January 18-19, 2009
Flying Back to Addis
On January 18 we left Aksum by air, heading back to Addis Abeba.
There was a surprising amount of security at the airport, almost as much as we see in Israel, likely because Aksum is close to Eritrea and Ethiopia and Eritrea are not friends these days.
After 45 minutes we were back in Addis. We caught a taxi back to the piazza, and this time we decided to try a different hotel, a place called Wutma. Their restaurant actually had great lasagna.
Shortly after checking in we called Solomon and met up with him. We dropped some things off at his place (so as to avoid having to shlep them around northern Ethiopia) and we needed to pick them up. Plus it was great to see him again.
Solomon mentioned before that he’s been sponsoring a little girl from a poor family, paying her school fees. He offered to introduce us to her and we said “sure”. The girl is Bethelen and she’s 3 years old. Her parents are Daniel and Abebech, and together they live in a really tiny 1-room place. They split the room vertically, such that there’s a 1st floor and a 2nd floor, but neither floor is high enough for me to stand up straight. The only income they get is from renting out the 2nd floor room, but this is inconsistent – they don’t always have a renter. And otherwise there’s no income because Daniel and Abebech are jobless. The school (now kindergarten) fees are $10 per month and so far Solomon has been paying them. Pnina and I decided to make our contribution here, so we left $60 to sponsor Bethelen’s studies for the remainder of the year.
Pnina and I were lucky enough to stumble into Ethiopia just before the big Christmas celebrations, which we saw in Lalibela on January 6. Well, it turned out that there’s a second huge celebration in Ethiopia called Timkat or “Epiphany” that takes place January 18-19. They say the best place to see the Timkat celebrations is in Gonder and for us it was too late to go there, but we did get a chance to see the party in Addis on January 19.
The center of the celebrations is a park called Janmeda. We started walking towards that park, which was easy because everybody was heading there. We thought the crowds in Lalibela were huge but that was nothing compared to what we saw here in Addis. I guess Addis has the advantage that it’s a much bigger city to begin with, and on top of that it’s a magnet for visitors.
We finally arrived in Janmeda to find that it’s basically a gigantic open park. The park is split down the middle by a road, and we found that one half was the “fun half” and the other half was the “religious half”. In the fun half we saw people playing all kinds of carnival-type games for prizes, and in the other half people gathered to sing and pray. We spent most of our time in the fun half 🙂
These celebrations go on all day and night, but unfortunately we had to leave in the early afternoon – we had our flight to Cairo later that day and we needed enough time to get to pick up our bags from the hotel before heading to the airport.
There was a huge slow line to exit Janmeda, but we didn’t worry about that too much – we figured the crowd would let up once we exit the park. But even after we left the park the crowd just stayed thick and we were moving at snail’s pace for well over an hour. The issue, we eventually learned, is that as part of these celebrations there are processions to escort the arks to their churches. To be clear, there is only one original ark and it’s in Aksum (or so they say), but each church has its own copy and to the church it’s the most important possession. We somehow entered the procession escorting the ark of St George church back home.
We started to panic about reaching the airport on time, but we weren’t sure what to do – there was a sea of people in every direction. Then god sent us an angel in the form of an Israeli guy who moved to Addis years ago. He overheard us talking in Hebrew and he cut in to tell us exactly where to walk in order to escape the crowds and reach our hotel on time. What luck!
While we were at Bethelen’s parent’s place we watched a bit of the Golden Globes ceremony on TV (yup, they have a TV – a bit strange). The movie Slumdog Millionaire took best picture and there’s a lot of buzz that it will also take the oscar later this year. Another random award – Colin Farel took best actor in comedy or musical for his performance in the movie In Bruges, which Pnina and I saw back when we were in Cape Maclear, Malawi.