Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hanging in Harrar

Wow. If I hadn't taken that side trip to Harrar, I would've missed out on such a different taste of Africa. I was only able to spend one day there, and at the expense of 2 full days of travel (ugh) but it was totally worth it. I left Wednesday night around 6:30, and the mini-bus drove all night and got us there around 7 a.m. Thursday. It was a crazy ride. Harar is known for its "chat" culture. Chat is a plant that everyone chews and gets a mild stimulant affect from it. The bus driver and most of the people on the bus were chewing chat the entire night, so it was quite the buzzing ride. The lady next to me was from the Afari tribe, and we somehow managed to bond without being able to communicate. She shared her banana bread (at least, that's my guess...) with me and we cackled together about...well, something, I'm not really sure what, but she laughed and I laughed and it was all good. Her only English word is "OK", so she said that to me a lot.

THe guest house I stayed at, Rewda Guesthouse, was AMAZING. A beautiful little courtyard with pomegrante trees and flowers, a lovely room with the traditional chat setup, and the main house was a showplace for the traditional Harari home. It was probably the most expensive guesthouse in the city, at about $25 US, but it was well worth it.

I spent the day just wandering around the old city markets, seeing all the gates into the city, and participated in the chat ceremony (it's perfectly legal here, so don't give me any grief). It's really weird - the entire city shuts down from 1-3 and everyone retreats inside and chews chat and just hang out and talk. Like siesta time, but it's spent in casual conversation instead of sleeping. After a few hours of that, the markets open back up, the museums throw open their doors, and everyone gets back to work. With a full buzz on, of course. Strange.

I toured the Arthur Ribeauld house, which is such a strange anomaly in the middle of this old old arabian/ethiopian style city. Lots of nice pictures and poetry and a good photo exhibit of Harar at the turn of the century.

Oh, and I forgot to mention I did have a guide for the day, so it was all really easy, not stressful. He is from Harar, so was able to explain all the background of things and I got the nice inside scoop. After dinner, we went out and had some drinks with his cousin and friend and went dancing - and BOY is it fun to go out dancing in Harar!! The music is absolutely fantastic dance music ("African beat" is what they called most of it, with some traditional cultural music and some Bob Marley thrown in for good measure), and the scene is not at all like US clubs - no sleaziness or meat market quality. Just joyful, happy, wild dancing. We were out for hours and I had such a great time! I hope to get some of my favorite songs to bring back with me to the US.

However, that also meant I was up until 2 am and had to catch the public bus back at 5:30 am. UGH. I made it though, and the trip back in the daylight was beautiful. It was the first countryside I'd seen that really felt like what I thought Africa would look like. Herds of camels wandering on the side of the road, more desolate and dry, with the flat broad trees that I've seen in photos. At one stop (ugh, and there were many random stops along the way that made the trip 12 hours long!!), some of the local tribal people wandered onto the bus and spent a good 10 minutes staring at me. I didn't stare back, but they did have butter in their hair so it would've been fair to...

Anyways, I made it back to Addis and just spent the morning trying to buy gifts for family & friends at the Merkado (Addis Ababa's market is the biggest in all of Africa, they say) - bargaining! Fun!! I'd forgotten how much I like the exercise of bargaining. I have only 36 hours left, then I leave for America. I better get off the computer and go experience more stuff. Later, friends!

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