Published: March 24th 2012March 24th 2012
It is Friday in Harar. Mike and I walk in the morning, eager to get some exercise having been in the car for so long. We walk purposefully away from the old city and climb a hill. Indian made auto rickshaws splutter past us, up the incline. Barely making progress faster than our legs. The new town in unassuming, but the trees are pretty and the morning smells are pleasant and fresh. At the summit we find the Harar brewery.
Hara turns out to be slightly more convoluted than we thought. Numerous guide books tell us, that the Emperor Haile Selassie converted the main mosque on the main square in the walled city into a church, to inform Muslim population that he was in charge. This must have sent a powerful signal to the Muslim community, who had run Harar as a closed city for 500 years. It is Friday and most of the men are in the mosque. Only the chat ridden addicts and a few beach boys are left to bother us. The church is surprisingly quiet. A couple of years ago, an Ethiopian girl had told me that Ethiopia was probably 50% muslim or more. But the
figures were fudged as the government felt that Ethiopia was at the crux of Christianity. It is hard to have the ark of the covenant when you are actually a majority non muslim country.
These figures did not bother me then and do not bother me now. People are what they are, and Ethiopia is a diverse and religiously peaceful place. The only people the Ethiops seem to get into a scap with are the Eritreans (Which has to be the epitomy of the word “pointless”) and the Somalis. (Ditto). The streets are quiet, and few guides offer their services and are politely turned down. A few beach boys bother us, but not for long. Mike and I stroll slowly in the midday sun. There are many shaded areas in the narrow streets, and we are rarely uncomfortable. Midday prayers end and a stream of men come out of the now main mosque and go home. Almost as one, they greet us politely and go home. We drop down through incredibly narrow paths, happily lost until we find ourselves at a small junction inhabited by street tailors. We are only able to communicate in my broken Arabic, as they
speak a few words of English, and our few words of Amharic are, well, few. Cardboard appears, and we sit on the large stoop of someone’s’ closed shop. A girl is selling coffee, mike and I buy one and watch the world go by. The tailors do some work, but generally wait for trade. People stroll by purposefully. A mule comes into view, being given a nudge by his herder, and carries on, mildly reluctantly, uphill under his load. There is no chat and no chat chewing when inside the main part of the old city. I suspect that the elders do not want it here, and will have nothing to do with it. Apart from one motor scooter that we see in the day, Nothing much has changed in Harar in a while.
The Ras hotel provides a short interlude for vegetarian fare and buying an air ticket for Francisca. After much discussion and rehashing of the subject, Mike and I decide not to take the Dash 8 back to Addis, but to drive back to Addis Ababa via the Awash National park and the railway town of Dire Dawa. We invite François to join us. He enthusiastically
agrees, only to later back down. Only when I inform him that he will be miserable and alone without us, does he re-decide to join us. Although I wonder whether Mike’s secret but dwindling wine stash is the main attraction.
Francois joins us for our evening foray into the ancient walled city. My battery dies, and my spare is dead too. I am not too bothered and switch to shooting black and white film. The traders ignore me or smile. Occasionally a woman demands money, but I try to buy something rather than pay cash for a photo. A drunken drug addict pushes a boy into Mike. I shoe the boy away, thinking he is going for my wallet, but as I do, the drunk comes over with a mysteriously broken shoe.
“Look see- money” He says.
I ignore him, but he follows me and threatens violence unless I pay. I ignore his threats, strangely un-scared of him. He grabs my arm in a vicelike grip, and look at him. If he will not let go, I will have to inflict extreme pain on him, for he has the stamina and energy of a drunk. I wonder
where to kick him with my annoyingly soft shoes, or if I should attack his ankles. But then he will get back up and fight back. No – he has to go down and stay down, but, laden with cameras, and having no stone or metal pipe, my work will be cut out. Instead, I take his hand and take it off my arm. He looks into my eyes breathing alcohol fumes over me and perhaps sees something of my true intentions and lets go.
But he follows me and grumbles and groans. This is his scam, but it only works if people pay. I do not. He continues to follow me, picking up a stick with which to beat me. This will be the end I think. He will hit me on my back, I will not retaliate but will appeal to the crowd who will beat him. But he drops the stick and comes on. He appeals to the shopkeepers and passers by saying that I am a bad man. Eventually I tire of him, and explain to an Ethiopian camerawoman that this is a scam.
“I know, try to ignore him” she says unhelpfully. She
is from Addis and cares not about the heathens as she sees it. But when some passersby hear the story, they remonstrate with the drunken scammer. He argues back and is then dragged away by a young man. Others join him. In this moment, I call François, and dive up a side alley. Within two turns we are gone, and walking into the fading light.
“follow me” I say, leaving Mike far behind. I wind my way up the streets, I know where I am going and soon we appear on the upper main road. I turn right away from the main gates and come to Haile Selassie’s church. A vile and filthy bar faces the church.
“that looks disgusting” I say
“and bad” replies François”
“lets go in”
“yes, I like bad” he grins, and we go inside. We sit on the walled porch sipping a Harar beer watching the activity on the square. Tne barman, waiter and customers are pleasant and friendly. The filth of the building and floor does not do them justice. I phone Mike, he finds us, and we watch the main square in the dusk until it is pitch
Under sodium lights, we flag down a Peugeot that probably transported Burton and Thesiger it is so old. Diving in we go to the ras hotel.
“this cab reminds me of Cuba” says mike
“should we not ask the price? “ I reply
“Oh don’t worry I can negotiate” says Francois in his mild French (Canadian) accent.
It turns out to be a standard 2 birr per man. We over tip at the Ras hotel and give him 10 birr. ($0.70). Another day has gone by, and we sit in the cool night air in the Ras half courtyard. Waited on by the excellent staff in their slightly large coats. Eventually Henok arrives with the wine and Mike and Francois grin from ear to ear. We tell Henok of our plans (he knew nothing of the Dash plans) and he is very happy. Perhaps a day off the road has invigorated him.
It is early morning. My rooms smells faintly of urine and I am sure that this is not me.
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