Friday, March 11, 2016

Flashback: Harar, Ethiopia, March 2011

On March 16, 2011, I wrote Hyenas, Fresh Goat, and a Crispy Roach in Harar, Ethiopia, Day 6.

Damn, I loved that crazy place!

A repost below:

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. [A video about dogs and hyenas in Harar below]

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. 

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