Wednesday, September 19, 2012


WEATHER: Cooler and rainy in patches 18C  

HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: Getting out of the city

BUMMER OF THE DAY: Can’t think of a single thing

WORD OF THE DAY: Bugs-sheep in Amharic

The last few days I have just been recovering from my flight from hell and spending precious time with Zeme.  These 9 days are going to go so quick so we are making the most of the time we have together.  I need to thank Zeme’s workplace for letting him have the week off-again for another visit.  I met a few of his colleagues last time I was here, but I am yet to meet his boss, but he has always been very helpful when we need papers signed or time off and I do thank them all for supporting Zeme in turn supporting me at the same time. 

It’s Tuesday today and we decided to get out of the city and see some of the sights that can be done in a day from the capital Addis Ababa.  A lot of people tend to use Addis just as a transit before tours to the north or to the south and I am not sure that they realize that there are a lot of trips that you can do just for the day from here.  I guess I didn’t when I first came for my first tour last year; you fly in, do the tour and then fly out.  Well I now have the opportunity to see some of the closer sights and today we are going to see 3-Tiya Stelae, Adadi Mariam and Melka Kunture Prehistoric site.  They are all on the same road and can all easily be done in a day.  Zeme was on the phone to Chombe this morning and mentioned what we were doing and Chombe asked if he could join us.  After asking permission for the day off from his boss (who said yes-I wonder what they think when I’m stealing 2 of their staff) we picked him up on our way out of town.  Chombe is from Addis and this is the first time that he has left the capital city-ever.  Again it is things like this that we take for granted in our own countries and I was happy and honored that we were able to bring him with us and show him some of his own country-even if it was just for the day. 

We are back on the Ethiopian roads again where traffic is just packed in certain sections, once you clear that you are at least moving, still in traffic, but moving.  There really aren’t any rules on the road as such, it is each to their own and most of the time they do have an un-written code of letting people in and taking turns at intersections with no traffic lights.  If someone is in your way you just give a toot and they move over on the 2 lane roads, no menace in it, they literally use the horn as a ’I’m coming through’ tool and we just weave our way through the city traffic.  Once out of the city we are down to single lane traffic each way and you have donkeys, carts, people and children also sharing the roads with you.  I don’t think there would be such a thing as a relaxing Sunday drive on any day of the week here as you always have to be on the lookout for jumping children, skittish goats and wandering donkeys.  Once again everyone knows the sound of the horn and what it means, even the animals and they all side step to either move off the road completely or to the side at least so that we can pass in safety.  I guess it is what you are used to driving in and Zeme hasn’t seen any different.  Wait till I drive him around Brisbane-I rekon our peak hour traffic will seem very tame to him for sure!

Everything looks so different from the last time I was here.  As it is the rainy season everything is green and lush.  I was here in the dry season last visit in March and everything was so dusty and dry.  As it is the rainy season, they get a lot of rainfall and not always the capacity to deal with all the water, so a lot of things turn to mud and this is what the people have to put up with walking in, the mud, on their daily routines and remember that they all don’t have shoes.  Homes have rough made bridges so they can get to their front doors without have to trudge through the mud, it is everywhere.  It really is a different scene from the city and you can see children walking with the 10L yellow drinking containers to the local water well to fill up and take home.  It reinforces what I am trying to do raising money for a Rwandan community to implement a water well that will benefit a whole village of 250 people.  If you want more information please click on the following links for more information.  You will be helping people in need and water is something that we just take for granted. 

The only problem with Chombe coming with us is the boys talk in Amharic so I told them that they need to practice their English and to stop talking in Amharic in the car.  It lasted for around 10 minutes and then they lapsed back into their usual routine.  They are both pretty good in one of them explaining what they are talking about and I just can’t wait to get some lessons under my belt and at least try and get a gist of what they are saying.  I can get hear numbers and after listening to Z answer his phone there seems to be a common equivalent of ‘hi, how are you going’ standard of reply that happens at each call, but for the moment It is something that I am just going to have to get used to.  People talking and me having no idea on what they are saying. 

It took us 2 hours to get to the furthest stop today which was Tiya Stelae.  It was a beautiful drive through the country side and small villages.  It really is a stunning country and I know when people think of Ethiopia they do not think of rolling mountains, green pastures and rain.  It is a great misconception of the country and I hope to set that straight a little at least when I move, and open up Ethiopia to people that would never have even thought to travel to this country.  After turning off the main road into a small dirt track there were dancing children we had to pass.  The last time I saw this was in Dorze and they do it for money.  It is a shame as they are so cute wobbling their knees and shaking their hands and some of these kids wouldn’t have been much older than 2, but you can’t give them money as it encourages begging and a whole new set of problems that come from that whole culture.  It is nasty and I have seen it first hand in the south with the tribes and asking for money before you can take their pictures and they can get very hostile.  It is the only down side of visiting the tribes as it can be quite confrontational and uncomfortable for everyone involved.  I know what they do it, it is part of an income for them, but it doesn’t make it all right and giving money, does that really help at the end of the day.  When we were there we decided as a group to pay a one off amount and then we could take all the pictures we wanted, but there was an argument that broke out on who we were to give the money too and I wonder what happened once we all left on how the money was distributed to the village.  It is always not a good thing.  So we drove with a wave and a smile past the dancing children to the site of      

We were the only tourist people there as we pulled into the dirt parking lot and as we waited for Zeme to pay the entrance fees Chombe and I checked out the small local stall that had some handmade carvings and jewelry.  I have to pass in buying any of this stuff for now as it doesn’t make sense to buy it, take it or send it home to bring it back in January.  No sense, so my buying frenzy will have to wait upon my return back.  We have to be guided around the small ruins and we are walked to a gate that has a padlock and we pass through to the ruins.  Of the roughly 160 archaeological sites discovered so far in the Soddo region, south of Addis Ababa, Tiya is one of the most important. The site contains 36 monuments which are 700-800 years old and in the scheme of Ethiopian history quite young, including 32 carved stelae covered with symbols, for the most part difficult to decipher, which are the remains of an ancient Ethiopian culture, whose age has not yet been precisely determined.  Researchers have found out that each stelae was the graveyard of a renowned personality.  Tiya was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in Paris on 1-5 September, 1980.  Ethiopia offers myriad archaeological sites for the tourists and one of the lesser known is the rock stelae fields.  Ethiopia claims to be the richest archaeo-historical treasure trove in sub-Saharan Africa and it is difficult to dispute and I have seen this first hand on each of my trips back to this fascinating nation. From the myriad ancient hominid fossils that have been unearthed in the eastern deserts, to the Biblical-era giant stelae of Axum and medieval rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia's overwhelming sense of history invites a response that is equal parts wonderment, disbelief and delighted speculation, and I think part of that fact is –who knew it was all hear.  The country is not totally about famines and droughts, though they still have them but there is a whole other side to this country and I want to tell you all about it. 
A mere 100km by road from the capital Addis Ababa, Tiya is the perfect example of the sort of accessible yet practically unvisited gem. Marking the northern limit of a belt of engraved obelisks that stretches right across southern Ethiopia, the Tiya stelae field consists of roughly 40 stones which stand between one and two meters high. Recent excavations revealed that the stones mark mass graves of both males and females who died between the ages of 18 and 30 and were laid to rest in a fetal position. Three engraved symbols predominate: circles, swords, and what appear to be podgy leaves rising on a stem
from a rectangular base. The circles might represent the sun or moon; the swords speak for themselves, while the twinleaves look like so-called false bananas, a type of plantain grown widely in the area.
If the symbolism behind all this is open to speculation, so too is the nature of the people who erected the stelae. Local people associate the stones with the 15th Century Muslim leader Ahmed Gragn, but the non-Judaic symbols and greater age of the stones makes this unlikely. Like the much older and larger stelae at Axum - the only comparable constructions that I'm aware of in sub-Saharan Africa - the Tiya stelae appear to pre-date the local arrival of Christianity and to have been erected as grave markers. The southern stelae belt passes through the heart of the modern territory of the Gurage, whose language is closely affiliated to Tigrigna (the language spoken in Axum). This tempts one to ask whether these
might be relics of a forgotten offshoot of the pre-Christian stelae-building tradition at Axum.  It was pretty amazing again being able to look and touch these stones that are hundreds of years old but again I guess they have been here that long what are a few hands touching them, especially since this place is not very well known and visited by tourists anyway. 

Our next stop was only 30km north of Tiya and we were now backtracking our way back into Addis.  The turn off for Adadi Maryam was only a 10 minute journey, but found us on a very bumpy dirt road for the next 45 minutes.  As we were trying to save a little money we had a normal car hire for the first few days in Addis before we were going to switch to the more expensive 4WD for our trip to The Blue Nile tomorrow-but looking at the road we could have done it more comfortably in a larger car.  Poor Chombe was copping the brunt of it in the back with hardly any suspension in our 1980 Mazda it was a little bouncy back there.  Even though it looks like ‘just another dirt road’ it is a lifeline to villages and villagers alike and we passed people doing the commute by foot as we weaved and  bounced our way to the small village of Adadi.  Once we passed through the small village we found that we couldn’t take the car any further as the mud was so thick, if we had of tried to even negotiate the drive through we would have become stuck in seconds, so we parked the car and then made our way the 500m, via short cut and mud, to the entrance of the compound.  I was just waiting for myself to slip over on this thick black mud with a group of children following us I would have been mortified, but I made it through the quagmire safely and after Zeme had paid the entrance we were able to explore the Adadi Maryam Church.  It is still a place of worship today and there were people gathered in the church grounds, and I sometimes feel like I am intruding into people’s personal time, private time, when I walk into places of worship, no matter what religion, so I just try and be respectful and quite so I can too also enjoy what they get to see every day.  The church is Ethiopia’s most southerly rock-hewn church and a subterranean monolith excavated in the 13th Century at about the same time that Tiya's stones must have been erected. Visiting the two sites in conjunction creates the strange feeling that one is crossing the medieval boundary between pagan and Christian Ethiopia. But where Adadi Maryam is very much an active site of worship, the stones of Tiya stand mute and mysterious, neither revered nor feared by the local children who treat the stelae field as a playground. These are simple constructions, it is true, and yet the repetitive intent that lies behind the crude engravings is deeply haunting.  It doesn’t look much to start with as you approach the church as all you can see is a large mound of grass with a cross in top, but the closer you get you can see the church that has been carved into the stone, into the ground.  It reminds me a lot of the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and if you didn’t have enough time to get to Lalibela, which is a hike by car, this is a very good close second to give you an idea on this amazing building.  Right up there with The City of Petra and the Egyptian Pyramids it is an amazing piece of architecture.  It is a little more rough than its Lalibela counterparts, nit as finished and certainly not as big, but impressive all the same and there are a group of monks that still live there today, but we didn’t see any on this visit.  There are 4 entry points down to the church via rock made stairs and then there are 6 doors and 24 windows all carved out of the stone.  We were supervised while we were in the main room where services are still given and there was a small room to the left that only the minks are allowed into.  Once we had lapped the church and taken our photos we came back up and then lapped the top of the church from a bird’s eye view.  Unless you knew it was here you could easily just walk straight past it and not even know it.  As it was the rainy season the mound was all grown over with long grass and there was green lichen on the surface of the church, looking into the guide book I had it looked totally different taken in the dry season and it was just all brown and dry looking, I’m not sure what I would have preferred.       

We had to navigate our way back through the middy quagmire to get back to the car and with only one slip and slide and Chombe’s arm to catch me I made it back safe and sound without having a repeat performance of falling over at some hot springs in a national park last time I was here, right in front of a family that was resting in the shade of a tree.  To their credit they didn’t laugh when I took the slide and besides a few scratches and my new camera getting some dirt the only thing injured was my pride.  With this clearly in my mind whenever I am walking over mud now I try and be extra cautious.  We did have to navigate children asking for money, caramello, balloons, lollies and pens.  Zeme asks them politely to nick off and again it would be great to bring supplies of them to hand out but the culture your creating is not a sustainable one and needs to be done through other means.  We then had to make our way back through the village and there were some cute boys the age of around 8 that were riding donkeys and I asked if I could take their photo and it was refreshing to be able to take one and not have them squeal for money after the fact, this is how it should be.  Just before we sped out of the village limits a small boy with some cattle looked into the car and saw me and said ‘I love you farangee’.  Just like that-didn’t ask for anything just told me he loved me.  The cute factor was awesome and would nearly have been worth giving home some of our biscuits we had, but again would not help the next tourists through and the next best thing I can do is offer a wave and a hello in Amharic and it is rewarding to get a big smile back wide and warm.  This is an international language of friendship, besides the wave, and something we can all do to life the spirits of those we come into contact with. 

Once we bounced our 45 minutes back to the main road we only had to go 10 minutes to the last turn off for the day and the last bumpy road for Chombe in the back.  Zeme joked that this road was 99km long and the look on Chombe face was priceless.  It was only a 15 minute rode along this dirt road to get us to Melka-Kounture.  Researchers hold that Melka Kounture was a place where homo sapiens used to live along the right and left banks of the Awash River.  Melka Kuntre is a world heritage Stone Age site (between 1.5 and 1.8 Million years old), and contains many samples of Stone Age tools of the early Homosapiens. The collections are results of the excavations of the last four decades. The samples are well exhibited in show rooms and there is very good scientific explanation about Stone Age tools in general and the site in particular.  Various archeological discoveries such as millenia-old stone tools, remains of animals and human fossils were uncovered through researches conducted by French, Ethiopian and Italian archaeologists at various times. In the compound, you find four cottages that host various archaeological findings as well as billboards that show the sites from which they were collected with very good information and everything labeled so you know what you are looking at.  We had a guide take us around the 4 thatched huts that make up the museum and then we were taken along an acacia tree lined path (careful not to spike yourself on their thorns) to the actual dig site that they excavated for 40 years to find what they did now exhibited in the museum.  40 years!!!!  Now that is dedication.  The site, initially discovered by Gerard Dekker in 1963, was surveyed in 1964, and then systematically explored by a French mission directed by Jean Chavaillon (1965-1982 / 1993-1995), and subsequently, since 1999, by an Italian mission for the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the University of Rome “La Sapienza”.  It was an interesting place and they also left pieces of bone fragments untouched at the initial dig site to show you how they found and what they see when they come into excavate. 

It was time now to head home.  We did do one more small stop and that was to take a photo of the bulging Awash River.  Zeme couldn’t stop on the bridge, so we passed over and I was going to get out till I saw a whole bunch of people start to stare at us, and I just couldn’t cope with that today, so I asked Z if he would get out and take the pictures for me.  And what great photos they were, there was real force in the movement of the water downstream and somehow Zeme captured that in the pictures.  What a great day and I hope that Chombe enjoyed his first visit out of the city-EVER.  The rain had started to fall and by the time we had driven the 1.5 hours home to Addis it had well and truly set in for the night.  It was just after 5pm by now so we decided while were still in the car to have dinner.  We have ‘our’ Chinese restaurant that we like to go to, but they are currently doing road works in that area and the traffic would be a nightmare, so we tried ‘our’ pizza restaurant, but they weren’t open yet, so on our way back to the hotel we saw another Chinese place, just up the road from the hotel actually, so we decided to stop there to eat.  Now Chombe hasn’t eaten Chinese before, and neither had Zeme until my last visit, so we ordered 3 dishes and told him after he had eaten the lamb dish that it was in fact dog!  You should have seen his face, it was priceless and we promptly told him what he was really eating.  It was a good meal and maybe the crispy chicken wasn’t as good as the other place I would easily come back to this restaurant again.  Along with anything in Ethiopia sometimes you need to overlook the exterior/interior of places, if you were back home there is no way you would walk into some of these restaurant and I do have to say the décor here was reminiscent of somewhere in Hong Kong in the 80’s and looked like a thunderstorm had just ripped through the entire place, with the carpet on the stairs soaking wet and a few leaking windows, you just need to overlook all that and enjoy what was a great meal.      

We dropped Chombe home and then headed home ourselves.  Addis is such a busy city with the roads chocked of trucks, minivans, cars, busses, donkeys, bikes, herds of goats and sheep, bajaj (tuk tuks) and with the rain it makes for some slow progress. 

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