Richard's Travel Journal, January 19th
I decided I would head into the town, and book a flight to Axum and Lalibella, then go to Fasilide’s Castle and station myself by the Maryam church to witness the tabot being brought from the church and follow the parade to Fasilida’s Pool, but I took a wrong turn and ended up in a sheep market, doubled back and ended in the garment district, a mas off stalls with narrow stone walkways, and finally ended up at the bus station. I then got involved in a discussion about God and the Devil and going to Heaven and Hell with the shotgun rider of a minibus. (I’m sure there’s a name for these guys, but when the minibus still has room to cram someone into the bus, he sticks half his body out of the bus and calls out the destination and takes the fares when people get out. And it never seems to be the same guy as you started out with.) Shot some video there and took a couple of photos. I then went across the street and ordered a coke and a bombalino (donut) and a samosa (for some reason, the way I say samosa is not the same way the Ethiopians say samosa, and I can’t always get one) they’re quite different here, the insides are spiced wheat berries and they are deep fried and crispy kinda like ginger snaps.
I checked the map in the Lonely Planet guide, and found I had walked in a complete circle around the castle and the tourist office, so I headed out again, and found the castle, but gave up on the Ethiopian Airlines Office. I paid for entrance to Fasilides Palace and Fasilida’s Pool (where the Timkat procession was ending up) and te extra 75 Birr ($7.50US, I keep saying its like 1 Birr to the dollar but that’s US It’s about 8 something Canadian, but cause Math isn’t my strong suit (barely a pair of shorts) I round it up to US and pretend that’s par) to use my video camera. The doors in the castle are so tall I can’t get them to fit in the video very well, so I mostly took stills. I took a picture of a woman from Bahrain with her boyfriend and promised to try and send it to her cell phone, so I took her number and made a mental note to find out from Lee how to do that. I was in the gift shop there and they had a nice small carved wooden thingie with a door on it, and on the inside was a hand painted icon of Maryam and Iyeshu, which is I think the Amharic for Jesus and St. George poking the dragon with a pointed stick on the inside of the little door. I quite liked it, but still being Mr. Cheapo, I didn’t buy it. It was only 100 Birr! There was another one just like it but with a cross on the top, but it was 200 Birr. I decided the cross would break off, so I went back to the first one, but I still didn’t buy it.
By that time (1:30) people were beginning to sing in the streets. Kind of a rythmic chanting call and answer thing. Groups of men kinda dance/run in groups waving sticks through the streets. I took video and recorded some on my voice recorder. Just across the street from the Ticket Office to the Fasilides Castle/Palace is a small café, so I went there and sat and had a samosa, mango juice and coffee. It was right outside the entrance to a Maryam Church, and I figured they’d bring the tabot out and I could follow it from there. A buncha people with embroidered umbrellas went by and it was some time before it dawned on me that was the tabot guys, so I went with three kids who had started talking to me down the road. I caught up to the Procession in the Piassa, and commenced to filming, but it’s hard to get a clear picture because the important priestly folk all have these embroidered umbrellas. That wasn’t the main problem though. It was all the other important folk and their regular type umbrellas that walked alongside them that really blocked the view. There are tons of groups that were singing. The stick men I previously described. They’re not as disciplined as the rest and I actually saw a bit of a stick fight as two groups briefly clashed. These kinda lead the way and more genteel folk tend to veer away as they approach, but they’re only harmful by accident (with that one exception, oh and the one where one of them hit the horse of one of the two horsemen that accompanied the parade) then chur ch groups each with their own colour come next, and they are singing and clapping to the beat of a great drum. The drummers seem to be equally men and women, and the drummers spell each other off as the procession proceeds. There are also people randomly blowing brass horns that sound identical to taxi horns, and when one went off near me I quite often stepped back to let the non-existent taxi go by. The church groups kinda create a circle into which the main procession walks and the crowd follows in behind. Everywhere, singing and clapping erupts spontaneously in the crowd. I kept my voice recorder going as well as video hoping it would turn out.
There was a Ferenji about 7 feet tall near the umbrellas taking pictures. I’m not sure if I mentioned this but foreigners are called Ferenji. Just like the Ferengi in Star Trek! I figured Ferenji then must be Amharic for “Big Ears”, but someone claiming to be an expert said it was because the first people were French. OK, so phonetically that might make sense, except if the first Ferengi were French, I could see Ferengi and Frenchy were close, but assuming they were French, they would have called themselves “Des Francais” so Ferengi doesn’t fit. Someone else said it meant “white person”, but Ferengi and Foreigner are so similar, I assume they must have the same roots somewhere.
At some point a guy pick pocketed me. I think I know when it happened ‘because a guy just stood beside me for about a minute. Thankfully he only got the blades for my razor which I keep in my pouch, but that means I haven’t anything to shave wit at the moment. Till I got back to my hotel room, I thought he had also nabbed the little plastic container I use to put my dentures in, but nope, I still had that. I was feeling pretty lucky about that.Anyway, I moved ahead of the procession, but at a crossroads I had to wait to see which way to go.
All the walking was pretty tiring so I stopped at a little café and ordered a samosa, mango juice (and this time it was freshly squeezed and way cheaper: 6 Bihr for a half litre glass) and a coffee. I sat outside at a table and let the parade go by and then started following it amongst a more sedate group closer to my own age.There a kid called Yohann, maybe about 12 or 13, hit me up for some money. I gave him a ten and he walked with me until we got to the Fasilida’s Pool. He offered to carry my camera bag, but I told him the money was just for him, and he didn’t have to do anything for it, so we just carried on a conversation until one of his friends joined him. I gave them my bottle of water as they were staying the night at the pool, and they split. I was pretty glad he had a friend, because he said he didn’t have any. Maybe he misunderstood. So I stayed until dark. People came and prayed at the wall outside the compound where the pool was and I videoed three girls and a guy praying. I thought it was a father and three daughters (it was dark) but it turned out to be a guy called Medin, his girlfriend and two of her friends, so we chatted for a while and I showed them the video of them praying nd got his address so I could send a DVD back to him. After the crowd thinned out, I went into the compound to take some more video, and as I sat on the viewing stand, I was joined by a University student who began chatting with me, and soon we had a crowd of about eight talking (IN English) about Canada and drivinng a truck and God and stuff, and, I decided I would go back to the hotel instead of waiting up all night. They offered to walk with me and get me a cab, but I said I’d be OK and we all shook hands nd they disappeared into the night.
On the walk back, the power went out. Thankfully it wasn’t for too long, because I didn’t really know my way back, mainly because I was lost on my way to the parade. I used my camera to take pictures of my route as I took new turns so I could use them to find my way back. None of the streets in Gonder have street signs. That combined with streests that are not laid out in a grid and a power blackout, kinda make finding my way, a little more challenging than driving on the Interstate. Just after the street lights came on, I ran into a gang of teens with sticks (a lot of men carry these walking sticks, called Dergas. They are useful for keeping cattle and sheep in line, hanging water and kerosene bottles from, and for the most part, set ac, as I had witnessed earlier in the day.
They formed a little group around me and started talking, and I was a little paranoid to say the least, but after we began talking, they were kinda like having an armed escort. When I reached the Piassa, they wanted to keep chatting, but I took a taxi the rest of the way home, mainly cause I didn’t know where home was. The taxi driver charged me 50 Birr for a ride the day before had cost me 20. No tip for you! It was about midnight and I went straight to bed.
The ceremonies were supposed to start at five in the morning, and I woke up, and could hear my fellow guests clambering into their various modes of conveyance and heading out to timkat, but I was really tired and couldn’t bring myself to get up. Then, after thinking I had come all this way to witness Tinkat, I probably should get up and go. It was ten to five. I got on my clothes, but just brought my camera bag. My napsack was too cumbersome with the camera the day before. My camera bag is falling apart. Still, off I went. Still dark out.
My hotel is at the top of a hill and luckily as the guard let me out of the compound I saw a lady in white heading down the hill, and as everyone dreses in white for Timkat, figured I should follow her so I wouldn’t get lost. We passed a bunch of bars that were still open and blaring loud music into the night. It became pretty easy to get to the pool because so many people were headed there. Shot some great video and as we got nearer Fasilida’s pool, people were buying candles at 1 Birr each as they walked. This was a far more quiet and spiritual journey than the day before, and as we got into the compound people were chanting prayers, and as I sat against a wall to soak it all in, the whole scene seemed to be closer to the Ancient Egyptian connection I had imagined. I bought a candle for a Birr and gave it to the little girl with her brother and father beside me, and she went up to another guy and got a light for it and handed it back to me. I motioned with my hand to let her know it was hers to keep, and her dad fixed the wick. After that she sat and stared at me until I got up and tried to find a better spot to see the pool. It’s surrounded by a stone wall, and everyone pressed against the wall to get a peek. I didn’t really find a good spot, but at one place, I could hold up my video camera, and get a peek. This went on for two hours! And to make it worse, some priestly types set up a huge loudspeaker right behind me, and the noise was awful! The priests chanting into the nikes were holding them to close and the sound was really badly distorted and fuzzed out. More than anything bad sound drives me crazy! I finally gave up, and as I walked out of the press of people, I realized someone had stolden my still camera! The lanyard I had bought to keep it tethered was just hanging there!
To say I was bummed was a complete understatement. The wind kinda just dropped outa my sails. I knew who had done it too. A guy just stood beside me not doing anything in particular, like trying to see the festivities or anything, and I thought he’d been trying to get into my pockets, but hadn’t got anything. I got a picture of him on video, ‘cause when I thought he was trying to pickpocket me, I turned the camera around and pointed at him and he walked away. What kinda bummed me was I hadn’t backed up the day before’s pictures like I usually do, and so I had no stills of Timkat, and all the pictures I had taken at the castle were lost too. And though I didn’t figure it out until I got back here to the hotel, he also swiped my voice recorder.
The group of kids around me was even more bummed out than I was. They kept apologizing to me. People here are pretty nice and decent people, and they feel bad for the country when forreigners are ripped off, as if the bad apples tarnish the whole image of Ethiopia. I have been asked uite a few times what I think of Ethiopia and how I think it compares with Canada. Luckily we managed to change the subject as a kid selling chewing gum came by (they’re everywhere) and I didn’t have the heart to get into an extending refusal to buy anything, so I told him I couldn’t buy any gum cause it was bad for my teeth and I pulled out my dentures to show him. The kids were horrified! They all froze in what looked like abject terror. Most people here have beautiful straight white teeth, and probably cause they don’t eat many sweets or sugars. I don’t even think they had seen dentures before. It kinda reminded me of when I was two and one day my dad stuck his dentures out at me, then went back to watching football on TV. For years I tried to push my own teeth out with my tongue, but couldn’t do it. So now I can.
And it works every time. Now, when a kid comes up to sell me gum, I stick my teeth out at them and they back off right away. Though a few do come back and ask me to do it again.
The camera thing bummed me out, so I headed bck to the hotel. I stopped at the same café I had rested at the day before, and had the same fare, but two mngo drinks instead of one. After sitting for a while, I felt better, but my sun burn was telling me to head home. I found a place called Proxy Computer, and stopped in. Great Connection! Managed to complete my email list and send off a brief message, even get on Facebook! I got directions for Ethiopian Airlines and wandered back and forth by the Piassa for a bit and found the office.
Iyeshu at the desk was really helpful, but the earliest I can get a flight was the 23rd. That meant another four days in Gonder! And less for the rest of the trip as my flight for Yemen is on the 28th. But he managed to bump someone and get me on the 22nd to Axum. As it gets in at 8:30 AM I have a full day and the next there, then on to Lalibella to see the rock hewn churches and back to Addis for the 27th. It’s kinda ironic that I’ve always looked down on those whirlwind tours of Europe in 2 weeks, and here I am booking myself into one! I was pretty happy I was at least getting rid of my cash. Only bthing is the three filghts were only 1,300 Birr. I’m still a billionaire…
Right next to the Ethiopian Airlines is a café and a film processing shop. I bought a cheap 35mm camera for 300 Birr. The only way to stop the flash is to take out a battery. There are a lot of places that don’t allow flash inside. Unfortunately, it won’t be great in low light, and there’s no zoom, but at least I don’t have to wait three seconds before the camera decides to take the photo. After the guy in the camera shop showed me how to load in the batteries and film, I shared an outside table with an English couple from near Blackpool who had lost their driver, and just after they left, part of the Timkat Procession came past the Piassa. They were the other side of the boulevard behind the trees, and I was sipping fresh mango juice. I made a feeble attempt to film some of it, but I was tired. I decided I would pay the entrance fee to the castle and get some snaps with the new camera. I stopped and bought a bottle of mango juice for 16 Birr (The same kind and size I bought for 27 Birr in Addis, at the same price I would pay at Deano’s in Winnipeg) from some really nice and attractive women in a small shop across from the castle. From what I understand it’s some kind of women’s self help co-op thingie going on there. I could be wrong, but that’s quite a rare event.
Taking pictures was a snap (I couldn’t resist the pun) as I had been through the day before, and didn’t need to wander about until I found the right spots. I also found out one of the castles has a staicase I hadn’t seen before. There was a tour guide there who stopped me and said he was a friend of Abbi’s (Actually spelled Abbe) I thought that was weird, but there must be something that is distinctive about me that he would know it was me right away. I should have asked how Abbe described me that he would know me right away. It would be of great help when you had one of those employment forms that ask you to describe yourself in 25 words or less (“I don’t know, he’s just kinda funny lookin’”). And I have to offer my apologies to Hanna from Dubai, ‘because her picture was in my camera when it was stolen, and I don’t have it anymore. There was another professional photographer there who took her picture right afterwards, so hopefully she won’t be bummed out by not getting mine.
I got back and found out there’s no water at all. There’s a bucket of water in the shower stall with a tin cup. There was enough water left in the non-funcional hot water tank to take a mini shower, but I had to finish off with the cup. Also I had to use some of the water to flush the toilet. I think the water came on a little while ago, because I heard the toilet start to leak.
Had a great supper at the Fogera Hotel next door of Roast Lamb and Pan Fries with spinach as well as fried coleslaw, and tried their pancake. Delicious! Bigger and with the same lemon and honey sauce!
I’m taking my malaria pills at night now, and don’t seem to feel the weird blood pressure thing doing it that way. I’m amazed the electricity has stayed on all night.
So anyway, I got time to kill here in Gonder. I thought I’d lay up a bit on the 20th and stay out of the sun and let my skin recover. Write and stuff. So that’s the plan. Get some laundry done. Maybe go find that kid that keeps pestering me to buy his (for the most part) god-awful postcards and impose them on my friends and family. Get some flea powder, and see if I can find a place that will develop my film and put it on a CD. That way I can mail it back to Lee for safekeeping. And I can see if I can get my blog going. I’m set for it to be on my marymagdalene site, but its kind of a form thing, so I don’t know yet. I’d like to be able to just upload my files ans set it my own way. And as we all know, you can’t always have it your own way….