After showering and charging our devices we toured Gonder with Dave and his friend. We visited a series of castles built by Solomonic emperor Fasilides in the 16th century after he restored the Ethiopian Church and established Gonder as Ethiopia’s capital. With grand halls, towers and gables, the architecture was almost as interesting as the court intrigue. It was all very game of thrones -African version.
Gonder also has a significant moslem presence and it was the area in which the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) lived before they were evacuated to Israel during famine and rule of the Derg in the 1980’s.
We took tuk tuks to the sprawling market where we saw everything on sale from fruit and incense to ladies of the evening. Dinner was at Master Chef restaurant where we had injera with shiro, spinach and potatoes. The proper way to eat Ethiopian food is to break off a piece of injera (large fermented pancake) and scoop up some curry or sauce and pop it into your mouth. You are not supposed to use your left hand or let your fingers touch your lips. I kept forgetting this as I would scoop with my left and lick the spilled sauce off my fingers. Dave’s friend told us that he was recently wed to a girl in an arranged marriage. Most marriages in Ethiopia are arranged by parents and he told us he was very happy with the result.
After dinner we went to a night club in a basement club near our hotel. The place was packed and there was this amazing energy. Different singers would come on accompanied by male and female dancers who would switch outfits for each singer. Gonder people dance with their shoulders shaking them side to side leaning forward. Modesty prevents the female dancers from dancing with the audience so only the male dancers work the crowd. Dressed in silver and gold outfits that would put Prince to shame, the men would shoulder dance with members of the audience for tips. It was funny to see guys putting money in the pockets of dancers in a context that was completely different from the North American one.
Next morning (March 13) we woke at 4 a to the sound of Orthodox prayers in Ge’ez being broadcast over the town loudspeakers. After a breakfast of full (beans with chilis and onions and fresh bread) We said good bye to Dave and caught a flight to Lalibela. The town is named after a 13th century emperor who unified Ethiopia and embarked on a project to build solid rock churches in order to create a new Jerusalem. The churches were very impressive some were rectangular and had two floors, one was shaped like a cross. Some interiors of the churches were sparse, others had murals and carvings including stars of David and African saints. There were some pilgrims and orthodox priests. European missionaries went to Aftica to bring religion to “the savages” However, these churches showed how Christianity was alive and well in Ethiopia and that while Europe was in the Dark Ages, Ethiopians were building a “New Jerusalem”. It made me realize how the creative and open periods of all societies are temporary. Maybe one day Ethiopian and other African tourists will traipse around the ruins of American cities leave tips to the Amharic speaking local guides and wonder about the societies that built them.
Eliot and I met up with Jure for dinner at this restaurant that looks like a set form a James Bond movie. It is owned by a Scotsman. They have Scottish/Ethiopian dishes including Shepherds pie with Shiro. Over beer, Jure described his 14 hour bus ride ordeal from Gonder to Lalibela. From what he could see through the icon/saint covered windshield, the road was barely wider than the bus. Things got worse when the bus stopped and the Ethiopians got off to pick Khat (mild narcotic). Everyone on the bus started chatting as if they were on mushrooms, then they all fell asleep. That would be ok except for the fact that the driver was chewing on it as well. After that experience Jure booked a flight to Addis.
Jure, Eiot and I
That evening Eliot had stomach issues which somehow eluded me. The next day we flew back to Addis for one more night at the Caravan hotel before catching our flight to Tokyo. The airport was packed there were chinese people in the duty free, Arabs and Magrebi people in the restaurants, an African soccer team buying sneakers and Israelis. I even saw a chassid. As we took off I was very sad to be leaving Ethiopia. It was one of the places I was most looking forward too and the experience surpassed all expectations. Each time we leave a country I sense the loss associated with having part of a journey. I guess every day brings us closer to the end of the journey. When you travel you live life on steroids, everyday you see something new and experience new things, you do not get to fall into routine. Experiences can be good and bad but they are almost always new. Our trip is long and the loss associated with ending in one country is tempered by expectations of visiting the next one. As I lay down to sleep on the three seats (Airplane was empty), I looked forward to Japan.