Rick Layne & Mary Thomas’ Ethiopian Diaries
Tuesday 09: Axum — Leaving the semi-organization of the Gondar airport behind we wing our way north to Axum (via a brief stop in Lalibela). From the airport, we drive into Axum and tour the principal sights of Axum: the remains of a palace, the church, the stelae. One highlight is the church, although modern by Ethiopian standards (ca. 1960) it contains older decorations and is still using a “Testament of St. Mary” which is at least seven centuries old. Behind the church is a small monastic building reputed to be the resting place of the original Arc of the Covenant (so, not in a US Govt warehouse as Steven Spielberg would have us believe). No-one is allowed to see the Arc, except for the one monk who dedicates his life to tending to it. Another highlight is witnessing a marriage celebration which arrives at the stelae field for wedding photos as well as some chanting and drumming by the wedding party.
Wednesday 10: Axum and Yeha — We journey north 55 kms in the direction of Eritrea to see a building reputedly constructed during the 8th Century BC (or BCE as is now being used) which was a pagan temple then an Orthodox Church, and is now a substantial ruin covered in scaffolding. On our way from the site our guide eyes a likely local house (at random) and has the driver stop and they scurry down to this modest pile of stones with cattle grazing in a stone pen. They return moments later and announce they have cajoled the family to host us for a visit. We enter this abode somewhat sheepishly, feeling we are intruding into their lives. We are met by a mother and father, an adult daughter with her infant, and four other daughters aged 5 months to about 13 years old. We are seated in a small room which serves as living/dining/bedroom lit only by the sunlight coming through the doorway. We sit on stone benches covered with blankets or cotton rugs and watch mom and eldest daughter prepare coffee: starting with roasting the beans in a pan over and small charcoal stove, crushing the roasted beans in a mortar and pestle, pouring the ground coffee into a long-necked ceramic pot which contains boiling water, skilfully managing the percolating coffee, pouring it back in the pot when it bubbles out, and, finally, pouring the coffee in one constant stream into the waiting small cups and adding sugar. According to the coffee drinkers present, it is an outstanding brew. The coffee ceremony isn’t complete without something to eat and out comes a basket stool/tray with a large piece of Ethiopian bread (injera) and a small pile of salt to sprinkle on your bread. With our guide translating, Herself tries learn out the family’s lives, ages, activities. This very surprised Ethiopian family is really rather matter-of-fact about this visit and are very gracious throughout, considering that 40 minutes earlier they were minding their own business, oblivious of an impending tourist invasion. This is not a listed tour activity, it is something our guide likes to do when possible, and since there are only the two of us, it is much less an imposition than with a busload.