I feel like i have stepped back time! I have arrived in Harar, the city with the old walled city~ the jugal~still the same as over 1300 years ago. (it was built in the 7th century!) The first night I went to see the feeding of the hyenas.AND actually fed them!! I could eye-ball the old lady, who had recently given birth. It was an unreal experience. The meat was put on a short stick, so close, which wasn’t really necessary for me! It was, however, one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Right up there with the balloon flight over Luxor, and the time I spend with the gorillas in the mist.
The men walking around the old town in their starched, pure white galabayas and white, worn, knitted skull-caps. Their wives, daughters, sisters and old mothers in bright, glittering, colourful beaded head scarves.Clusters of teenage girls, dressed in colourful clothes, break into giggles when they spot the “Faranji” walking in their walled- in city.The first thing I did was to buy a colourful headscarf, I am still a Faranji, but it takes at least five minutes before people realize I am! This give me at least a little bit of respite of the beggars and the constant call of “Faranji, Faranji” which I answer with “Habesha, Habesha” (Ethiopian, Ethiopian!)
Walking through the maze of the old “jugal”, a maze of endless, narrow, connected alleyways is an adventure on its own. I could disappear here forever! I have booked myself into a guesthouse in the old city. I wake up with the soothing call of the muezzin reminding me to pray. I smile, say a prayer full of gratitude, turn over and fall back asleep. I had hoped to do at least two weeks worth of washing, but there is a water problem. No shower, let alone a hot one, no water to wash my knickers. Ah well, does it really matter? I wash the important parts with the bottled drinking water, of which i have plenty. Here in Ethiopia, recycling is very big. All the plastic bottles and rubbish is recycled. The water bottles are being turned into shoes!! All the rural people wear these shoes, as they sell for only 30 birr, (which is about $1,50.)
By Ethiopian standards the people of Harar are very rich. The Hararis own the land and control the lucrative trade of the waxy, intoxicated leaves of Qat (pronounced as chat). This is a mild narcotic that according to many people here, stimulates the senses and makes one alert and active. This is not at all what i see. I see a lot of young men laying stupefied in the gutters, stoned out of their mind, doing absolutely nothing but beg “Faranjies ” for money! I DID try (I try everything at least once!) I felt like an absolute cow!! Regurgitating. Luckily my new found friend, Yasmin, an Ethiopian woman living in London, was not offended. I believe her brother in law was secretly glad that I didn’t enjoy his favourite pass time! The bad part is that the local farmers make much more of the growing of Qat, then the growing of coffee. Hence Qat it is. By chewing it, it is highly addictive, the people spend all their money on the buying of this product, and no longer eat healthy or provide food for their families.
I am staying in a traditional house, this has positives and of course negatives as well. The concept of solitude, or privacy is a totally in-comprehensible notion! Trying to draw or paint in the streets only last about five minutes, until I am discovered, and have to start the same conversation over and over. What is my name? where am I from? What am I doing? Could I pay that woman, because I drew her? I answer very politely but firmly. I do NOT pay for drawings. Photographs are a different matter. I “sneak” most photographs from the colourful women as they walk away from me, their burhka’s flapping in the wind.
It is a shame I can not draw or paint the smells. The streets reek of Frankincense, urine, spices, and raw meat and decay. This place is without a doubt a painter’s paradise! A shame that it is impossible to change my Djibouti ticket here (I want to fly to Nairobie instead) which means I have to leave long before i am ready to go. I had hoped to spend a few weeks here, just painting and drawing. To visit more small villages outside the city and its walls. Omoro people live outside Harar and its walls. They are extremely poor and work mainly on the Qat field. The Omoro people are the servants and do all the hard and tedious jobs. In the villages they live in compounds surrounded by families.Together with elisabeth, an American girl who works in Tanzania, we visited one of these villages. We sat through the whole preparations of the coffee making. First the sorting of the beans, then the roasting, grinding and de- husking all by hand, finallywe received a cup of the most delicious coffee I have ever had. Exquisite, the aroma of Frankincense mixed with the smell of the freshest coffee i have ever drunk. It was the aroma of heaven!.