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.

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