One of the reasons i wanted to come to Harar was because every night, just after dark, there is a man who feeds raw meat to wild hyenas. He had been doing it for years, as his father did before him, possibly as a way to keep them from eating his livestock. The hyenas live all around Harar and have a close relationship to the city - sometimes coming in to the city at night to scavange scraps left over from the market. And there are annual rituals where hyenas are fed porridge as a way to secure a good year ahead. But the really cool thing is, you can go and watch the hyena man feeding the hyenas, and for a small donation you can feed them too. This has become a popular tourist activity.
I went, with a guy i paid to show me the way to the hyena man's house. I was so glad i had him with me because i never would have found it on my own. We left the old city and walked down a dirt road into the countryside. The walk was fairly long and was made difficult by the fact that it was pitch black. No street lights, lights from houses, cars, etc. nothing. Just stars and a rough road to contend with. It felt very unsafe, but was also slightly scary, due to my fear of the dark and the horrible sounds of hyenas in the distance. They really do may horrible noises. Fears aside, it was nice to be outside, hearing all the nature sounds and seeing the stars. Finally we got to the hyena man's house and there he was, surrounded by hyenas, with more lurking in the shadows, with only their eyes shining out of the darkness. He had a big basket of meat and there were a few other tourists there (who had prudently arrived by van) who were taking turns feeding the hyenas. They each looked so scared as they went that i was sure it would be mildly terrifying.
Finally it was my turn. I kneeled down next to the basket of meat and the hyena man must have held some meat over my head, because while i was distracted by the 2 hyenas near my face, another hyena jumped in my back and stayed there for what seemed like forever. It was heavy, which was not surprising, given that they are fairly large and solid muscle. (Did i mention that they are second only to crocodiles in terms of their jaw strength and that they can pulverize bone with their teeth?)
I then took a small stick and put it between my teeth and the hyena man hung raw meat on it and in moments, a hyena snatched it away, coming inches from my face. Weirdly, it was not intimidating at all. The walk there was far scarier. It was just very cool. And watching them interacting and laughing their horrible hyena laughs was amazing.
The walk back seemed far less scary.
After that, i just went for some lentils and injera, had a cigar and went to bed, reflecting on the adventures of the day.