Sheepish fashion in Addis

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I’m not sure if this Addis local took Coco’s advice before setting off this morning…

“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” —Coco Chanel

But then again, with his wooly handbag comfortably settled, perhaps he preferred listening to Diane von Furstenberg.

“Attitude is everything.” —Diane von Furstenberg

Amareche – a timber woman of Entoto

DSC_4498It’s impossible to guess the age of Amareche. She’s one of the many timber woman that make the long walk up Mount Entoto early in the morning to gather large sticks to sell in Addis.

DSC_4496Like all the other women doing the same work, Amareche is bent double under the unwieldy bundle of tightly packed wood. The load is so awkward and wide, cars swerve around her as they speed down the mountain. I wonder what she thinks about as she makes the same difficult journey every day. I imagine it’s her family that keeps her going… step after step after step.

I know I will recall images like this when I am tired, when I feel I can’t carry our 18 month around any more… when my body aches… when rheumatoid arthritis and all it’s quirks pushes me over the edge… I know I’ll remember Amareche and her daily journey.

Names are important in Ethiopia and Amareche means ‘She is beautiful’ (Amharic). In her past someone carefully chose that name for this woman whose life was always going to be tough. Watching her now as she continues her journey down the mountain, it’s clear she’s so much more than just ‘beautiful’. She’s brave, loyal and one of many women in this country that gives all she has, every day, for those she loves.

Sweet As…

DSC_0015I imagine we won’t eat many snacks straight from the wheelbarrow when we go home to Australia.

Here in Addis Ababa you don’t have to go without a sweet fix for long as every few streets or so you’ll come across a young man wheeling a load of one of the most popular street snacks there is – sugar cane.

For just a few Birr he’ll use a slightly scary looking knife to chop off a section of cane and hand it to you ready to eat. Eat is probably quite an optimistic word at this point. The first time the children and I took on this national snack we stared at it dumbly… a little confused about just where to start.

After quite a bit of whispered conversation we finally asked our taxi driver where we should start and should we swallow the fibrous strands? The answers… just start chewing and no, don’t swallow the strands… just spit them into your hand once you’ve chewed all the sweetness out.

Good to know.

Going, going, gone … to Market in Lalibela

I don’t want to go back to the dust, sadness and craziness of Addis.

But before we board that plane back to reality we squeeze in one last Lalibela experience and boy are we glad we did. Saturday is Market day here and with Mesfin as our faithful guide again, we launch ourselves into the masses that make up the chaos of Market Day in this town.DSC_2785The stream of people and livestock snake around the mountain roads for kilometres. Sheep, goats, timber, grain and pulses… it’s like a moving Ethiopian supermarket. Steadily women trudge carrying unbelievable loads. This woman is multiskilling and cleaning her teeth at the same time with ‘wara’ an Ethiopian wood used for the purpose.
DSC_2729DSC_2790The variety of goods on sale is overwhelming… freshly dried chillis, shoes made out of recycled car tyres, hand made rope, incense to burn at traditional coffee ceremonies and a section for donkeys.DSC_2793
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DSC_2814DSC_2774DSC_2772DSC_2759As Mesfin drives us out of town we make slow progress because of the steady stream of locals making their way to or from the Market – many trudging for 4 or 5 hours to get into town. We might be late for our flight but I don’t mind at all… this is one traffic jam that I will always remember.DSC_2739
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Dr Seuss in Lalibela – Ben Abeba Restaurant

DSC_1898We immediately dubbed it the Dr Seuss house. Officially it’s known as the Ben Abeba restaurant in Lalibela in Ethiopia’s north, but the unusual shape of the building and layout could only have come from a wild imagination somewhere that perhaps ate green eggs and ham for breakfast.

Since moving to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, food has become an obsession with us. We have all lost quite a bit of weight (Steve wins that particular race losing about 10 kilograms so far). So, our first family trip out of Addis had us salivating at the thought of eating something delicious and our gaze was firmly fixed on the strange looking restaurant across the valley from our hotel.
DSC_2241Our walk through the cobblestoned streets of Lalibela to the Restaurant became a town event with small children joining our procession happily practicing their english and wanting us to take their home made necklaces. The garden at Ben Abeba was an explosion of colour and the winding path hinted at what lay beyond… we knew this was going to be a special night. DSC_2166DSC_2159On and up around the series of platforms that make up the restaurant we reached the top level and were silenced by the view. If awards were given out for the best restaurant views in Ethiopia, this place would have to be at the very top. Have a look.DSC_2164DSC_2189DSC_2205Perched 2500 above sea level at the top of Chul Amba mountain, Ben Abeba (‘Hill of flowers’) is the dream of a retired Scottish Home Economics teacher, Susan Aitchison and her Ethiopian business partner Habtamu Bayu. Initially Susan moved from her native Glasgow to Lalibela to help a friend set up a remote school 35 kilometres from town. At the end of her three years she faced going back to retirement in Scotland but her driver Habtamu shared his dream of opening a small, simple restaurant in Lalibela – they talked, she stayed and a dream became a reality.

Ben Abeba opened in 2011 and immediately became a favourite with locals, visitors and ex-pats. Local youth are trained and employed to cook, serve, clean and manage the business. The recipe of a good idea, passion and the right people works as we felt so welcome and were looked after so graciously by the staff – the entire experience was a total joy.
DSC_2227DSC_2225The structure itself comes from the imagination of two Addis Ababa architects. Made of rock and wood the restaurant is more of a sculpture really as it spirals up with raised levels, platforms and water features, eventually revealing the top level with three ‘flowers’ named the Zaff Tree Terrace. This is where diners enjoy the sun slowing setting over 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains and village life below. Unforgettable.
DSC_2176DSC_2659DSC_2181We eat at Ben Abeba both nights we’re in Lalibela and Susan is a gracious host pausing to chat each time. The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an unexpected treat and Kuleni and Tracy both show their enjoyment the traditional way by drawing in the smoke from the roasting beans so it can be fully appreciated. Our four year old just tries to eat as much of the popcorn as she can with Susan warmly encouraging her. We all feel very much at home.DSC_2670DSC_2168DSC_2673DSC_2677DSC_2679DSC_2684As the stars come out, we hear the distant wail of someone in the valley below singing a mournful tune. The fire pit is lit at the base of the restaurant and guests gather, sipping hot drinks, wine or eating dessert and chat about their experiences. DSC_2231
Lalibela doesn’t offer a lot of public transport but getting back to our hotel is not a problem with Habtamu providing transport for a small fee. So, after our big day exploring the rocky surprises of the Lalibelan churches, a wholesome delicious meal and good conversation we’re content to sit back and watch the fire burn down. Completely relaxed… some more than most.

Goodnight little one, sleep well under the Lalibelan night sky.
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Mo fun at the Lalibela Monastery

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We leave the outdoor communal ‘foozball’ machines and Lalibela locals behind as we head out of town to this morning’s destination – a country Monastery.DSC_2484There is so much to see as we wind around the mountain roads, I don’t really want the journey to end. Clusters of circular mud and stick homes mark different farming families. Women trudge steadily up and down steep mountain roads with bulky burdens of sticks or bags of grain on their backs. Men concentrate as they steer bullocks up and down the rocky soil. As always if you look closely you will see small children amusing themselves as they keep an eye on the family’s stock grazing nearby.DSC_2627DSC_2495
About an hour’s drive from Lalibela we make a quick pitstop at a drop toilet with let’s face it absolutely sensational views…
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Then it’s a steep walk down to the Monastery and our waiting Priest. Life must get a little lonely out here so he seems pretty glad to see us.
DSC_2589Our guide, Mesfin uses a smooth stone to bang the gong, calling us all to worship… or in our case to a visit of this open air Monastery set under a rocky overhang. The sound of the gong echoes across the countryside as it has for centuries. We take our shoes off and step into the coolness of the cave interior.
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DSC_2546Mesfin quietly talks us through the history and meaning behind the artwork. Open doors frame glimpses of the rolling countryside outside and it’s peaceful with the sound of birds calling and a sweet breeze flowing in.
DSC_2537Our Priest launches his presentation with a type of fashion parade, donning all the religious silver gear and cloaks from a cupboard only changing his deadpan expression with a bemused one when a loud mobile ring is heard echoing around the chamber. We all frantically look at each other to deduce who’s at fault and left their mobile on… innocent, we look up to see our Priest furrowing deep into the layers of his outfit to retrieve his Samsung and answer the call. We try not to giggle as Mesfin continues our history lesson.
DSC_2551We find the historic detail interesting. Our Priest does not. He manages to fall asleep standing up leaning against the lectern balancing a supposedly 800 year old hand illustrated Bible. The sight of the priceless and historic artefact wobbling atop the stand as the Priest, eyes shut and unconscious leans this way then that behind Mesfin adds an element of danger to the proceedings. Thankfully the Priest, resurrected by a cue from Mesfin, awakes in time to carefully turn the pages of the historic tome with the flair and sparkle of a tv game show model. It really is a performance we’ll all remember. And this is all before the interactive part of the tour!
DSC_2569Something about the anticipation of splashing icy water into our faces wakes our drowsy Priest up completely and he’s almost giddy with excitement.DSC_2540
We dutifully line up and he dips a broken bright blue plastic cup into the ‘holy water’ and without any ado splashes a good amount into our eyes. He approaches his task with such vigour with me he washes out a contact lens – all part of the fun and games. His amusement makes us wonder if this has nothing at all to do with a blessing and flicking water into the faces of willing tourists is just a novel way of brightening his days. Either way we all feel very blessed as we wave goodbye to our Priest.DSC_2543
We don’t need any reminders of our visit but Mum spends quite a bit of time selecting a small hand painted pottery guinea fowl from the young girl who’s set up some souvenirs on the ground near our van. She’s been waiting patiently along with another mother and feeding child for our return… it’s seems only right to bless them both in turn with some small purchases before we leave and debrief our morning’s adventure.

Now to find another contact lens.
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Bare Reflections in Lalibela

DSC_2408A priest briefly looks up from his deep reflection, his bare foot resting on rock chiselled in the 12th Century.  Lalibela and her astonishing rock-hewn churches is a such a unique place.  Moments like this are common and history truly comes alive.

Of Lalibela’s 8-10,000 people, more than 1,000 are priests. The extraordinary architecture, simplicity of life and foundation of religious ritual with it’s processions, fasts, festivals and dancing priests make cobblestoned Lalibela a place that seems timeless.

And if you look at this priest in particular, it’s obvious he knows he has all the time in the world.DSC_2410