Sunday, May 31, 2015

On the Road to Mekele

The following day we began an overland journey to Mekele.  We chose this route to get a better sense of the region where Dad had worked years ago.  So come along and join the road trip from Axum to Mekele via Adigrat.  Pictures don't do it justice but will hopefully give you some sense of the landscape.

Terracing along the mountain side to prevent soil erosion. 

One of the things we most enjoyed about Ethiopia were the juice bars.  Here we are in Adigrat enjoying a mango and avocado smoothie along with delicious flat bread

A local market along the road side.  Note the donkeys in the foreground; the favoured beast of burden in Ethiopia.

We stopped at a cave church hewn out of rock above ground level.  There are several in this region many of which can only be reached by a steep climb.  This particular church had suffered fire damage in an attempt to destroy it but the paintings were still remarkable to see.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Axum - Obelisks and crowns

The next day we flew to Axum a town close to Ethiopia's northern border.  Between the 1st and 8th centuries AD, the Axumite kingdom controlled most of present-day Ethiopia including territories in the southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula.  The achievements of this culture are still visible in the remarkable obelisks or stelae in Axum.  Many scholars believe the obelisks are the tallest single pieces of stone ever quarried and erected in the ancient world.  The tallest, over 33 metres tall lies fallen and broken into six massive pieces.  Some theorize that it may have fallen during the process of erection.  The tallest obelisk still standing at Azum is 23 metres tall.  Dad had visited this site before but hadn't seen one of the obelisks which had been removed and taken to Rome during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia. It was returned to Axum in 2005 and re-erected in 2008.

 Our afternoon was spent visiting a church complex featuring the old and new cathedrals of St. Mary of Zion. The two cathedrals are considered one of the holiest sites of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  In the new cathedral we were shown a 5th century goat-skin Bible and listened to a group of priests and deacons chanting.

 Between the two cathedrals is a small chapel known as The Chapel of the Tablet which is said to hold the original ark of the covenant. Admittance to the chapel is closed to all but a guardian monk, so we are none the wiser after visiting.

One of the most fascinating parts of the afternoon was seeing the crowns and royal robes which are housed in a 'museum.'  In old dusty cupboards, some with cracked glass, were crowns worn by emperors from long ago.  

Today they don't allow you to photograph the crowns and robes. Forty years ago women were not even allowed into the church to see them. When Dad and Mum and some other women visited over forty years ago, a priest kindly brought out the crowns for the women to see and so the photos posted are Dad's slides from years ago.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Lalibela - Chiseled Beauty

Next stop was Lalibela, famous for it's rock-hewn churches. Below is the view of our drive from the airport to the town of Lalibela at an altitude of almost 2,800 m. 

We had read about and seen pictures of these churches but it was amazing to actually see these 13th century monolithic churches carved out of rock with nothing but hammers and chisels.  The building of these churches is attributed to King Lalibela who set out to create a 'New Jerusalem.'  The churches were hewn out of rock, and then roofs, doors, windows, and columns were chiseled out.  The setting of these churches in a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia only accentuates their beauty.  Four of the 13 churches were completed as free-standing structures attached to rock only at their base. Here are a few pictures of these incredible structures.

 St. George's Church from above (note the depth
of the hole that was chiseled out).
                                                                                                  St. George's Church from below.

 We completed our day by having dinner in this restaurant jointly operated by a Scot and an Ethiopian.  Watching the sun set from our guest house and then feasting on shepherd's pie with Ethiopian spices made for a stunning ending to the day.

Views from our guest house.

Gondar - The City Fortress

The first stop on our tour was Gondar a fortress-city that was the residence of the Ethiopian emperor Fasilides and his successors.  King Fasilidas settled in Gondar and established it as a permanent capital in 1636.  The city functioned as the centre of the Ethiopian government until 1864.  In the morning we visited the Debre Birhan Selassie Church famous for its examples of sacred art. The church was built in the 17th century by emperor Yasu II.

Then in the afternoon we visited the palace compound to explore the castles, palaces, and library of the emperors.  The main castle has huge towers and walls, resembling a piece of medieval Europe transported to Ethiopia.  

We also visited a two storey pavilion which was a bathing palace associated with Emperor Fasilidas. As fascinating as the building were the tangled tree roots growing down the walls of the bathing pool.

Gondar was also the place where we were introduced to tuk tuks, a motorized version of the traditional rickshaw.  Perfect for three we hired these to scoot about town.  David quickly learned to bargain for an appropriate rate and then Dad and I would scramble in for a sometimes hair-raising ride.  As we've said before no need for amusement parks in Africa - just take public transport.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Home Place"

Over forty years ago David's parents spent three years living, learning and serving in Ethiopia.
 David was born in Addis Ababa and spent the first two plus years of his life there.  Following a revolution in the country in 1973 they were unable to return and so ended a work and a mission that was very dear to their hearts. 

For years David has had a hankering to visit the land of his birth and this May the dream became a reality.  Interestingly enough, our Ugandan colleagues were enthusiastically approving.  "Of course, you must go a visit your home people."  On May 5th David and his Dad stepped back on Ethiopian soil for the first time in 42 years. We spent the next two weeks exploring this fascinating country at first on our own and then with another couple and our Ethiopian host who had also served with the mission.
During the first part of the trip we were tourists; at times an unsettling experience since we have become comfortable knowing what a Ugandan shilling is worth, how much one should pay for transport, and how to greet appropriately.  Now we had to learn how to do these simple things all over again in a new country.  To save time we decided to do several internal flights and so in the next post I'll share some of our adventures during that first week.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tangled Roots

I once read a quote about friendship which said, "Growing apart doesn't change the fact that for a time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled and I'm glad for that."  I was reminded of that recently as we were reunited for a few days with one of our most steadfast friends.  Twenty or so years ago we lived in the same city and developed a friendship which has stood the test of time. It was so special to be able to give her a glimpse into our daily life here and share our hearts with someone who knows us well.

 We spent a few days at Kasana and then traveled to Kobwin to visit the children's centre there.  As well as exploring the surrounding area on foot, we took the children at the centre to see rock paintings from thousands of years ago.

Then it was down to Jinja to spend a little time by the Nile River.  We stayed up far too late most nights relishing for a few days the joys of friendship.  And so while we are at this point in our lives growing in different places, I'm so glad that our roots are still well and truly tangled.