Friday, March 11, 2011

Ethiopia: Wild and Beautiful Harar, Day 1, Friday

Harar! Exciting! Beautiful! Energetic! Wild!

I'm so glad I came; even after only a few hours here, I know it is a fitting finale (more or less) for my trip.

My arrival in Harar began on a sour note. First, some guy unloading the bags from the bus charged me 3 birr for lifting my bag from one spot to another spot, oh, 2 feet over. I said, "Why"? Based on Betty's Big Bus Blow-up in Arba Minch, I do believe this is not kosher. I checked around to see if other people were paying, and if so, how much. My observations were inconclusive - some seemed to pay; others didn't. I gave the guy 2 birr.

And then I found I'd attracted a would-be tour guide (who also wanted to escort me to a particular hotel). It was beginning to feel like Lalibela. Don't even want to go into the details. I had previously settled on Hotel Belayneh as worthy of at least one night's stay, so I persevered there. I shook off my "guide" after a while.

The room at the Hotel Belyaneh is ok, and the water is rationed here, so there is only running water for 3 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the evening. The cool thing is my shaded balcony, which overlooks part of the so-called Christian Market. Wow - I spent two hours just taking in all of the live theater:

A view from Hotel Belayneh. Photo credit: Kokoroyko

Photo credit: Lil and John

Photo credit: Worldwide Gourmet

A man carried what looked like a vicious dagger in his hand while he walked about the market. There was no artistry to it; just a big, deadly killer. Short handle and large flat triangle of lethal metal. [Note: I have since learned this was probably an agricultural tool, e.g. hoe, but I haven't been able to confirm. If yes, it is called a "tor" in Amharic and huaram in Oromiffa.]

Two men walked about, each holding a wooden stick, the tops of which were tucked beneath their shirts or vests. I wonder if they were curved, scimitar-like weapons like the one I saw yet another man carry with him. If it was a weapon, I couldn't figure out how that would work. Maybe a harvesting tool? [Note: I later learned this is a mancha, a tool that harvests chat.]

Several young schoolchildren returning home looked up and saw me on my balcony. We exchanged a few of the usual "My name IS ...", but then a little of the "faranji fever" struck them, so they got slightly carried away. The hotel guard, an older gent, dashed out from his booth brandishing his cane, and the children jumped and scattered with squeals of combined fear and excitement. It made me laugh.

Two seated women, market vendors, in vibrant colors, engaged in a conversation in which they used their hands to tell their stories, their hands like strong ballet dancers: jumping, turning, bowing, at times moving in toward the other woman, then retreating.

Chat sellers, all women, each with one over-sized breast, it appeared, until I saw one woman pull out a large drawstring bag, bulging with birr notes.

Photo credit: Charles Fred

Another woman kept her money pouch around her waist, beneath her caftan. This woman perused the clothing wares of a walking male vendor; every few moments, the woman would, with some violence, pull the man toward her; I wasn't sure why - to compel him to show her a different item? Keep him in place as they continued to dicker a price?

Goats nibbled on fallen chat leaves, but generally left them be.

Donkeys, carrying firewood, had colorful rags tucked beneath their tails, presumably to catch their droppings while they were on the city streets.

A wheelbarrow, overloaded with large, heavy logs, overturned on the street beneath my window. The rocks that comprise this road are so smooth from the constant foot, animal, and vehicular traffic, they are slippery.

A stocky man, perhaps in his 30s, sprawled on the pavement, crying loudly. Someone had done him some injustice. He was mentally impaired, whether from chat abuse, some mental retardation or a combination of the two? Another man, very poor, assisted him into a standing position and they walked away together.

A trio of young Oromo girls, each holding a donkey laden with firewood, approached a store owner about selling wood. He looked it over and disdained the wood. One of the girls must have persisted in her attempts to sell him the wood; the store owner put his hand on the side of her face and pushed her away.

Eventually, I pulled myself away from this engrossing theater and went upstairs to the restaurant. I had a surprisingly good veal cutlet, which came with a potato and shredded cabbage salad, served at room temperature.

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