AP: More than 5,000 dead in C. African Republic


Juliana Lightle:

How will the world ever get better if people continue to hate so extremely over religious differences?

Originally posted on Buh, Oscar Hokeah said, "I'm a literary fiction writer seeking support." This guy! Just stink! Tell him, "Don't walk in a rainstorm or you'll drown!":

WireAP_ac389bac4a85464890ac1966cf38de0e_16x9_992

Associated Press

GUEN, Central African Republic (AP) — There are no headstones to mark these graves, no loving words, nothing to tell the world who lies in these two giant pits full of bodies, or why. Yet a handful of village elders are determined that nobody will be forgotten.

These old men, their eyes clouded by cataracts and their ears hacked by machete blades, sit on dirty straw mats at a church and gather the names of the dead from broken survivors. They write each name carefully in Arabic with faded blue ink on lined paper, neatly folded and stored in the pocket of one man’s tattered kaftan. The list is four pages long.

At least 5,186 people have died in Central African Republic since fighting between Muslims and Christians started in December, according to an Associated Press tally gleaned from more than 50 of…

View original 1,890 more words

My Ethiopian Adventure: The Fasilades Bath Palace and the Church of Debre Birhan Selassie


Gonder’s treasures take time to explore because there are so many of them.  Although the Fasilades Bath Palace remains empty of water most of the year, a huge crowd appears during the annual Timket (Epiphany) baptism celebrations when it is filled with water from the Gaha River.  The area around the church fills completely with water and people. I saw photos with thousands of people in the water.  Since we were there in July, the area around the church remained dry except for puddles left by recent rains.

IMG_0642

IMG_0649

Obviously, given the manner in which it was built, the priest stands on the balcony when the bottom is full of water and people.  On the wall around, huge fig trees grow.

IMG_0648

Zuriash and I could not resist a photo with these incredible trees.

IMG_0644

The area around the Bath Palace creates a bit of green paradise with grasses, trees, and wildlife thriving in profusion.

IMG_0650

IMG_0651

One rarely sees a horse so revered that his owner creates a special tomb just for him.  However, King Fasiledes owned just such a horse. The building in the photo below illustrates how much King Fasiledes loved his favorite horse, Zobal, who saved him in battle.  This Tomb of Zobal awaits restoration.

IMG_0652

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church thrives in this area of Ethiopia.  Young men continue to desire to learn and become priests as illustrated in the photo below showing a large group of young men training for the priesthood.

IMG_0655

IMG_0672

The grandson of King Fasiledes, Eyasu I, built this church.  The name means Trinity Mountain of Light.  Famous for its ceiling, it is the only church in Gonder remaining after the siege of Gonder in 1888, when the Mahdist Dervishes from Sudan invaded the city.  They burned down all the other churches.  Legend claims a swarm of bees descended on the church compound and the Archangel Michael stood at the gates with a flaming sword to protect the church.  Notice the spelling in the sign differs from the spelling I have used for Gonder.  Since Amharic is a totally phonetic language, it cannot be translated directly into English.  Therefore, spelling sometimes differs.  I use the spelling from the official map printed for Ethiopian tourists.

IMG_0656

The compound around the church is large, green, lush.

IMG_0657

IMG_0665

The concept/symbolism of the Lion of Judah shows up everywhere.  Here on top of the arch is the tail of the lion.  Its head is toward the front of the church.  We saw so much so quickly that sometimes by the time I grasped what I needed to photograph, we had passed it.  Other times we saw things totally unexpected, like the buzzards in the tree below.

IMG_0667

IMG_0663

The church decorations barely moved in the little wind.  The guide informed us, a special celebration would soon occur.

IMG_0664

Like many Ethiopian churches, this one is somewhat circular with a hall around the entire church between the outside and inside walls.  The paintings inside left me totally awestruck.

IMG_0668

IMG_0669

The ceiling for which this church remains especially famous is detailed, colorful.  Every picture tells a specific story from the Bible or Ethiopian Christian history.

IMG_0670

IMG_0671

As in the other churches we visited, ornate draperies cover the areas where the sacraments are kept where only to priests may enter.

IMG_0673

When you walk through the church gates, you face this scene:  one giant tree.  Yes, just one tree.

IMG_0757

When lunch time arrived, our guide on the left in the photo, took us to the Four Sisters Restaurant.  The ceiling here duplicated the ceiling in the church.  The food as well as the decor was fabulous.  The guide and Alemu ordered a plate with a little of everything on it.  By this time on the trip I had acquired a taste for a favorite food, shiro.  The rolled up tortilla like food on the plate is injera, usually made from the grain teff.

IMG_0758

The guide decided I needed an Ethiopian name so he gave me one as illustrated above with Amharic on the top and my name phonetically written in English on the bottom.  It means Good Gold.

IMG_0759

Zuriash decided she had to have one of these big baskets even if they were not for sale.  We stood around while Dino bargained.  The hotel where we stayed had a wonderful view over the city and, as I previously noted, a great shower.  The two nights we stayed there (not in succession) a nicely wrapped tooth brush and tooth paste lay beside the sink.  I brought the tooth brushes home with me rather than using them there. What a mistake!  The best tooth brush ever, no kidding.  My teeth were never so clean as they are now and to get more, I guess I will have to go back to Gonder.

IMG_0553

IMG_0555

My Ethiopian Adventure: the Castles of Gonder


Nestled in the foothills of the Simien Mountains, Gonder, founded by King Fasiledes in 1636, remained the capital of Ethiopia for 200 years.  Its castles, built in the 1600s, housed royal family members and reflect architectural influences from Axum, Portugal, and India.

IMG_0674

 

IMG_0675

 

IMG_0677

The first and largest castle housed King Fasiledes and his family.  Because of restoration, visitors can climb to the various floors and look at the different rooms. The castle compound remains popular with locals, especially for taking family photographs, weddings, etc.

IMG_0684

The arched castle windows seemed perfect for framing photographs.

IMG_0688

On the second story, the floor, now restored, gleamed in the late morning light.

IMG_0686

Seven castles remain inside the compound walls.  They were built my successive rulers, descendants of King Fasiledes, several of whom came to reign after having other family members, including one father, assassinated.

IMG_0692

Dino, and our guide, outside the original castle, looking down into…

IMG_0693

 

IMG_0696

Many of the original buildings, crumbled by time and weather, still stand, surrounded by lush greenery.

IMG_0700

In the middle of the photo background stands the Hotel Goha, where we stayed, looking down over the castles.

IMG_0707

If you look closely, you can see a buzzard in the top window of the castle in the foreground. These castles stand witness to the strength and endurance of stone.

IMG_0710

IMG_0712

IMG_0715

IMG_0720

IMG_0723

The old and the new:  two young men text on the 450 year old stairwell.

IMG_0725

Frequently, for centuries, Ethiopian royalty kept tame lions.  Their cages still stand.  Ethiopian lions possess different characteristics than lions farther south in Africa; they are smaller with much darker manes, often referred to as black.

IMG_0731

The friends with whom I travelled.  Dino grew up in Dire Dawa.

IMG_0743

The royal stables remain intact complete with their wooden doors.

IMG_0747

The banquets hall’s ceiling sagged so the Italians tried to repair it with cement.  Disastrous results–it crumbles and sags.  Originally, Ethiopia architecture/construction did not use cement.  Their methods, as evidenced by many of these castles and most definitely by the still used churches in Lalibela, stand the test of centuries.

IMG_0733

IMG_0722

IMG_0739

IMG_0745

A very forward thinking woman, decades ahead of her time, the Empress Mentewab, built a school for women to learn various trades so they could support themselves. Like many other buildings in the castle complex this too remains under restoration.

IMG_0753

IMG_0755

The perfect place to stroll, contemplate, and…

My Ethiopian Adventure: The Roof of Africa, Part Two


Although wonderful paved roads exist in most of the northern half of Ethiopia, the government forbids a good paved road throughout Simien Mountains National Park.  Since we went during the rainy season, a muddy mess prevailed.  At times I thought, “This is hopeless; we will never make it through.”  I was so wrong!  Alemu persisted; we always arrived where we were headed in spite of the roads, the trucks, and the mud.

IMG_0599

We came up on one of the first obstacles on the road here.  We parked, got out, and watched.  The Al-Qaeda truck had a flat tire–the truck in the front.  The Obama truck, after unloading the passengers, tried to pass with this result.

IMG_0600

It slid into the Al-Qaeda truck.  The women passengers and we climbed up to the grass and waited.  The men surveyed the situation and decided to solve the problem.

IMG_0601

They attached a rope to the front of the Obama truck and pulled successfully.  Everyone climbed back in the truck and headed on down the road.  This allowed us to continue on our journey.  As we drove along, the guide noted the duikers along the road.

IMG_0603

See the two brown spots in the middle?  Duikers.  I admire real wildlife photographers.  With the exception of the gelada baboons, getting good wild animal photos seemed quite a task.  Either they moved too fast or they blended so well into the landscape, you could only see them when they moved.

IMG_0604

Here we stopped to hike to the highest waterfall in Ethiopia.  Once the guide explained where we would walk, I decided to hang out with Alemu and the driver of another vehicle stopped here with four people from New York, some of the few people we met from the US.  Most travelers to Ethiopia appear to be Europeans.  The other driver liked to talk and regaled me with stories, one of which was about a German woman who decided to trek (visitors can elect to go on either 3 or 10 day treks here).  It was cold, they camped in a heatless (what else is new!!) building.  She requested her guide sleep with her because she was so cold.  This continued for days.  Apparently, she became very cuddly and the guide misinterpreted, etc. etc.  Luckily for the trekkers, depending on how “primitive” they want to trek, men like those in this photo, take food and other supplies from one camp spot to another.  The other driver knew a lot about Ethiopian birds and pointed out one called a bone crusher.  A raptor, it captures its prey in its talons, flies high, drops it on a rock to kill it, waits until something else eats off the meat, and finally gets the bones, flies high again, and drops the bones on a rock to break them open.  It eats only bone marrow.

IMG_0609

Because people lived and farmed in these mountains long before they became a park, visitors see villages and farms in various areas of the park.  We were told that the government planned to eventually move everyone out of the park.  Our guard lived in the park in an area like this one.  We dropped him off on our way out.  I also noted electric lines in areas where it looked impossible to build.  The guide informed me that a lot of Chinese died building the lines.

IMG_0610

Here and there gelada baboons appear.  This photo shows a typical view of the muddy road we traversed.

IMG_0613

Another stop waiting on Al-Qaeda and Obama trucks.  I never quite figured out why Obama trucks are called this.  They haul people from place to place but not long distances–buses do that.  I never saw an Obama truck wrecked.  Al-Qaeda trucks haul goods, supplies, anything commercial.  Like here in the US, apparently time is money so those drivers hurry.  If something is in the way on the road, drivers may drive off the road to get around it and if the load shifts, over they go.  We saw Al-Qaeda trucks wrecked everywhere–they are the terrorists of the road.

IMG_0614

Above timberline, the landscape changes to this.  The plants in the foreground are giant lobelia.  Ethiopia contains the fourth and fifth highest peaks in Africa.  Much of the time we drove above 12,000 feet.

IMG_0617

IMG_0629

Frequently, we drove through thick fog, but truly lucked out when we reached the area immediately under the fifth highest peak in Africa where rare walia ibex reside. Alemu and the guide told us often visitors come here to see the ibex and see nothing.

IMG_0625

If you look closely, you can see several ibex in the middle of this photo.  We counted 23 on this mountainside above 14,000 feet just a few hundred feet below the fifth highest peak in Africa.  Ibex blend into the landscape so well, they are extremely difficult to see unless they move.

IMG_0633

By the mountain stream red hot pokers (see middle of photo) thrive.  I was shocked to see them growing wild here, having always thought they are desert flowers.

IMG_0632

Finally, on the way back out of the park, we stopped so I could see the highest waterfall in Ethiopia.

IMG_0635

My Ethiopian Adventure–The Roof of Africa, Part One


Initially, we had planned to go no farther north than the city of Gondar.  However, in the pretrip planning, I came across photos of Simien Mountain National Park and knew I had to go there.  I told my friend Dino to take a look; we went.

IMG_0557

The road from Gondar to Debark, the city where one gets the pass, the guide, and the guard to go into the park is typical of the Ethiopian highland country, high, wet, and green.

IMG_0560

We kept saying things like “Are you sure we aren’t in Ireland?”  Nothing seemed to fit the stereotype everyone in the US seems to have of Ethiopia.

IMG_0562

IMG_0563

IMG_0564

Acacia trees like these out the front window must surely be among the most picturesque trees on the planet.

IMG_0565

Fences are relatively rare in Ethiopia.  Usually, animals are herded by boys and girls rather then enclosed by fences.  To get into Simien Mountain National Park, you must stop, sign in with your name, age, address, and passport in Debark.  After you do this, your party is assigned an official guide and a guard.  Yes, a guard.  These two men stay with you everywhere you go except your room and when you eat in the dining room at the only lodging inside the park.

IMG_0568

My room at Simien Park Lodge with traditional Ethiopia textiles for curtains and bedspreads.  This lodge resides at 3260 meters (nearly 11,000 feet) above sea level. There is no heat in the rooms.  To keep warm, each guest receives a hot water bottle to put in bed to keep warm.  I piled on two blankets and crawled in, but before doing so…

IMG_0598

I tried a new drink, Romana Sambuca, here in the highest bar in Africa.  We were told that normally, when the British owner is here, the locals, the guides, guards, drivers, etc. are not allowed either in here or the dining room.  We were glad he was not there so everyone could hang out around the fire together.  Even with this, Alemu could not eat with us in the dining room.  Such rules made us quite unhappy.  This sort of elitism seemed totally inappropriate and insulting, especially since this is their country.

IMG_0595

Knowing all I would have to keep me warm at night would be the hot water bottle and blankets, I felt reluctant to leave this fire in the bar.

IMG_0570

After checking in, we headed out for an afternoon hike.

IMG_0572

The hiking was relatively easy, not too up and down, but in places very wet and slippery.

IMG_0573

Our guard carried an umbrella (we all did and had the opportunity to use them)  and a Kalashnikov and never let us out of his sight.  He spoke no English so only Dino could actually chat with him.  He seemed very nice and helpful.  Yes, it was cold.  I wore four layers.

IMG_0574

Finding familiar plants in a different form fascinated me.  This plant, a type of thistle, bristles with thorns both on top and on the underside of its leaves.  Herbs grow everywhere.

IMG_0576

And then the cliffs and vistas overwhelm.  I have been all over the Rockies in the US and some of Canada, have driven through some mountains in Kashmir, and flown in and out of Nepal with a view of the highest mountains in the world.  Nowhere have I seen mountains like these:  endless cliffs falling thousands of feet, endless vistas, and endless emerald green.

IMG_0577

Frequently we walked or drove above various bits of clouds.  Sometimes the fog became so thick we could barely see where we were going. I am moderately brave regarding heights but it was wet and slippery.  Sometimes while the guard and my friends climbed right on the cliff edge, I chose to go higher with the guide.  In at least one instance, this strategy really paid off because we walked right through the middle of this huge group of gelada baboons.

IMG_0592

These baboons exist only in four places in Ethiopia.  I travelled in three of the four places. The males have a big red heart on their chests and heavy lionlike manes.

IMG_0588

The views never failed to astonish me.

IMG_0581

IMG_0580

IMG_0582

IMG_0578After five o’clock the baboons disappear, climbing down the cliffs into caves to protect themselves from predators–leopards and hyenas.

IMG_0593

Michael, the guide on the left, and the guard, fearless–these drop-offs are routine.

IMG_0594

The heights did not bother Dino.  He scared us with his ability to walk right up to the edge except in one case where he and Zuriash decided it was even too daunting for them.

IMG_0615

 

 

My Ethiopian Adventure–on the Road from Lalibela to Gonder


Since there is only one road in and out of Lalibela, we headed back to the main road after an 8:00 breakfast.  By this time, after three times on this road, the heights hardly bothered me.

IMG_0491

We drove through mountains a large part of the day, through the large towns of Nesfas Mawcha, Debre Tabor, and turned north at Wereta. By this time, I had become accustomed to seeing endless beautiful scenery, hardly knowing when to take photos.

IMG_0501

IMG_0502

The invasive eucalyptus trees and pastoral mountain villages show up everywhere.

IMG_0503

IMG_0505

Most villages have their own church.  The building with the round roof in the distant middle is one such little church.

IMG_0507

Excellent roads, mostly built by the Italians years ago,  crisscross this part of the country. Some newer roads have been built by the Chinese.  Many Ethiopians made jokes about this, implying they do not expect them to last  long.  After reaching a high plateau, we drove through endless pastures and fields of green.

IMG_0508

IMG_0509

Up in this high country, farmers grow wheat, barley, and oats.  Horses and cattle graze in large pastures.

IMG_0510

IMG_0512

IMG_0514

The mountains appear to continue forever.

IMG_0515

IMG_0516

Buildings, like the one in this photo above, usually house animals at night to protect them from predators such as hyenas.

IMG_0517

Whenever we stopped, children ran up sometimes asking for pens, occasionally for money.  Dino and Alemu, the driver, usually scolded them in Amharic for begging.

IMG_0518

Houses here seemed bigger, usually two story, with rocks used as a main building material.

IMG_0519

We drove by two men galloping along on horseback, their horses adorned in fancy tack.

IMG_0520

 

IMG_0523

As we began a long descent into a huge valley, common baboons appeared along the road.

IMG_0524

IMG_0525

These huge rocks left my millions of years of erosion, provide a dramatic contrast to the intense green.

IMG_0527

IMG_0528

It took more than an hour to cross this valley.  As usual cattle, goats., burros, people mingled with vehicles.  What a surprise:  Rice fields as far as I could see on either side of the road.

IMG_0530

The villages in this area are built higher–above the rice paddies. And then as we climbed out of the valley…

IMG_0533

The name of this rock really surprised me, the Finger of God.

IMG_0535

A big later, suddenly Alemu turned off on a dirt road and this appeared.

IMG_0538

The sign says:  Guzara Palace, G.C. 1563-1597.

IMG_0539

When a person goes on such a trip, sometimes places hold your heart, places unexpected.  I loved this place.  It seemed magical.  With no other people around, it felt private and special.  It becomes obvious quite quickly why a king would build a castle here.  You can see forever, for miles and miles, all the way  to Lake Tana in the background.

IMG_0541

 

IMG_0542

IMG_0544

We climbed up to the second story and could see Lake Tana even more clearly in the distance.  I felt a sudden rush of emotion, looking at Lake Tana, my first glimpse of where the Nile River begins.

IMG_0546

IMG_0548

On the other side of the castle, looking toward the mountains, the remains of the old wall around the castle show up clearly.  The part of the wall on the path to the castle has been restored.  This part still awaits restoration. We drove on to Gonder.  We stayed there two nights at  Hotel Goha, but not in sequence.  I found the window coverings so unique I had to take a photo.

IMG_0550

Fabric, stretched over a frame slides back and forth so you can slide it to cover the window.  This hotel possesses fantastic, modern showers.

 

Robin Williams and a Few Thoughts on Major Depression


Juliana Lightle:

In the midst of my “fun”, enlightening posts about Ethiopia, I feel I must reblog this. The best vet I ever used for my horses hung himself–serious depression. It is very sad that with all the advancements in modern medicine, individuals continue to suffer so badly from depression that life is no longer worth living.

Originally posted on 20 Minutes A Day:

I was very sorry to read the news of Robin William’s death yesterday. What a sad ending for a man who has brought such joy into people’s lives through laughter. How ironic that such a “funny” man could end his life by his own hand, communicating to the world that his private world had become decidedly unfun, unmanageable and out of control. His publicist stated that Williams had been suffering from a severe depression over the past several months.

There are several messages that can be discerned from William’s suicide:

One is obvious: appearances can be deceiving. A public image is not the same as the private person and it is inaccurate to assume that seeing celebrities at a distance offers any real glimpse into the angst they may be facing. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s recent drug overdose comes to mind regarding this. However, this is not confined to celebrities: that…

View original 312 more words

My Ethiopian Adventure–Lalibela, the Churches, Part Three


After we left the first group of churches, we had to walk to reach the one that is probably the most photographed.

IMG_0428

Like all these churches, this one, Bet Emanuel, was carved and dug out of solid rock and is built so that the top is level with the slope of the land.  Thus, it is purposefully nearly invisible unless you are quite close to it.  To get to the bottom and go inside you have to climb down rather steep steps. Built in the Auxumite style (Auxum was the original “capital” of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church), some art historians consider it to be the most impressive church in Lalibela.  It is 18 meters by 18 by 12 (58.5 feet by 58.5 by 39).

IMG_0429

The guide explained that because this church is of harder stone, it has no protective cover like some of the first churches we entered.

IMG_0430

Like the first group of churches, this one also has a drainage trench around it.

IMG_0431

A pool of holy water–I saw a boy go up to one of the pools and fill a bottle with water.

IMG_0432

A holy space where only priests can enter.  Every church has a copy of the Ark of the Covenant and a symbolic Bethlehem.

IMG_0435

Saint George and the Dragon appear everywhere. Saint George is the national saint of Ethiopia. There is even St. George beer.

IMG_0436

In this second group of buildings, two were definitely designed as churches.  However, even though others are currently used as churches, there is some question as to whether that was their original purpose.  The guide told us that one building is believed to have been the residence of King Lalibela and his family.  Unlike most of the other buildings, its layout does not appear to have been designed as a church. It also does not contain the usual paintings and artwork.

IMG_0437

Another sacred space. Before we could go on to see the other churches in this group, we had to climb out and walk by the River Jordan.

IMG_0438

All the trenches that drain water from the churches during the rainy season flow into this River Jordan.  The design of the churches, the symbolism, this River Jordan, everything was designed to duplicate to the extent possible he Holy Land, to create another Holy Land in the highlands of Ethiopia, a new Jerusalem.

IMG_0439

The road by the River Jordan.  Until recently people lived in the traditional houses you see on the right.  In front of one we saw a group of young men being trained as priests.

IMG_0440

The land near the churches looks just like anywhere.  You cannot see the churches until you are really close to them.  We were told they were built this way intentionally to protect them from invaders who had destroyed earlier visible churches.

IMG_0441

On both sides of the River Jordan are cemeteries. The dead from the tombs in the walls opposite the churches (see Part I and II) were moved here.

IMG_0442

Unlike the first group of churches shown in Part I, not all the churches in the second group are connected by trenches or so close together.To see some of them you have to climb in and out from one to another.

IMG_0443

IMG_0444

The guide took this photo.  Why am I wearing my socks over my jeans?  Fleas.  It is common knowledge that the carpets and bamboo mats on the floors of the churches contain lots of fleas.  We were told to tuck our jeans inside our socks and spray everything below our knees with insect spray.

IMG_0448

IMG_0449

Between this latter group of churches, there are some passageways so you do not always have to climb in and out.  There is a third type of church in this area, churches built in caves, one of which is 40 kilometers from Lalibela.  Churches such as these exist nowhere else in the world. The only way in and out of Lalibela is that steep road below my hotel room.

IMG_0451

It was drier around Lalibela because the rains were late. We headed to the cave church of Yemrehanna Krestos for the afternoon.

IMG_0452

IMG_0457

One disadvantage of traveling to Ethiopia this time of year, especially in the north, is the weather, cold and rainy.  On the positive side, often we were the only tourists.

IMG_0458

The climb up to the church was long and a bit steep but with good steps and handrails.  Rain had made the stones a bit slippery.  The churches have served an unintentional good in that around most churches in the country the original forest is left to hide the church.  This was one of a few places where we could see what the land looked like before deforestation and before invasive species were brought in from elsewhere.

IMG_0459

The guide who took us through the churches in Lalibela came with us here.  I walked with him and Dino and Zuriash walked with the priest who did not speak English.

IMG_0460

This is what you see when you first arrive at the top.  Like in all the churches, you have to take your shoes off.

IMG_0461

An entire church resides inside the cave.  We were told that the white marble and wood were brought from Egypt by elephants. The church dates to the 11th century.

IMG_0463

The cave is big with lots of space around the church.

IMG_0462

IMG_0464

IMG_0465

IMG_0472

The decor and carvings inside the church are very detailed and elaborate.  Services are held here weekly and at certain times of the year many pilgrims journey here some walking for many miles.

IMG_0473

The priest who resides in the village.  This is “his” church.

IMG_0468

Behind this fence at the back of the cave lay the bones of pilgrims who died here.

IMG_0477

The Ethiopians believe that one of the Three Wise Men came from Ethiopia.

IMG_0470

The tomb of Yemrehanna Krestos resides behind the church inside the cave.

IMG_0484

The road to this church is relatively new.  Before pilgrims had to either walk or ride a horse or donkey to get here.  The road continues above the village, but we turned around and headed back to Lalibela.

IMG_1263

There were two shops in the village that sold sacred objects and souvenirs.  I bought this cross which has St. George and the Dragon on one side and the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus on the other.  Mary is exceedingly important in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

IMG_1265

I like to bargain and generally did quite well with it when purchasing various items.  However, the man in this shop for this particular item refused to come down.  I really wanted it because it seemed quite unique so bought it at his price.  Nowhere else did I have to do that.

On the road back to Lalibela we decided to stop and admire a couple of huge fig trees.

IMG_0485

IMG_0486

My Ethiopian Adventure–Lalibela, Part Two–the Monolithic Churches


IMG_0397

This is the first of the monolithic churches we visited.  Because the churches were built from the top down and actually cannot be seen until you are very near them, you have to climb down a lot of steps to get to the bottom level from which you can enter into the interior.  The “trenches” around them are the same depth as the churches are high because they were carved out of the solid stone.  As you look at these photos, you will notice multiple cross designs, including Greek, the type found in Axum, those referred to as Lalibela.  Every carving, every painting, every design possesses an explicit symbolic meaning.  I wish I had been able to record all the information provided by the guide.  This church, Bet Medhane Alem, is the largest of this type.  It’s approximate size is 33.7 meters  by 23.7 meters with a height of 11.5 meters (109.5 feet by 77 feet with a height of 37.4).  All sides have columns.

IMG_0399

 

IMG_0400

These churches are not mere tourist attractions.  We saw many people walking around, praying, and worshipping.  Services are still held here.  Carved into some of the “trench” walls opposite the church are tombs.  Those buried in these tombs have been removed and their graves now lie on either side of the River Jordan–photos of that later.

IMG_0398

The interior decoration includes detailed carvings, elaborate drapes, and paintings.

IMG_0403

Certain areas, like this one behind the drapes, only priests can access, mainly because they contain the sacraments.  The floors of all the churches are hard rock so all contain coverings of cloth, Persian type rugs, and bamboo.  Accessing the interior requires a lot of climbing up and down very worn, slick, stone steps.

IMG_0405

While smaller trenches and areas separate this first group of churches from each other, the entire group is surrounded by the deepest, large trench.  This is the next church we visited.  It lacks outside columns.

IMG_0407

At first the sight of swastikas everywhere startled me until I remembered how old these churches are and the original meanings attached to this symbol.  Our deacon guide explained that they symbolize everlasting life (the circle of life) and also mentioned its meaning in ancient Hinduism–the continual, everlasting cycle of birth and rebirth.

IMG_0408

This is the fertility pool.  It is so deep that the priest must be lowered into the water attached to ropes as are the man or woman who wants treatment in this holy water.  At one point, someone realized that the pool was no longer as deep as it was originally.  When they investigated, they found the pool had been filled with dirt below where it could be seen.  When this dirt was excavated, a cache of ancient, holy artifacts were found.  They had been buried there to protect them.

IMG_0409

IMG_0411

Ethiopians wrap themselves in white not just to go to church, but in general.  I constantly marveled how they keep these garments so incredibly white in spite of dirt and rain and walking through mud everywhere.  The person on the right is our guide, a deacon in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  He knows the meaning of every carving, every painting, every symbol.  The extent of information explained was not only detailed but extensive.

IMG_0412

Only some of the churches possess paintings on the walls as well as carvings.  The wise men, Mary, everyone looks Ethiopian at least to some extent.

IMG_0413

Notice the Star of David.  This symbol is everywhere because the Ethiopians believe they are descendants of Solomon and Sheba.  As a consequence, the paintings, carvings, all the symbols reflect not only the New Testament but also the Old Testament.

IMG_0414

Every church has this curtain behind which only a priest can go.  Every church has a copy of the Ark of the Covenant.  They believe the original was taken by Menelik I, the son of Solomon and Sheba, to its current location in Axum in a special treasury next to the Church of Saint Mary of Zion.  It has been safely kept there through the millennia.

IMG_0415

IMG_0416

 

IMG_0417

Protective roofs cover some of the churches.  The guide explained that the hardness of the basalt varies.  Because some of the stone is softer, churches carved out of this softer stone had begun to deteriorate.  The coverings protect and preserve them.

IMG_0419

To get from church to church in this first group of churches, usually we walked through these trenches.  To reach the actual church entrances requires climbing up steps.  These trenches enable water drainage into the River Jordan during the rainy season.  The floor of the churches remain above the water.

IMG_0420

Walking through these churches kept me in a constant state of awe.  They were built more than 800 years ago without modern tools.  And there are eleven of them all here, carved out of solid stone.

IMG_0421

St. George and the Dragon hold a prominent place in Ethiopian Orthodox symbolism.  The dragon represents paganism.  St. George slated the dragon.

IMG_0422

 

IMG_0423

We left this  group of churches, climbing out from this trench and headed to one of the most photographed.

IMG_0425

We encountered two walking funeral processions complete with chanting.  I took no photos because it seemed disrespectful.