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Published: February 26th 2008
The old town in Harar is a maze of narrow streets.
Friday 15th to Saturday 23rd February 2008
Harar has a very different feel to other places that I have visited in Ethiopia. I flew to Dire Dawa, and then took a taxi to the bus station and the line taxi to Harar (virtually forcing Wolfgang, a German tourist, to accompany me - he was thinking of paying for a taxi to Harar, but later thanked me for saving him 289 birr).
Clare met me at the Tana Hotel, and after a brief stop at her office in Harar Teachers’ College, as she had a meeting, we went to her house, opposite a Mosque, where I met Jemenesh (her day guard) and the five chickens. In the afternoon, I went for a walk down to the old town (locally called the Jugal), through the Harar Arch to the Harar Gate - the start of the walled city. The new town is more built up than I had imagined, and it is very green, with lots of trees and planted central reservations. I noticed how many homeless people were sleeping on the street (which I guess, but have no proof of, is chat related) but also how there were many more
In the new town.
elderly people than in Robe. It was strange to be called “Farenjo”, instead of the more usual “Farenji”.
On Sunday, we took a line taxi to Dire Dawa, an hour away, to meet up with Ben (a VSO based there) and Mark (a VSO based in Harar who had flown back from Addis the previous day). The road passes through Aweyday a bustling centre of chat sales, described to me on the way to Harar when I first arrived as the Chat Stock Market. According to the same man, there is more movement of money in this small town than in any other place in Ethiopia. I certainly saw more chat being sold at the side of the road, and carried in huge bundles. Chat is legal in Ethiopia and is a mildly intoxicating leaf. In my opinion it tastes like chewing privet hedge leaves and isn’t worth the effort - I’d rather have a beer. Chat chewers also tend to end up with green bits in their teeth. Very attractive!
Having met Ben and Mark for lunch, we then walked to the Ras Hotel, for a drink and a spot of swimming in a very cold pool.
Dire Dawa is different again from Harar. It was established in 1902 following a decision on the route of the Addis to Djibouti railway line and is laid out in a grid, with wide tree lined streets - it reminded me of South America.
Apart from attending Clare’s Cluster workshops, and helping in some resource preparation for them, the rest of the week was spent being a tourist in Harar. There are two museums: the first is downstairs at the Tourism Office and has artefacts from different peoples represented in the region; the second is at the Harari National Cultural Centre and is laid out like a traditional Adare house. I went to Rimbauld’s House with a Canadian tourist I met at the Cultural Centre, via Nure Coffee house (where I saw coffee being roasted and ground then bought some). Unfortunately, most of the House was closed for renovations so we were unable to see the room with stained glass windows. We were still charged the full entrance fee though! The one tourist attraction that I didn’t see was the hyena feeding. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see it anyway (I am always slightly uncomfortable with such
The main road through the Jugal
things), but when Clare and I went, the guy tried to charge us 50 birr each, compared to 25 birr each for an Ethiopian couple, who were visiting Harar on holiday, and earned more than we do. As we were leaving, despite the tourists’ efforts to argue our case for resident rates, two hyenas turned up, so I was happy, having never seen these animals before. They are much heavier built than I expected.
On the Tuesday, I took a line taxi to Alemayo, on the way to Dire Dawa, to visit some lakes near there that I had seen on Saturday, to do some bird watching. I had thought the lakes were close to the town, so I got off there and walked. It ended up being about 7km. I was not in the best of moods anyway, so when I got there and a crowd of children following me disturbed the peace and quiet by shouting questions at me, I was not at my most tolerant. I did manage to get some quiet bird watching time for a while. To get back, I stood by the road and flagged down a line taxi to Harar - causing
the usual amusement that I can speak a little (very little!) Afaan Oromo.
One of the more unusual things that I did was to get up (very) early on Thursday as Clare goes running with a Running Club at Harar Stadium. I went to take photos - not to run, obviously!
My visit to Harar ended with a trip to Harar Brewery, where I met up with Anita (VSO from Adama) who had come to Harar for the weekend with her brother, Joseph, who is visiting from Ireland. We tried to go on a brewery tour, but they are only possible in the mornings, so went back to the bar to drink draft lager. Clare and Mark joined us after work as we had decided to eat there - they do roast beef for meat eaters (I had the traditional veggie option of pasta with tomato sauce). I asked if I could buy a beer glass, but the brewery apparently do not sell merchandise - a missed opportunity and a temptation for people to take the glasses anyway!
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