Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 3, Part 1, Addis

We woke early today and were soon in our taxi and on our way out of the city. The sun was shining, as it has most of the days we've been here. We wound our way northwest, soon leaving the rows of corrugated metal shacks, stray dogs, street markets, and mass of uniformed school children behind in the smog of Addis. We were climbing another steep hillside, passing the firewood-carrying women who were making their way down from the forests of eucalyptus while Ethiopian elite runners wove in and out of them in a constant zig-zag. Coming up and over the hill we saw miles of green rolling hills of farmland and tukul villages dotted across the land. The sun seemed to illuminate certain hillsides with their scattered huts and worn trails filled with boys herding their goats, women carrying large jugs for water on their backs, and children carting their young siblings in cloth wrapped around their small bodies. After making some travel time we decided to pull off of the road to take some photos in the middle of an area of open country side. Almost instantly children began running across the fields toward us yelling hello! hello!. There were children of all ages, some with babies tied to their backs. They were very outgoing and vibrant, excitedly speaking at the same time, keen on photos, and glowing with confidence. It was easy to see past their tattered clothes, rough shoe-less feet, and untidy appearance with their faces that shined with the typical Ethiopian pride. That is, until I pulled the food out of the car to distribute. The children all quickly swarmed me, pushing me up against the car, grabbing at the food with such eagerness that they were clawing my hands. I shouldn't have been surprised, given their visual appearance. Of course they would react in this way, they are fighting for their well-being in such a hot, dry land with such limited resources. Soon we were back on the road, passing through small farm villages with their boys playing soccer or huddled around an old fussball table, shouting and laughing. we finally came up on the Muger River gorge overlooking the Awash River- a rough river known for it's numerous crocodiles that flows through a rough area called Awash Park- home to lions, ibex, baboons and more along with two tribes who are often fighting for land occupancy. We stopped and did a short trek down the mountain until we reached a wide expanse of sheer vertical cliffs leading straight down below our feet to the river far below. The view was stunning. After a few photos we hopped back in tyhe car to head to one of the most holy sites in Ethiopia- the Debre Libanos Monastery, founded in the 13th century by a priest who was credited with the spread of Christianity in the land. The Monastery is set impressively beneath a cliff on the edge of the gorge. The closer we got to the Monastery, the thicker the crowds of people became, all trekking to the holy site, some from many miles away. Winding our way on the top of the gorge, we passed baboons, the super cute Colobus monkey's, and occasional groups of tired old women with their hands extended and waving up and down in hopes of a donation. We passed through a small village with approximately 500 people all gathered in the center for their once per week market day. We slowly rolled through the crowds while children ran alongside our car yelling hello! and while other's surprised faces would turn and alert others of the 'Ferengi' or foreigners passing through. We passed stands with vegetables, baskets, goats for sale, and incredible sized sugar cane. We finally came to the gate to the Monastery and were out making our way past the crowds of onlookers toward the sounds of chanting and melodic singing. A priest draped in blue cloths and crowned with a jeweled hat met us and led us on a tour, explaining the rituals being performed and explaining meanings of the religious arts covering the entire walls of the inside. We came across a room of young men draped in white whose voices would slowly rise in singing prayer and then come back down again, only to have another voice slowly rise up amidst the others, causing the other men to join and rise again in harmony. In the main area the men and women were separated in two sections, both sides with people ritualistically patting down their bodies, crossing their arms and slowly coming down onto the cloth laid out in front of them to place their heads to the floor in constant prayer. When we emerged into the sunlight we noticed many people walking off into the woods and trekking up the mountain. We decided to follow and began making our way up the steep hillside toward the cliff that held the cave of healing holy water. The sides of the trail were lined with people, all calling softly out to us 'Ferengi' for help. We passed, keeping our heads low in mock concentration of our footsteps. How can one help so many? When we were almost to the top we came across many people unclothed, washing themselves. A small room was on the side, where many were waiting to enter. We passed through and soon were standing on the top of a rocky edge with a sheer cliff looming up above us, and a gated cave opening in front. We were instructed to remove our shoes and wait for someone to come and open the gate. We sat down to wait and glanced around at the many people waiting in line to bathe in the holy water. There were sick people, disabled, deformed, and mothers holding their sickly small infants. There were faces of the lonely, the loved, the prayerful, the sick and starving, the poor, the wealthy, and of the beautiful, with their faces covered with the typical beautifying tattoos and scars. I turned around and rolled my pants as we were led into the now open gate, our feet walking into the holy water of the cave. Many others rushed in behind us as we were led to the spot where the priest Tekle Haimonot did his praying. After a few moments we were again being led back outside while the men and women spoke to us, thanking us in Amharic for the opening of the gates, and an old woman stroked River in a loving way calling him 'Ye-nay-konjo-lij', which means 'my beautiful son'. One of the many things I've cherished in this country (though River might not agree!) is that everyone has referred to him as 'the baby': 'what can I get for the baby?', 'is the baby alright?', 'such a beautiful baby'. They are good reminders that amidst his growth and growing maturity my cherished baby is still underneath, and this trip has been special to be able to share with him, when soon our attention will be split by 5. We passed back through the waiting lines of people, making our way back down the mountain, passing the bath house where we could hear the sounds of a man screaming, his illness being beaten out of him while being washed in the holy water while the shrill high-pitched calls of the women rang out in thanks and praise. Making my way down the mountain, I began stopping to greet the old and the blind, holding their hands, placing a birr or two in each, and asking 'Indeminesh Mama?', 'How are you Mama?' They bowed their heads and showered me with blessings in their soft spoken voices. I couldn't help them all, but I could at least help a few.

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