Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Hararian Hospitality

Today in Harar started with rain but quickly dried out leaving the air cool and perfect for walking.

I returned to the old city and embarked on a new route. I visited the other church in Harar (there are 2 chruches and countless mosques - well, actually someone told me there are 99 mosques, but i have not fact checked that) and several tiny mosques, which were virtually hidden behind walls and houses. 

I could wander here for ages. It's like a medieval muslim maze. You turn down these tiny alleys with no idea where they will lead: to someone's house, a dead end, a bustling market, one of the gates into the city, a mosque...it's endlessly fascinating.

I visited the Harar coffee roasting company, where the coffee smelled amazing, but coming in 1 kilo bags, i don't think i'll be bringing any home.  I went to the Shoa gate, which is now my favourite of the six gates into the old city. It is a crowded market place with people selling vegetables and fruit, bread and meat. There are also a few women cooking and serving food while seated on the ground. One woman saw me looking and said "ful", which i have only ever has as a breakfast dish in Egypt. It is mashed beans cooked with tomato, onion and spices. After some communication issues i managed to ask and understand that it was 5 birr (about 25 cents). The woman mashed the ingredients in a tiny pot over hot coals and then it was ready to eat with a piece of bread for dipping. Delicious.
I hadn't seen much in the way of street food here until that. Just samosas, French fries, and a few sweets.

After lunch i went back to the coffee place to meet up with a guy i had met there as we had made plans for coffee and shisha. We went to his friend's house, which was basically two rooms with an outdoor cooking area and toilet. Inside, 5 guys were reclined on a cushion covered floor, chewing chat.  Chat is a plant, or rather the leaves of a plant, that is ubiquitous here (in other countries as well - and especially Yemen, i'm told, but Harar is the first place i've seen it). It is sold by the bagful on the streets and everywhere you see people chewing it, often while reclined, the effects are reportedly increased wakefulness and pensive thought and if you chew enough of it you achieve 'merkana' (spelled phoenetically), a peaceful and relaxed state. The guy whose house it was gave me a handful to try. It tastes awful, bitter, like a vegetable that you shouldn't eat. Often they chew peanuts with it to kill the taste. One handful was enough for me. I did not notice any effects.
Then they started the coffee ceremony. There was a young woman who did all of the work (of course). She took a pot of hot coals and sprinkled incense on it. Then she took another pan of coals and, using a shallow pan, roasted fresh coffee beans. This smelled amazing. Then she took the pan outside and pounded the beans into a fine powder with a heavy metal rod. Then, very slowly, the coffee was mixed with water in a clay pitcher and heated over a fire. The coffee was served in tiny cups ad, oh my god, it was the best, freshest coffee ever. This was repeated until everyone had 3 cups - they said you need 3 cups: one for the eyes, one for satisfaction, and one to think "all of the thoughts".

All if this occurred while we smoked shisha and listened to music - a mix of traditional Egyptian, Swahili hip hop, and Lil Wayne. The whole experience lasted about 3 and a half hours and was very relaxing, a great experience. 


Betty-Lou said...

You certainly know how to embrace new experiences and I (no bias here) am proud of you.

Wandering North said...

Thanks, Mom. You'd like it here. You would love all of the colors.