Rick Layne & Mary Thomas’ Ethiopian Diaries
Friday 05: Gondar – We’re off first thing for a three hour drive on a good paved road to Gondar in our trusty Toyota van. We break the trip with a visit to the market in the small town of Woreta. This is a scene of heaving humanity: goods (including livestock, food, durable goods and anything else imaginable) are being bought and sold, clumps of locals chatting, laden donkeys and crude horse carts transporting material up and down the main street. Following our guide we plunge into the maelstrom at Woreta’s main square, literally stepping over and around bodies in the square doing business — it is something out of some DeMille biblical epic: the local costumes and customs appear unchanged from Queen of Sheba’s reign. As amazed as we are, the locals are as transfixed with our presence and appearance; Mary’s newly painted toenails are of particular interest. I worry my camera will not be able to really capture this amazing scene. We eventually leave the frenzy and re-board the van and continue on to Gondar.
As we drive up to the Church of Debre Birhan Selassie, we note long lines of white-clad women who, I am told are on their way to a funeral at the church. Sure enough, upon arrival, there is a large crowd of mourners and clergy already going up the stairs to the church courtyard where the rite of spiritual cleansing is just about to get underway. We slip around the mourners and enter the church to admire the “most famous example of ecclesiastical art” (especially the ceiling cover in 120 faces of angles) while outside, drums, cymbals and chanting of the priests mark the passing the local notable. We sit in the church and marvel at the art and listen to the drumming outside. Eventually the funeral ends, we exit via side exit and are off to the next site, which is the Fasilides Pool, the site of public plunge by pilgrims during the Epiphany celebrations in January which are attended by tens of thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox followers.