered a coffee, which was very good. And for heaven's sake - only 2 birr (about 12 cents US)!

      Decided to lunch instead at the reliable Fresh Touch down the street. Ordered the vegetarian pizza. When it arrived, I dressed it with their wonderfully spicy chili sauce. Oh. Wait. I did order the vegetarian pizza, right? So what's with the crispy-curled roach sitting so perkily atop a pepper? Waiter!

      Just as I was waving down the waiter, in walked New York Ed and a pretty girl with an easy smile. She turned out to be Imti, from Germany via Sudan by birth.

      I substituted an indifferent pasta-with-vegetables dish for the pizza. (Gonder is definitely the champion of an excellent "macaroni" with vegetables.)

      After Ed, Imti, and I finished our lunches and enjoyed two delicious cups of coffee each, Ed pushed off to the internet cafe, and Imti and I continued our conversation. Interesting! She's an engineering student just finishing up an internship in Ethiopia, related to these cobblestone projects I've seen in Harar, Nazret, and Awassa. It's a German-Ethiopia partnership designed to provide jobs, training, and beautification of Ethiopian streets. Imti and her friend are in Harar doing some in-country tourist travel before she returns to Germany.

      Tonight was hyena night for me, and unlike Atlanta Tom, who casually walked outside the wall over to check out the hyena man on his own, I knew I'd want a guide in the scary, hyena-riddled night.

      I knew also that Aziz, who was to have escorted me last night (until I got sick), would probably be unavailable tonight, as his Spanish girlfriend was in town. My plan was to walk over to the cafe in the main Jugal square and locate a Plan B guide on the fly. At the same time, I had it in my mind to hire Abdellah, the guy I'd met the other day at said cafe, who is deaf. This turned out to be exactly what I did. Abdellah appeared happy as hell to be hired and we negotiated the price with the help of another local man.

      Abdellah is one of those charismatic individuals who radiate good vibes and who attract goodwill in return. It was clear this local gentleman was fond of Abdellah; he made sure I really meant to hire Abdellah as my guide in the event Aziz didn't pan out.

      Abdellah and I agreed to meet at the cafe at 6:30, and he dashed off while I hung out over a coffee and people-watched. A guide popped up, and joined me at my table. Did I need a guide? I explained that I was waiting for Aziz, but if he didn't show up, Abdellah was my back up guide. The guide said he doubted Aziz would be by, as his Spanish girlfriend was in town. (Harar is a typical small town - everybody knows everyone's business - heck, even the tourists know!)

      Though late, Abdellah arrived, and off we went. I realized right quick that it wasn't going to work for Abdellah to get ahead of me, as he couldn't hear me if I called out to him. I tucked my arm into his so we stayed connected. It was nice. Just about everyone knew Abdellah - and liked him - as evidenced by the constant friendly, smiley greetings between him and other passersby. We emerged through a gate I hadn't visited before. It was already dark and the hyena man was already engaged with the hyenas.

      Unbelievably, I fed the hyenas three times: I held out an 18" skinny stick with a strip of meat dangling on its end and handed it right to the hyenas' mouths. Yikes! At one point, I felt a nudge at the back of my knee. I whirled around, saw that it was Abdellah, and I slapped him hard in the chest in mock outrage. Everyone laughed.

      Some idiot dad (an Ethiopian tourist) had this little toddler daughter feeding the hyenas. Put me in mind of idiot American counterparts who have their young'ns feed bears by dumpsters.

      Credit: Hyenas in Harar
      About the hyenas, it surprised me how beautiful they are! Their faces, heads, and ears! Lovely!

      Credit: Hyenas in Harar

      The beautiful illusion splintered as soon as I saw them move. Their walk evoked all of these negative anthropomorphic prejudices: "tail between its legs," "slinking around," "skulking," "craven."

      I never saw the beauty for the presumed ugliness of the hyenas' posture.

      Abdellah escorted me to my hotel, as agreed upon. We smilingly parted, and I saw him affectionately grab the head of a nearby youngster, and the two walked away with their arms around each other's shoulders.

      I walked upstairs to the restaurant, where the waiter encouraged me to order the goat, as it was very fresh. I did, and it was.

      While I thoughtfully chewed the tender meat, I wondered if it came from the pretty brown and white goat I saw from my balcony window earlier today, bleating sweetly at a woman retreating from the spot where he was newly tethered.

      I thanked him for his sacrifice.

      Marcus Baynes-Rock, a PhD candidate, studied hyenas for some time in Harar. You can check out his two interesting blogs on his research here (for 2009 through March 2010), then here for period til April 2011. 

      Tuesday, March 15, 2011

      Ethiopia: Downpours and Dyspepsia in Harar, Day 5, Tuesday

      Afternoon. Another pounding rainfall. From my balcony:

      Photo credit: Nina Wessel
      • People crammed under the storefront eaves. A woman holds high one of those immense baskets of baguettes, protecting it from the rain and jostling from neighbors.
      • Women vendors with umbrellas sit tight on their stools or yellow water jugs.
      • A man rushes to affix an orange tarp over part of his store's tin roof.
      • Water rushes down the rocky road beneath my balcony, and I now add the power of water as another contributor to these rocks' polished surfaces. Many such rains have scooped out the dirt "mortar" in which the rocks may have been laid originally, explaining why the road surface is similar to a dry creek bed.
      • Two little girls lose their shoes, temporarily, to the force of the water drainage along the sidewalk.
      • A truck filled with large, thick, flat rocks goes down the road. Like coals to Newcastle, it seems to me.
      • I look further down to my right - there, the road is a roiling stream - a young child could be carried away in the depth and force of the water.

      Photo credit: 4shared

      I am in my room this afternoon because I'm ill. Started with a headache that wouldn't go away, then nausea and diarrhea. I took two cipro pills; will take another before I go to bed. I called Ed, a fellow traveler, and asked if he would let the guide, Aziz, know that I will be unable to keep our appointment to see the hyena feeding this evening.

      Late morning:

      Hanging out in the cafe by the Orthodox church in Jubal (Harar's walled city)'s main square. Trying to get caught up in my writing, but am easily distracted by the goings-on around me:

      • That woman over there, who evidently lives by a storefront wall with her infant and toddler. A German woman, Emily, bought medication for both kids. She believes the infant will die within 2 weeks of her return to Germany, a few weeks hence. The mother devotes much of her time to chewing chat. Chat reduces hunger, so the mother may not eat enough to provide sufficient milk to nurse the infant properly. But this morning, mom engages in some housekeeping --> she sweeps the pavement in front of her blanket; shakes out the blanket; waters down the dusty area in front of her blanket; uses a water bottle to wash her feet, calves, and face.
      • The cafe guard, with his donkey whip, keeps on eye out for obnoxious children or others, at the ready to chase them away.
      • Incredibly, I engage in a conversation with a young deaf man named Abdella. (Abdella's best friend is also deaf, but his sign language is not as good as Abdella's.) My sign language is very rusty, but Abdella can finger spell words that I can understand, and we have a limited communication. There is evidently a school for the deaf here. As with so many other Ethiopians, however, there is no job for him.
      • Aziz, a guide, joined me at the cafe. We make an arrangement to meet here at 6:30 this evening, and we'll then walk out to see the hyena-feeding man. I'm kind of nervous about this, even though I've never heard about a tourist being mauled by a Harari hyena. We also agree to meet for lunch tomorrow at one of the markets, so I can try camel meat.
      • A child about five years old kicks a younger child, later kicks a goat (twice), then works mightily to push a large rock off an empty tire that serves as a parking marker. Ah, a bully in the making.

      Photo credit: Stefan Gara

      Early morning:

      I got up early for breakfast to see the Dutch couple off from Harar. They enthused about their side trip to the camel market in Babile yesterday, so I make a plan to stay a day longer in Harar to catch the Thursday market.

      The Dutch couple leaves, and Edith, the Irish woman, arrives for her breakfast. I remain and we chat. Then Sean, the writer, who turns out to be (sort of) from Columbia, MO, arrives, and he joins us for breakfast and conversation.

      Monday, March 14, 2011

      Ethiopia: Color in Harar, Day 4, Monday

      About 4:00 p.m.

      Jacaranda tree. Photo credit:
      Sitting at the Kim Cafe. Painted lilac, which matches the blossoms of the jacaranda trees across the way.

      Young men walk by with their plastic bags of chat leaves.

      It just finished raining and the air is slightly chilly.

      A guy tries to engage me in his alleged campaign against FGM; wants me to come to his house so he can show me his "documentation." And then hopes I will give him money for his campaign.

      Later ... scenes from my balcony

      A crazy man rotates in place several times, stands still for a moment, and then walks off in the direction in which he stopped.

      Immense baskets - about 3 feet across, resting on tops of wheelbarrows, filled with freshly baked baguettes and rolls.

      Onions, tomatoes, garlic, chat, peppers, bananas, avocados, mangoes, chat, samosas, doughnuts, limes, chat, potatoes ...

      A kite (type of eagle) sails above the market today.

      Blue tuk-tuks up and down, up and down, up and down the road.

      Two men carry blue water barrels, then load them atop a minibus roof, already crowded with yellow plastic water jugs.

      No scarf, shawl, or dress is the same in Harar -- plaids, florals, stripes, embroidered, plain. Gold on black, yellow on blue, butterscotch, black and yellow squares interspersed on a dull orange, pinks and greens -- bright green, pale green, dark green, teal.

      Tin roofs. Satellite dishes (probably contraband from Sudan).

      View to right of Hotel Belayneh balcony. Photo credit: Kokoryko
      A medieval agrarian kingdom off to my right -- great if you're royalty, but mostly populated by peasants.

      Dogs slip through and around the market, quietly, alert for a tidbit and watching out for gratuitous kicks and stones issued by passersby.

      A truck attempting the polished stone road can't get a grip on the wet and slippery rocks and slips and slides before it gains purchase.

      A young boy, maybe seven, gestures and speaks to himself. Maybe an imaginary friend? Autistic? OCD?


      I found my way back to the traditional guest house where Ed was staying, then he, Aziz, and I set out on our walking tour. To tell the truth, kind of a bore, with the exception of an almost-fight between Aziz and the guy who wanted to show me his grandmother's souvenir shop on Saturday. Aziz pronounced this guy crazy (a designation one hears frequently in this town). Guide competition is fierce in Harar, and I think the other guy believed (mistakenly) that he had some claim as my guide.

      Unfortunately, the guides in Harar evidently have zero training on being a guide, even if they can produce a card designating them as such. In my view, there is no value in hiring any of these guides; one is just fine buying a Harar map in any of the museums for 30 birr -- at least until the so-called guides learn something of the art.

      Photo credit:

      We ended our tour at the cafe next to a church in the main square. There, met a German woman, Imma, who fell in love with Harar and is renting a house within the walled city for a month. She has been helping a woman care for her baby and toddler, believing, nevertheless, the infant will die soon after she returns to Germany.
      The mother devotes her life to chewing chat. Chat reduces the appetite, and the mother is poor to begin with, and the infant may not be receiving enough nutrients from the mother's breast milk. Mother and children live on a section of sidewalk in front of a store.

      Also met another guide; he's been suffering from hepatitis, but evidently took some traditional medicine and believes himself cured.

      An American man walked into the cafe, sat down, and made note of having been able to "file his story;" he pulled out a spiral notebook and began writing. I'd have had no compunction about introducing myself, but I was hot and tired, and in the moment, couldn't muster sufficient interest to stir myself.

      In the evening, Americans Ed, Tom, and I (and later, Irish Edith and the Dutch couple) gathered by plan or accident in the Hotel Belayneh Restaurant. I'd heard from various travelers about the pleasure of visiting Iran, and was dismayed to learn from Ed that Americans can't go there the way other nationals can. Evidently, we can only go as part of a guided tour. Well.

      In talking about an alternative to Iran - a place with similar pleasant qualities, such as culture, scenery, friendliness of people - the consensus among the other Americans, the Dutch, and the Irish was that Syria was the place to go.

      Edith and the Dutch couple went to the Babile camel market today and waxed poetic about it. It operates on Mondays and Thursdays. So - maybe I'll stay til Friday so I can check out the Thursday market.

      Sunday, March 13, 2011

      Ethiopia: Baksheesh! Harar, Day 3, Sunday

      Irish Edith, the Dutch couple, and I took a contract minibus to the small town of Koremi ("tinnish" - "tiny" in Amharic, one of my new vocabulary words). This trip was taken on the basis of a recommendation in the Bradt Guide. Disappointing and depressing.

      Koremi and its immediate surrounding are home to the Argobba, an ethnic group one adds to the mix of peoples in the Harar region - Harari, Oromo, and Somali. In this neck of the woods, the square houses are of golden stone.

      Whatever might have been in the past or will be in the future, Koremi presently offers only an exchange of the occasional gawker and the requests for "baksheesh" from young and old in Koremi. I asked the minibus driver if there was a souk here where one could buy something to support the town in a way other than just handing out birr. Turns out, no. Not even homemade bread or yogurt or cheese -- nuthin'. The Argobba girls and women wear necklace and bracelets of plastic beadwork. I cast about for a small piece I might buy. I spied a girl with a bracelet. "Sintinoh"? I asked ("how much"?). She replied with 70 birr, but with the driver's assistance we negotiated this to 50 birr. The girl removed her bracelet, gave it to me, and I felt good about it. Hopefully, she did, too.

      Some of the kids and I did enjoy a lively debate regarding the "faranjo" business, touching each other's arms, hair, and clothing, making distinctions between American and Irish and Dutch, for example, instead of just white ("faranjo"), and Argobba and Harari and Oromo, instead of just "brown." (Nevertheless, I strongly prefer "faranjo" to the "you, you, you!" one hears in Awassa.)

      Hot, dusty, and thirsty, we drove back to Harar quietly. An interesting note along our return route: There are tree "houses" or "stands" in the fields. These are for guarding maize from thieving birds and chat from thieving humans.

      Pizza at Fresh Touch. Photo credit: LNewman
      Upon our return to the Hotel Belayneh, we dispersed without processing our day. I went directly to my room, got something to drink, and rested a bit. Later walked to Fresh Touch Restaurant where I ordered an excellent vegetable pizza.

      Harar's smiling condom is everywhere. Photo credit: Clare H-P
      While I contemplated my tropical-like surroundings, I glanced up at my table umbrella, appreciating its orange and yellow color, and then noticing the artwork. Ah, a smiling condom with sunglasses. Must be related to the smiling condom on the sticker in my hotel bathroom. In that scenario, the happy guy with sunglasses is pointing at a picture of a toilet.


      I was joined by Ed, a New Yorker, who arrived in Harar several hours earlier from the north. Another  American, Tom from Atlanta, joined us a few minutes later, also a new arrival. We exchanged the usual, "Where have you been"? "How long have you been/will be in Ethiopia"? "Where are you going"?

      We walked back to the Jugal area (walled city). Tom was meeting up with another new arrival, this a woman from Norway. She, Tom, and Ed were staying at traditional Harari houses (now guest houses) within Jugal. (My Hotel Belayneh is just outside the wall, overlooking one of the markets.)

      Photo credit: "Stormshadow" at skyscrapercity

      Ed had retained a guide for an overview tour of Harar tomorrow, and agreed that I might join them. He  showed me the way to his guesthouse, gave me a little tour, and then he, and the owners (a daughter and her
      mother), and I chatted about local culture. He walked me back to my hotel, and we popped up to the top-floor restaurant for a beer. Tom and the Norwegian woman were there having dinner, and we had a nice
      conversation, the Norwegian woman reporting that one of her first experiences in Harar yesterday was being hit on her back by local men.

      Harar is, indeed, an unusual place.

      Saturday, March 12, 2011

      Ethiopia: Houses and A Fight, Harar, Day 2, Saturday

      Breakfast in Hotel Belayneh restaurant. Man next to me had a huge stack of bills he counted. When he finished, he raised up a pant leg and pulled out a second stack of bills, and counted that. An unprepossessing fellow, I wondered what his business was.

      Apropos of nothing --> Virtually every curtain rod in Ethiopia is this really ugly turned steel rod.

      Have met an Irish woman and a Dutch couple here. Edith, the Irish woman (Dublin), freely shares her age, so I'll share it here - she's 69 and like Barb (from Connecticut), a woman of similar age, she travels alone.

      Edith arranged for a contract minibus to the little Argobba town of Koremi tomorrow (Sunday), and she welcomed me and the Dutch couple to join her; we'll split the cost.

      Following breakfast, and despite several guide solicitations, I explored the walled city, Jugal, within Harar, on my own. One guy persisted at my side, wanting to show me his grandmother's souvenir shop. Eventually, I lost him.

      I stopped in the Harari Cultural Museum, which has a traditional Harari house inside its compound. The main room ("living room") has built-in adobe "benches" covered with cushions on the seats and backs. There are seating areas for the woman of the house, other family members, the elderly, for guests, and children.

      Photo credit: "StormShadow" at skyscrapercity
      There are niches in the walls which hold vessels for spices, medicines, money, and other things. Injera baskets and baskets for other uses hang on the walls. An upstairs room, historically used for food (and other) storage, serves as a bedroom in these modern times. There is a niche bedroom off the living room which is the honeymoon bedroom, where a newly-married couple was ensconced and could not leave for a week or so. Family members passed sustenance to the couple through the window between the living room and the honeymoon room.

      Photo credit: "StormShadow" at skyscrapercity
      In the Harari Cultural Museum compound was also a very large house at the head of high, wide steps. Not sure how to describe the style (there are several here in Jubal) - sort of an Indian Italianate Swiss and something else style. The Rimbaud House here is an example, as is Haile Selassie's house here. The ballroom-size public room in the house at the Harari Cultural Museum is now used as a community meeting room. Indeed, a meeting was in progress while I was there, so I sat in on it, joined by a sweet little girl who scrambled up into the chair next to me.

      Photo credit: "Stormshadow" at skyscrapercity

      Most of the 20 or so meeting participants were women. The topic was HIV. The meeting ended and I moved on, swiping away more would-be guides as I continued exploring the streets of this centuries-old, walled city.

      I came across Edith, the Irish woman. She was on the hunt for the Mermaid Cafe, a cafe recommended for its juice. I joined Edith in her search and we eventually found it, gratefully escaping the strong sun. We chose our respective lunches, which for Edith was a plain doughnut and mango juice, and for me, a flat, savory pastry with a cold Ambo.

      Photo credit: "Stormshadow" at skyscrapercity
      Edith told me that a year and a half ago, she suffered a stroke while driving her car. The car crashed, and she lost two fingers. Although she lost her speech for awhile and had weakness in one of her arms, she made - for the most part - a full recovery. Edith had experienced no red flags prior to the stroke and did not possess any of the typical risk factors. Edith theorized that in a previous trip to Mali, she contracted an infection that plagued her for some time, and that this was a contributor to the stroke.

      Edith said she felt joyous when traveling.

      All of a sudden, a fight broke out between two men in this tiny cafe. One chased the other into the street; it was a serious affair -- the one kneed the other in the crotch, then added more blows. Whoa, Harar is a tough town! After considerable pommeling, the smaller of the two men (who'd had his balls crunched) ceded the fight and took off.

      (As I write this, I remember my walk in the Bale Mountains. In a pasture far below our walking path were two small herds of cattle, each with a bull. Despite the distance, I could hear one of the bulls snort and paw the dirt; I could see the dust blow up around his legs. Though old news to Ayano, I watched enthralled by the melodrama below -- even got to see the bulls butt heads and engage their horns. I saw the aggressor give way to the other bull, and walk back to his herd.)

      Photo credit: "Stormshadow" at skyscrapercity
      When it was all over between the two men, I turned to the guy behind the counter to ask what it was all about. I remarked that one of the guys was smiling at the end. The counter man said in English, "That's because he kicked his ass," and the counter man pointed to the smiling victor, seated against the wall behind us. I laughed, and asked again what it was all about. Allegedly, the smaller man had followed Edith and me into the cafe with the intent to hassle us in some manner. The "smiling man," already in the cafe, had admonished him and also instructed him to leave the cafe. Things escalated from there to the fight we witnessed. Who knows? We thanked the smiling man for his chivalry, regardless.