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harar, the muslim gem of ethiopia

Shoa Gate, from within the city walls
     My favourite part of travel in Ethiopia was going to Harar. After spending three weeks absorbed in a deeply Christian culture, islamic Harar was something quite different. I fell instantly in love with the walled city, with its brightly painted inner walls and its maze of over 350 cobblestone streets. Harar is nothing short of colourful. The old city, enclosed within the 500+ year old jugol (city wall), is home to over 80 mosques and a single church, in addition to hosting the poet Arthur Rimbaud for the last 10 years of his life.
     We arrived from Dire Dawa late in the evening, and the lack of street lights lended to our complete disorientation. A young man hopped onto our bus and convinced us to let him take us to a guesthouse* within the walls of Harar, where we ended up staying for our first night (albeit it being fairly overpriced). He then led us to a local cafe for a late dinner and offered his services as a guide for the following day. 
     Anwar was really easy going and felt more like a friend than a guide. For 400 birr, he showed us around Harar, had us over for tea in his family's home, and took us to feed hyenas in the evening. Hyena feeding occurs in two locations on a nightly basis, costing 50 birr per person to attend, an additional 50 birr to take photos, and another 50 birr for transport to and from the outskirts of the city walls. The "hyena man" calls out to the creatures until they come out of the bush - this can take up to an hour. He then proceeds to feed them by slapping some meat onto a short stick, sometimes holding the stick in his mouth to get the animals to come nearer. Onlooking tourists are given the chance to do the same. The tradition (and what is now a popular attraction) arose out of the belief that hyenas were the only creatures capable of perceiving evil spirits and were thus allowed entrance into Harar in order to ride the city of such demons. A pact was then formed between the people of Harar and the hyenas, and every year the creatures are offered a hearty porridge made with butter. If the leader of the hyena pack eats more than half of the porridge, it is a sign of a prosperous new year, however, if less than half or none is eaten... well, that's just bad news.
Feeding the hyena in style
Shoa Gate
Courtyard of Rowda Guesthouse
     *Rowda Guesthouse - no wifi, small courtyard, shared bathroom (between all 3 rooms), common area. Definitely overpriced for what it is, 700 birr for 3 people. Breakfast included in the price of the guesthouse: consisted of deep-fried pancakes (ish) served with jam, plus coffee or tea. We decided to change guesthouses to Belayneh Hotel, (conveniently) located just outside the Shoa Gate.
Two singles in Belayneh Hotel

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