Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Harar: The Old City

I keep reading that Harar is "the fourth holiest city is Islam". I don't know if this is true, but it is a Muslim city and has an extarordinary, walled old town which is crammed with tiny mosques and shrines, and women covered head to toe in colorful dress.
Harar was founded in either the 10thC or 13thC and its old walled city, which has 368 alleyways in a 1sq kilometer space is abolutely magical. The alleys wind their way arround courtyarded residences, tiny mosques, shrines, markets, shops, and churches, and the streets are lined by women selling vegetables and chat, roasting coffee, and weaving baskets. Men and children tend to cows and goats. The buildings, which have a slight Flintstonian quality in their shape and construction and ether white or painted bright hues. Everything begs to be photographed, except that people aren't keen on it, and i can't say i blame them. They're not putting on a show. They're just getting on with their lives.

I walked around aimlessly for hours and still didn't see everything, but this is why i gave myself more an one day here. I wanted to be at liberty be at leisure.
One thing that gets a bit wearing is the friendliness of the people. This is not unique to Ethiopia, but here i am. People are very friendly. Anyone who knows a bit of English wants to say hello and ask where i am from. That is fine, but many of them will just walk along side me and keep talking to me or when i am sitting at a cafe will sit down and just start asking me questions. Some of them are guides looking for business, but morst of them just want to talk. I don't kmow if this would be different if i was not alone. And of course there are comments from men on my appearance. While it is nice to talk to people to learn about the culure and their experiences, sometimes i just want to be left alone to
walk or sit in silence.
Last night i went out for a traditional Ethiopian dinner, which is injera - a large, thin pancake made of tef, which i find both sour and delicious - and on it are dollops of different stews or meats. Fortunately, as Ethiopians have 2 fastings days (vegetarian days) per week, you can order fasting food and get a feast of spicy lentils, diferent vegetables, and other delights. You eat the food with the injera, but tearing off pieces and using them to pick up the food. No ultensils allowed. This suits me quite nicely. It was delicious and very cheap.
I walked back to the hotel after dinner, down streets that were pitch black and filled with large holes and speeding vehicles and people. Like a huge dork, i carried a flashlight, both to make myself visible, to cars and to avoid falling down. I'm sure i was mocked for my cautiousness, but at least i arrived at the hotel in one piece. It did, however, start to pour rain on my walk back and i returned drenched. The rain continues this morning, but appears to be subsiding, so i am waiting a bit over breakfast and blogging.

Speaking of breafast, i ate outside, under an awning, and watched two men lead three small goats out of a house an into a shed, one by one. It was quite cute. A fourth goat tried to follow, but was ushered back inside the house. Thean i heard the horrible, shrill cries of the goats as they were slaughtered. I'm not passing judgment. People can do what they like, but i've never actually heard that sound before and don't care to again. Of course, this is what i travel for: new experiences.


Betty-Lou said...

I remember you and I having injera in an Ethiopian restaurant in Seattle. It was delicious but now you've actually had it in Ethiopia. I am very happy that you are living your dreams.

Wandering North said...

Yep, i've often thought 'i could eat Ethiopian food everyday'. And now i am putting that to the test.