All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy

As I have settled down into my daily routines and found adaptive ways to live the African life, I have more time and energy to explore my surroundings. I feel obliged to write this blog to promote tourism in Ethiopia as a part of my contribution to aide its economy and long term development. Ethiopia has a rich culture, long standing history and beautiful sceneries which may not have been known to many outsiders in other parts of the world.

Tourism is now a favorite career subject for young Ethiopians as they see huge potential in this field, be it training in hotel management, the food industry or becoming a tour guide or translator. Often ferengis will be grabbed for a chat while walking down the road by enthusiastic tourism students to practice their English.

Lalibela, famed for its rock hewn churches, is arguably one place in Ethiopia that no tourist should miss. It is a town perched at an altitude of 2630m among mountains and rocky escarpments. It is the Holy City of Ethiopia, like Jerusalem, many pilgrims come from afar to visit. It is a UNESCO site, but is still an active Christian spiritual centre, exactly just like what it had been 800 years ago.

The famous Biet Giyorgis, one of the stone churches, as seen in the postcards.

Side view of Biet Giyorgis, one of the most majestic churches in Lalibela. It is an isolated monolith, carved in the shape of a cruciform tower. It is excavated below ground level in a sunken courtyard enclosed by precipitous walls.

Faithfuls travelling long distance by foot to the holy city

Little Faithfuls

95% of the Ethiopian population are Orthodox Christians. They still practice fasting.

Priest reading the Bible quietly in the corner

As for my leaking roof, some of you have suggested putting some kind of canvas on top. Here is what the European Union has done to protect the UNESCO rock hewn churches from water seepage damage.

You are welcome to throw in your thoughts or give them better suggestions about these modern umbrellas over the ancient structures.

“The Umbrella” for protection

Biet Giyorgis is the only church without an “umbrella” as it will obscure the view of it’s characteristic cruciform roof top. How about a transparent one???

Since Bahir Dar, the small city where I volunteer, is situated on the southern tip of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, how can I not spend a day to have a boat trip to see its famous monasteries and visit the hippos?

Besides hippos and  crocodiles, Lake Tana harbours at least 26 species of fishes, some of which are endemic to the lake. Tana is also renowned for its varied birdlife. Flotillas of white pelicans are particularly common.
Lake Tana is about 65km in diameter and averaging 14m in depth. It is set at an altitude of 1830m. It was formed at least 20 million years ago by an ancient lava extrusion functioning as a natural dam. At the backdrop, you can see the skyline of Bahir Dar city.

Monastery hopping on Lake Tana is quite an expensive activity (due to fuel cost). I took this boat with several other tourists to the closest monastery on the Zege Peninsula. The boat ride took about 45 minutes.

You would be surprised to see the existence of this papyrus tankwa, which resembles greatly the ancient Egyptian boat, sailing across Lake Tana. It`s no more than a kayak made of papyrus. The locals are using it as a means of transportation. It takes them 6 hours of hard paddling to go to the other shore!! Obviously no life vests are available.
Not all monasteries allow women and animals to enter. We visited this medieval church, Ura Kidane Mihret, which was founded in the 14th century. This circular church`s walls were covered by jumbo murals, painted between 100-250 years ago. Here are some interesting looking ones just for the readers to have a glimpse. (Wish to upload more pictures, but have to apologize the limitations of the internet line.)

Corridor of the circular Ura Kidane Mihret Monastery, Zege, Bahir Dar
I sincerely hope that today`s blog has given you another perspective about Ethiopia, at least a glimpse of its beauty and some part of its long standing culture.

The Rhythms of Life


I guess I have settled down and  really got used to my volunteer life and its routines: getting up at 5am (no later than 6am when the day starts with chanting of the mosque, crowing of the roosters, barking of the neighborhood dogs as well as pecking of the numerous birds of vivid colours on my window. My alarm clock has thus lost its role and function. Breakfast usually is dabbo (the local Ethiopian loaf  bread, ) or ambessha (local round flatbread, more common in northern Ethiopia) with some fruit jam (We are lucky to have some imported jam in the ferengi’s (meaning foreigner in Amharic) “supermarket”, the size of which is no bigger than a small grocery shop. The imports are usually from the nearby countries like Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Of course these condiments are considered to be luxuries according to the local standards.)

It takes about 20 minutes to walk from my house to the  Regional Health Bureau Office, treading muddy paths as well as crossing streams and dug trenches. My hiking boots have been badly beaten and worn by the uneven gravel roads after 3 months. The short journey is slowed down further by saying hellos and waving to the numerous friendly children on the way. Now and then,  I’ll even stop to join in a game of ping pong (table tennis) with the local boys. Dont really know where the table  and the half squashed ping pong ball came from, but this is one of the favorite activies of the  teenagers, besides playing pool (snooker). Everybody is lining up for their turns, but I have got the special treatment of ferengi to jump the queue being the invited guest. One has to be extremely cautious not to trip over while hitting the ball as the game is played in the open on uneven grounds.

Weather watch is the most important activity one has to do every day. Time off work is determined by the degree of overcast in the sky. With the slightest sign of sky turning dark, I have to start packing up and rushing across the fields to hit home before the downpour of the afternoon storms. It’s no kidding. When it pours, it seriously pours with thunder and lightning. Even with a full length rainjacket, I can get soaked all over. Umbrellas here are basically for shading out the sun. Chances of power out increase with the rain. Once I arrive home, I’ll try to beat the time to prepare supper and boil hot water for my sponge bath before power goes out. Sorry, no dinner  if you are too slow! It is part of my daily conditioning like the Parlov’s dog.

Usually when the power it’s out, there is total darkness except the lightning litting up the sky like an artillery.  The wimpy light of my torch is of no comparison. What other good things can you do in the evening  besides going to bed early and sleeping through the roaring of the thunder??

Two other routines that I dont really fancy are 1. mopping the flooded floor from my leaking roof (yes, due to lack of  proper maintanence , my charming house is leaking everywhere when it rains) With the cool mist of raindrops hitting my bed, it feels as if I am camping out in the wilderness. Sometimes I wonder if the thatched roof grass hut is better water-proof that the modern metal tin roof.  2. constant extermination of bugs/fleas/ticks or whatever that is biting me. This biting nusaince is definitely a huge annoyance. Sometimes it’s not just bites with wheals but small blisters. The highest number of bites I had one time all over my body is 40! Also  I am really worried that there is DDT resistance causing the ineffective eradication. Another major obstacle is during the rainy season, there is no hot sun to kill the bugs or eggs. The clothes and furniture wont dry fast enough despite washing with hot boiling water. Even though my house is very clean, there is no way I can avoid bringing biting insects in from outside such as from public transportation or sitting on sofas/chairs in public places. I am desperate to experiment and  try any methods any friends would suggest.

It is a very simple, quiet and routine life governed by the rhythm of the powerful Mother Nature.

My “prestigious” neighborhood

Creatures in co-existence, just to name a few…

The dog that is leisurely enjoying itself in front of his shop

Africa is a heaven for bird watchers. It is renown for its exotic birds of vibrant colours endogenous only to this continent. I wish I had a faster camera with zoom to capture a few more.