Traveling Nancy

Traveling around the world as far as I can go.

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Mursi and Ari Tribes – January 13th

We had to leave early in the morning in order to visit the Mursi people because Ayu said that after 11:00 am, it is there rest time and they may be drinking alcohol and not be as friendly to visitors.

We drove to the beginning of the Mago National Park where Ayu found a guide and a park ranger.  The ranger is, of course, carrying his gun.


We passed some Dik-dik on the way to the village. They move very fast. Ayu managed to take a couple of photos with my camera from his open window.

We were required to pay the chief of the village 200 birr for each camera before taking any photos. Jane, Sue, and I decided that we would only use my camera.

I read that although the creation of Mago Park in 1979 forced the Mursi and other tribal people out of certain areas, it seems like the park mostly existed on paper and so it didn’t infringe much on the lives of the local people.

I learned most of the information about the Mursi people from our guide, the internet, and a pamphlet ( A Guide to the Ethnic Groups Omo Valley Southern Ethiopia by Minalu Adem) which I purchased at the Jinka resort.   Here is some of the information

  • Women are in charge of building the homes

  • Men hunt for buffalo but it is illegal.
  • The women urinate standing up and the men urinate sitting down. Of course we did not see this.
  • The women are famed for wearing large plates in their lips and ears. There is much controversy about the origin of this practice. It was perhaps to disfigure to discourage slave raiders or perhaps as an object of beauty. It is usually done when the woman reaches about 15 years of age the girls take out front teeth and cut their lips. The girls husband gets to decide whether to cut the lip and determines just how big the plate that she will put into her lip will become.

  • Each man has a minimum of three wives and perhaps a maximum of seven wives. Each wife has 4 to 6 children. Minimum is two children.
  • Cattle are the Mursi’s most prized possession. They measure wealth by the number of cattle they own and name themselves after the color of their favorite cattle.
  • Mursi are considered one of the wealthiest ethnic groups in the area, as they own greater numbers of cattle.
  • Almost every significant social relationship, especially marriage, is marked and validated by the exchange of cattle. The dowry is usually a number of cattle (30-40) and, more commonly nowadays, a gun. The groom’s family gives the brides’ wealth to the bride’s father. If they come from different villages, after the marriage they live in the woman’s village. For this reason, female children are seen as a blessing because they will eventually contribute to their father’s wealth. This doesn’t mean that male children are any less important as they will be responsible for looking after the animals.
  • The Mursi also practice flood retreat cultivation and rain-fed bush-land cultivation. It has been suggested that if they were to be denied access to the Omo River, they could only survive by becoming dependent on food aid.
  • Their main crop is sorghum, but they also grow maize, beans, chickpeas and tobacco. They are also known to hive bees for honey.
  • Their main diet is a kind of dry porridge made from sorghum or maize. They add milk and blood (taken either directly from a wound made into the neck of their cattle, or stored in a calabash gourd. Although uncommon, the Mursi people do eat meat but usually only in times of drought or at ceremonial events.
  • Men usually wear only a blanket tied over one shoulder.

  • The pamphlet said that the women wear a goatskin but I didn’t see any women in goat skins.
  • Both sexes cut their hair very short and shave designs into it.
  • Although the Mursi have been in contact with Christian evangelist missionaries and have been influenced by nearby Muslim indigenous peoples, their main religion is classified as Animism.   In accordance with animistic traditions, people believe that all natural objects, like trees and even rocks, have spirits. They also practice a form of divination by reading cow entrails.
  • When a young person dies, their body is buried in the woods. But when an older person dies, people of the village fire off their rifles, inviting people from all around to come and celebrate. The person is buried behind the house. Then the wife or husband sits by the graveside facing towards their enemy (likely the Sudan) for 7 days.
  • The guide told us that girls are allowed to have sex before marriage with other boys. Sex with other than her husband is forbidden after marriage.
    This next part was a bit confusing but this is what I think I heard. If an unmarried girl should get pregnant before marriage, the family uses the intestines of the cow to determine who was the father. They may abort the child with natural medications.
    If they determine who the father is, there may be a very complicated process about punishment for father. Perhaps he is beaten. Perhaps killed by brother. Then the person who killed the father moves to another tribe. I don’t think I understood the rest.
  • They make porridge out of the maize.
  • Mursi design is often found on the left shoulder of the men and announces their passing into adulthood. The small dots that make up the scar are made with a razor blade. Dirt is then rubbed into the wound to make it stand out. I saw these scars on women.

  • The men used to carry a large stick (Dongo), which they used for fighting. This is, however, being replaced by the ubiquitous AS 47 assault rifle.
  • There are 4 types of marriage
    • Arranged marriage
    • Consensual marriage
    • Marriage through abduction – Ayu told us that this is now illegal but may still take place if both sets of parents agree,
    • Marriage by inheritance.
  • Stick fighting called Donga takes place between the Mursi men. A long wooden pole is used in combat. Holding the stick at one end, opponents strike blows at each other. It is a dangerous, fierce and artistic confrontation.
  • The women make porridge out of the maize.


Mostly I had so much fun taking photos of the people and being photographed with them.


This is the same girl with her headdress taken off.

I love when Ayt is in my photos.

As I was  taking photos, the children all huddled around me to look at the photos on my camera. They would point and say the names of the people as we went through the photos.

Visiting the Mursi people was certainly a highlight of our trip. For me it made riding in the jeep on the rough roads well worth the bouncing. I have seen much better photos than I could ever take, but this time I was actually right there in their community.

On the way back to Jinka we crossed the stream where people were washing their clothes.


And others were washing their motorcycles.



Ayu told us that we  had some time before lunch to rest so Sue and Jane went back to the Jinka.  Sue calls it “Toes-Up Time” which is usually not in my vocabulary. So Ayu took me over to the restaurant where we had dinner last night and I looked over my photos and  had a cup of tea.

Ayu chose a new restaurant for lunch and we again tried the pizza. It tasted good, but even though it was scored, it very hard to cut the individual pieces.

Ayu ate his lunch with friends who were driving other Vast Tour groups. I think he must enjoy time with his friends and a break from answering our endless questions. I am certain that we have the best driver of all the tourists.

A bit after lunch, it was time to visit the Ari ethnic group.

Here are some facts about the Ari that I learned from the pamphlet.

  • The Ari boast the largest population of any of the ethno-linguistic groups of the Omo Valley. Their influence extends from the northern border of Mago National Park into the highlands around Jinka and Key Afer and maybe even further north.
  • Ari are mostly agriculturalists living in permanent villages. They produce the majority of the agricultural products in the Omo valley.
  • They are also involved in the production of the two principal cash crops (coffee and cardamom) as well as fruits and vegetables. Animal husbandry is their second major effort followed by craft activities, bee keeping, and trade.
  • Their calendar is based on the cycle of the moon. Each month begins on the day of the new moon and the year is divided into four seasons.
  • The family is the basic unit of Ari society. A man may marry as many wives as he wishes as long as he can afford the bride-wealth and other expenses of married life.
  • They consume more varied diet than the rest of the ethnic people of the region because they are permanent agriculturalists.
  • When they are in urban centers, the Ari mostly wear western clothing. It is only in the far rural areas that the Ari woman may be draped in the traditional gori-koysh, which is a dress, made with leaves from the enset and koysha plants. Their necks, arms and waist may be decorated with colorful beads and bracelets.
  • The Ari are the most ‘modern’ of the region’s ethnic groups.
  • The Ari have three types of marriages
    • Arranged marriage
    • Consensual marriage
    • Marriage by inheritance
  • They use a spear to protect themselves from enemies but do not use modern firearms.
  • They do have some conflicts with the Mursi and during those conflicts the Mursi suffer because of the lack of access to the markets of Jinka and Barka towns. I am not sure if this is still true. Ari live in harmony with the rest of their neighbors.

We stopped at an Ari market where Ayu found our guide and first we wandered through the village. The guide taught me how to say, “How are you?” which is the greeting in their language. Of course with my problems learning a new language, I have forgotten how to say it.

He showed us a papaya tree.

The men in this community build the houses.

We watched three different of women cooking injera. One used maize; one used teff; and I think the 3rd woman used sorghum.

I am not sure if the first woman was getting grain or water from the barrel.  She had already made one pan of injera.

They each would oil the pans first.

Then each of them poured the mixture into a pan using a circular motion until the pan was filled.  Here are some of the photos I took of them.

Each woman made several pans of injera.

This is another community where the children love to have their photo taken.


This was the mother in the community.

Ayu took a photo of Jane, Sue, and I with her.

We passed a girl who was studying for school. Some of these children go to school but they do not have support for their classes. This girl is in about 7th grade and learning about mixed fractions.

They were growing avocados and they sure looked good.

This is a place where people meet and we went inside for a bit.

Our guide showed us a handful of their coffee beans.

They grind coffee beans in this mortar.

There was a pile of beans.


I am not sure why some of the houses seem to be made from different materials.

I can’t remember the name of this tool.

I can’t seem to get enough of taking photos of the people.

We were invited into one of the houses. It is very dark inside. I actually lightened this photo so you can see the inside better.

This boy is repairing a sandal.

Then we had a demonstration of grinding the clay by hand. They were making a new pan for cooking injera.

Scraping it….

.. and beginning to mold it.

Ayu was also taking photos of the children and letting the children see them. I love watching how much he also enjoyed what we were doing. Watching Ayu with the children puts a huge smile on my face.

A girl showed me this pan and I touched it. I had no idea that the soot would rub off on my hand and after touching my own knee find myself covered in the soot.

Ayu took a photo of some of the children with Jane and me.

This is a wooden trough for feeding the animals.

We wandered through the marketplace where I took many photos of people and products.



and where Ayu took a photo of Jane, Sue, and I with the women who were selling local beer.  We didn’t drink any.

After the market the guide led us to a celebration.

All of a sudden Jane, Sue, and I were taken up to the front. They announced to everybody that we were from the United States of America and people cheered. It turns out that this was a celebration to raise money to build a new church. They brought each of us a bottle of coke to drink.


We each gave a donation for the church and began to leave. But then the dancing started. It didn’t seem like a formal tribal dance and I just couldn’t help myself from joining the dance. It was such great fun. Jane also was dancing.

Ayu and our guide took such wonderful care of us. I had been told by people who had been there that when I visited the tribes, I would have to pay 5 Birr to each person before I took photos but we did not have to worry about doing that.  I saw the guide slip money into the hands of at least the mother when we took a photo with her.  Some of the people put their hand out for money, but it wasn’t necessary.

We went back to the new restaurant, Besha Gojo, for dinner and each had a pretty good meal.   At dinner we had very interesting conversations with Ayu about Ethiopia history. He is very knowledgeable and we sure enjoy learning from him.

Our meals were topped off with wonderful real ginger tea.

Looking at the photos from this day and writing this post just brings back the joy I was feeling. What an incredible experience learning about two very different tribal groups.


Nechisar National Park- Lake Chamo – Crocodiles – Jan 12

This morning Ayu took us to Nechisar National Park for a boat trip. We walked down to the boat ramp and I watched one of the men dry off the seats after a group of people got off of the boat.

I was wondering just how wet we were going to get on this trip.

When I was standing on the dock waiting I noticed a bird high up in a tree.

Other people arrived on the dock and were put into a boat.  We were not sure what was happening but we waited some more.  Jane, Sue, and Leigh went back to where Ayu was.  I stayed on the dock with a few other people who were waiting … and waiting … and waiting … and waiting.  I started taking photos of dragon flies.

I again watched another group of people get onto a boat.  This was certainly an exercise in patience, but I was feeling relaxed and watching other birds land on the dock.

A couple of young men arrived and I started talking to them.  They said that we were waiting due to a fuel shortage.  So I just waited some more.  I really have no idea how long I waited but finally Ayu, Sue, Jane, and Leigh came down to the dock and we boarded the boat with about 6 other people.

It actually was a shortage of petro that caused the wait.  But Ayu went right into action.  He called the Paradise Lodge.  The desk people where not giving him the help he needed so he reached the manager of the lodge.  They had petro delivered by motorbike so we could do the boat ride.  This was just another example of how lucky we are  to have Ayu as our driver.

It was a lovely ride on the lake.  I took a photo of a smaller version of our boat.

We watched some fishermen.

Then we saw more birds like the one I had photographed from the dock.  I learned that they were African Fishing Eagles.  What beautiful birds.

We passed an island.

I zoomed in with my camera and was pretty sure I saw evidence of people staying there.

Then we saw a few more hippos but just a couple of them.

Finally we came to the crocodiles.  They were lazily laying along the shore.

I sure wouldn’t want to get too close to them.

This bird sure pales in size next to a crocodile.

On our way back we passed the cave.  Now there were actually people there.  I found out that they are fishermen.

We saw more fisherman …

… eagles, pelicans …

… and a stork or some kind of heron.

What a great trip on Lake Chamo – worth the wait.  When we were walking back to the Land Cruiser, I saw this bird.  I have no idea what it is.

And we were off for today’s drive.

These are bee hives in Acacia trees.

There were a smaller group of women waiting to get water.

All of these motorcycles needed petro.

We arrived at Kanta Lodge for a quick lunch.   It is a lovely place.

Leigh had decided that she needed a rest and time by herself so she arranged to stay at Kanta Lodge and wait for us for the next 3 nights.

So we drove off to Jinka.  On the way Ayu stopped at the Jinka Market.  Jane and Sue waited in the car so I only had a few minutes to walk around the market.

I wish I had had more time to spend at the Jinka Market.

As we drove there were many children doing dances in the streets.  They all wanted us to stop and give them money.  Some had painted faces.  Some were on stilts.  We never stopped but I did sneak one photo out of the front window of the  Land Cruiser.

The Jinka Lodge left a bit to be desired but there were beds and a shower so not complaining.



Dorzi People – January 11

I got up this morning at about 6:45. Leigh and I opened the door just in time to see the sun rising.


We were scheduled to leave at 8:00 this morning first stopped at the on site clinic for cough medicine for Jane and Sue. How nice for the Serana Lodge to actually have a clinic on the property.   Since we had to wait a bit for the doctor to arrive at the clinic, I took a few photos of the birds. Ayu said that they are two different kinds of Starlings. Their Starlings are much more beautiful than ours at home.



I sure enjoyed listening to their songs.

Jane and Sue bought some kind of cough medicine.

I again took a few photos through the car window as Ayu was driving.

We always try to switch seats about every couple of hours. Today when Ayu stopped for us to change seats, many people came to the car by the time I walked from the front seat – around the car – to the back seat on the other side. I was only able to take a photo of a few of them because nobody wanted to open the windows.

It was hard to believe how many people could appear out of the fields in such a short time.

We have seen more motorcycles on this road than any other.


We drove through Shashmane where there are many Rastafarians living. Ayu told us that many of them came from Jamaica. Apparently King H…. went to visit Jamaica during a very long drought and when he got off the plane, it suddenly started raining very hard. They thought he brought the rain. Many of them decided to move to Ethiopia.

I wish I had been able to get a photo of the group of women (perhaps about 30) who were waiting in line to get their 5 gallon orange buckets filled with water.

Ayu said that there is plenty of water in the mountains around here but there is no infrastructure to bring the water to the town. He attributes that to the corruption of the past government.

When we went through Windo Genate (I am sure I spelled this incorrectly), Ayu said we were going through 2 areas. On one side of the road are the Oromo people. On the other side of the road are the Sidama people.

We had lunch in Sodo where the Walaita people live. Soto has the largest population of the southern nation of nationalities. There are 88 languages spoken in Ethiopia. We loved this tree in the courtyard,

This is a community center near the restaurant.

These woman were selling bananas and we decided to try some.

We drove up a fairly long bumpy gravel road to visit a village of Dorze people. These people live in the Guge Mountains. One of the men from the village showed us around.  First he showed us a place they use as a guest house.

I stepped into the house and decided I wouldn’t want to sleep there.

Then we walked into the village which was very interesting. He showed us some of the bamboo fields.

Their woven houses, which are shaped in the form of a beehive, are constructed with vertical hardwood poles and woven bamboo. They have to cut the bamboo at just the right time so that it is less likely to be attacked by termites at the bottom. Traditionally the bamboos that are used as frames for the huts are cut during moonlight.


The houses are built to last about 50 or 60 years but he said that the above house is about 90 years old.

Inside the house, they build a wood fire almost every day. The soot from the fire sticks to the room and helps to prevent the termites from eating it. The termites do eat it from the bottom so over the years it shrinks. The door must be redone when needed.

These are a couple of photos taken of the inside of the house




They cook inside the house. There is a room in the house at the back where the animals live. They do not leave them outside at night. There is also another structure built for more animals because there is not enough room in one house.

They actually have a small solar panel on the house for a light.

They were growing pumpkins.

They raise honeybees.

This is what the old hive from long ago looked like.

These are the people who use the false banana trees to make Kocho. A woman demonstrated how she scrapes a grain off the interior of the plant to get a pulp.



They bury this product for at least 3 weeks until it ferments. The longer it ferments, the better it tastes.

Then she chopped for a few minutes with a large knife blade to make sure any fibers remaining are chopped up.…

Then she forms it into a flat-bread cooks it.

The Dorze people are known for their weaving. The women take raw cotton, untie it, and make small spindles of thread. Then the men take over and use the spindles of thread to make a single solid and long thread of cotton.

Sue and I each purchased a scarf.

We had the opportunity to taste the kocho with honey and/or something very spicy. Sue tasted the spicy choice.  We all tasted the honey.

We also were served a drink that they make in this area (he called it local beer but Sue and Jane thought it tasted like vodka). There is a ceremony for drinking it so I put water in my glass so I could participate. Ayu took a video of us.

I read that the Dorze are very industrious and are well-educated, comparatively speaking. The literacy rate is estimated to be 45%. They are “cousins” of the Gamo tribe, but consider themselves superior to the Gamo. The Dorze Christians are largely Orthodox, while the Gamo Christians are largely Protestant. They speak the Dorze language, an Omotic tongue.

We had a great time in the Dorze village.I finally got a photo of a man standing on a cart as the donkey was pulling it down the road.

It was about 5:30 when we arrived in Arba Minch. Arba Minh means forty springs. It is set high on the escapement and is supposed to have incomparable views over the twin Lakes Chamo and Abaya Lakes. The mountain between the two lakes is called God’s Bridge. We are not sure what causes the hazy conditions. Here are the views from the reception area and from our room.

The lake is brown due to a high level of suspended sediments.

Jane, Sue, and I went to the pool but we only sat on the side because the water was too cool for us. We were going to go to the steam room but apparently we needed a reservation. So we decided just to go for dinner.

We had barbecue fish and lamb for dinner. We looked at the dessert menu and asked the waitress to explain one of the chocolate dessert choices.. She said it was a new menu so she didn’t know. I asked her if she could find out what it was but when she came back, she said there was a new cook so they didn’t have it. Jane and Sue ordered flan and I ordered chocolate ice-cream. My ice-cream was delicious but whatever they brought for Jane and Sue certainly wasn’t flan.

At dinner we saw a fire in the distance over the lake. We were told they were burning charcoal which could have been the reason for the  unclear skies.  But Ayu  later explained that it was a controlled burn.  We have no idea what is causing the unclear skies.

We have had another great day in Ethiopia.

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Addis to Langano and Tiya Stelae – January 10th

We have been traveling for 9 days since my last post and we finally have enough bandwidth to begin posting again.  We started on the southern part of our adventure in Ethiopia. The traffic was again very crowded. It is hard to believe how Ayu can make a left hand turn on to a 4-lane street without any stop sign. He just inches his way out until the traffic has to stop. The cars just had to stop for him.

We needed to buy more water for this journey. Ayu tried to go to the water factory but they were not selling water bottles there. Ayu saw a delivery truck that was carrying bottles of water and he called out to them. About 5 minutes later we both pulled off to the side of the road and Ayu bought us 24 large bottles of water for the trip.

There were several teenagers moving between cars trying to sell things. Ayu said that many of these teens and young adults have moved to Addis from the south. In many tribes in the south the men have 3-4 wives and those wives have about 6 children each. So the older children move to Addis. They sell stuff and sleep outside. They tend to have no education or skills. If they can’t sell things, they become hopeless and are susceptible to becoming thieves and gangsters. The government is trying to help by offering training programs.


It took us a long tine to get through the traffic to get out of Addis.

Our trip took us unto the Rift Valley. This is where Lucy was found. Ayu explained about the Gurage Tribe. They have their own language. They consist of Muslims, Christians, and Protestants. They are known for grinding raw meat into tiny parts and mixing it with butter and sauces called kitto.

We passed many plants that look like banana trees but Ayu said that they are false banana trees. We will learn more about Kucho, which is a typical food made from the false banana trees or Koba.

We stopped at the site of the Tiya Stelae.  There are 46 large, decorated Tiya megaliths, which have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although the construction of such megaliths is an ancient tradition in Ethiopia, the Tiya stones are fairly ‘recent’, dating to sometime between the 10th and 15th centuries. Remarkably little is known about the Tiya stelae, beyond descriptions of their physical appearance. These large monuments likely had some cultural significance when erected, but their meaning remains unclear and very few efforts have been made towards understanding these magnificent monoliths. Our guide at the site told us about the sword symbols on the stelae. He said that it was a burial site for royalty. He distinguished between those that are stones for women and men. He also said that the bones of the people buried at this site indicate that they were buried sitting up.

This is a whole group of them.

The guide gave us explanations of the symbols on the stelae.  It was something about the swords signifying how many were killed by this person.

Or something about palm trees and that this one is for a man.

And this one is a woman.

We had lunch in Zoye where there is a lake but not near the restaurant.

We passed a tree that was filled with storks.

We are staying at the Serana Lodge on Lake Langano in the Oromia region. The lake is brown in color but that is due to the richness of minerals. I walked down to the lake but only waded up to my ankles.

They have a spa and I took full advantage of it. I used the hot tub (which wasn’t very hot), sauna, and steam room before having a wonderful 60 minute massage.

The surroundings around this lodge are beautiful. We had lentil soup and pasta for dinner. There was actually ice-cream available for dessert and I took full advantage of it for a chocolate/rum/nut sundae.


Driving Back to Addis Jan 8th – Jan 9th

Again Ayu did a fantastic job driving over the difficult road out of Lalibela. All along the road we could see the pilgrims walking back to their homes .  It took 2 hours and 40 minutes to drive the 40 kilometers.

Ayu pointed out people drying both malt and hops.

These men were enjoying their beer.

We passed a man plowing his field.

This man is carrying equipment for the plow.

We passed some children carrying 5 gallon containers of water on their backs.  I didn’t get a photo of them but here is a photo of some woman doing that.  I don’t know how they can carry that much.

This man was washing his camel.

For lunch we stopped at the same place where Leigh had ordered a chicken pizzq that was very good so we ordered 2 of them for lunch.  There must have been a new cook because they were not the same quality at all.

Ayu stopped to buy some papaya for his family since we are headed back to Addis.

Children always seem to like to have their photographs taken.

In Dessie Ayu took us to a pharmacy so Sue could buy some cough medicine.

When we arrived in Kombolcha, there were many blue and white vans.  Ayu said they call them blue devils because they are such crazy drivers.  He sure can weave our jeep through the traffic.

We stayed at the Yegofe View Hotel.  There is not elevator and we had to walk up to the 3rd floor (which is actually 3 full floors above the ground level).  Dinner at the restaurant which is in another building was extremely slow.  think the cook can only make one dish at a time and there was a group of Chinese men who had ordered before us.  It was a clean and comfortable place.

In the morning the man at the desk came to tell me that my friend had fainted.  Actually somebody had spilled water on the marble steps and when Leigh was walking down, she slipped on it.  It was so lucky that she was holding the railing because she came down about 6 steps.  I am still concerned that she is going to be feeling that fall for days.

There were camels carrying the hugest loads of wool to the market.

Camels carrying huge loads of wood to market.  I was too slow for that photo so I just took this one.

Down the road we saw some children carrying bags of dung.

Most of the people along this route are Muslims.  Ayu said that they have increased their population over 40% in the last 20 years.  There were some houses that had 2 front doors.  That is because the men in these houses have 2 wives.

Ayu told me that they do not like to have their photographs taken so I got this one as we were driving

We went through a small town that was very dusty and crowded.  There were stores all along the road.  The interesting thing is that the road was paved all the way up to the beginning of the town and then unpaved all the way through the town.  The people looked very poor.  As we left the town we were again on the paved road.




Big market from 4 tribes on Monday in Sanbate.

Train goes to Awash


Acacia trees are not cut down – grow slowly


Malaria is being controlled but not HIV


Manze is where Ayu’s father and mother was born. Her sisters and brothers are Oromo.


Tarmabare Tarma means honey from ground bee – bare means gate

So gate of that honey. Where we bought roasted barley and my hat.

Debra berehane means Mountain + Light or light of the mountain


Getva Hotel

Fantastic soup, fries, and Chai






Genna in Lalibela – Jan 7

Ayu and Zerdu picked me up at 6:00 am. I was the only one who wanted to go to the morning celebration at the church. Zerdu explained to me about morning Mass, which had started very early, was just about to end. Some of the pilgrims had gone into the church late last night so they were in the church for the Mass. For all the other pilgrims, it was broadcasted.

We started out together trying to get to a spot where we could see but it was so jammed pack that we couldn’t move forward. It was still dark outside and I noticed these 2 women standing on the side doing private prayers.

Zerdu took me another way around and we lost track of Ayu. I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to get close enough to see anything. It was getting lighter and I noticed these 2 men also praying privately.

We were still too far away and I noticed that some people had climbed up a tree.

We were still to far away for a good view.

Finally we inched close enough to see. I was right by these two beautiful girls. I asked to take a photo of them and at first they were very shy. Then they agreed.


The procession on the ledge below us had begun.

They walked all along the ledge until they came to a spot that looked like the end.

One of the Deacons was carrying a large cross.

They just kept proceeding from the church along the ledge in front of us.

As they were walking along the ledge, they were chanting and dancing.

The special hymn of the day is known as Beza Kullu (literally meaning The Redeemer of All). Dancers, playing metallic sistrum (Egyptian percussion instrument) in their hands, sing the hymns of the holiday, swaying all together from north to south to the rhythm of the big drums. The dance is said to symbolize the praise made by the angels and shepherds on the night of Christmas. The chanters above the courtyard represent the angels of the heaven and those at the bottom symbolize the shepherds of Bethlehem.

Sometimes all of the people would break into a cheer and make a sound with their tongues. The girls that I was standing near asked me to try to make the sound. I made many of the people around me laugh because I cannot do it. The pilgrims around me were so welcoming. Most of them were sitting and I was standing next to them. The girls put their bag down and encouraged me to sit. Zerdu took a photo of me.

I tried but my knees just wouldn’t work in that tight position so I had to stand.

They were not only in there beautiful robes, carrying those umbrellas and crosses, but they also brought out paintings.


I took more photos of girls.

Zerdo explained to me that the people on the ledge with the crowns were couples who had been married in the church early this morning. A requirement of being married in the church is to be pure (virgins).

A couple of women wanted me to take a photo of them. I loved doing this.


We stayed for a long time. I took several videos of the celebration. Then Zerdo told me that we had to leave and let me out through the crowd.

It is very hard for me to put into words the feelings I was experiencing at this celebration. I am not a religious person. The faith of these people is very different from mine. Yet, I was overwhelmed. Over 100,000 people traveling across the country to be in Lalibela for Christmas; the warm welcome I was given; the way they take care of each other with shared food; all filled me up with the spirituality of it all. I feel so enormously privileged to have participated in Genna in Lalibela.

It was almost time for the people to get together for their Christmas feast.

The first Christmas meal is often an early breakfast, eaten by bleary-eyed congregants after returning home. The light meal likely starts with juice made from flaxseed (to oil up the intestines after 40 days of fasting) before moving on to the famously spicy chicken stew doro wot, and it most certainly includes appropriately strong Ethiopian coffee to help welcome the new day. Later on, friends and relatives gather to enjoy a full Genna feast, usually involving a freshly killed lamb for mutton tibs and traditional beverages such as tej (honey wine). I am not sure how many of these pilgrims had a feast in Ethiopia and how many had to wait until they reached their homes – some of the very far away.

This would be one of the few times in the year that they would be eating any meat. I learned that there are 265 days each year when these people observe some kind of fasting by eating only one meal per day. They may not eat anything that is an animal product on those days so; basically it is a vegan diet. Ayu had been observing that diet the whole time he as been driving us from place to place. He could not even have a piece of chocolate candy because it has milk in it.

They took me back to the hotel for a very quick breakfast before we all headed out for a donkey ride up the mountainside.

These 2 boys walked along besides me telling me their story. They said that they are from a distant village where school is not as good as in Lalibela.   They are friends – not siblings. They live together in Lalibela so they can attend the school here. The 17 year-old works carrying luggage and the 12-year-old shines shoes.

I am not sure how true this story was but Ayu told me that it is not uncommon for boys that age to do that.

This is the man who was leading my donkey.


I asked Zerdu to take a photo of all of us..

We all rode the donkeys for a while and then the terrain got too steep so we had to walk. Leigh stayed behind with her donkey and the man who was leading her donkey. Zerdu said we would be back in 2 to 3 hours.

The hike was rocky and steep and at about 10,000 feet of elevation where the view was wonderful.

With my zoom lens, I took a photograph of the church below. You can see the long line of people still waiting (even thought the celebration was over) to get into the tunnel to go inside the church.

This is Zerdu pointing out things in the distance to us.

Zerdu took a photo of us holding our poles behind our backs the way the Ethiopian people do when they are walking along the road.

The hike up there was pretty hard and we were tired. Jane, Sue and I decided that we did not have to go all the way to the 13th C. rock hewn monastery of Ashton Mariam. The walk would have been even steeper.


So we stood around for a bit, purchased cokes for the men who were leading our donkeys from the local people, and got back onto our donkeys. Sue’s donkey decided that he didn’t want her and tried to buck her off. She is a good rider and held on with the help of all of the men. I couldn’t get my camera adjusted quickly enough to catch the event. Whew, she was safe.


Zerdu asked the men to take us back down a flatter terrain so we didn’t have to walk down the steep hillside. The flattop of this mountain is where we would have had to hike. I was glad that we decided not to do the rest of the hike up the hillside. Zerdu had called the man who was with Leigh and asked him to bring her down to meet us almost at the bottom.


We passed homes along the way.


I realized that although we were riding along the flat road, Zerdu was taking shortcuts down the hillside.

Although the terrain was very flat, it was a long ride back to Lalibela. I hadn’t ridden a donkey in about 14 years and I had forgotten how uncomfortable it could be. My legs were tired. My bottom was getting sore. And my neck was feeling the strain. Eventually we decided to get off of the mules and walk the rest of the way down to where Ayu was going to meet us.

After the mule ride we stopped for lunch. Then Ayu drove us to the Nakuto Le’abe Monastery. On the way we passed people getting water from a well.

King Nakuto Le’abe, abdicated his throne in 1270 AD and went to a cave to lead a hermit’s life. This cave has ever since became a monastery and has dramatic settings. It houses one of the most interesting collections of ancient crosses, illustrated manuscripts and other icons some of which are attributed to its founder Nakuto Le’abe.

There was a celebration with drumming and chanting taking place and we so enjoyed participating.

There were also people praying.

We where shown crosses and artifacts.

Holy water is dripping into the cave. Many people were being blessed by it and collecting it. Ayu collected some of it in a bottle. He splashed it onto us. He will also bringing some home to his family.

Our day was not over yet. Ayu took us to the home of Mazda where she lives with her mother, sister, and aunt. It was a very, very small room where 4 people live.

They served home brewed bear.

They served us injera with freshly slaughtered goat meat. It was delicious.

Then Mazda went through all the steps of the coffee ceremony. She roasted the coffee beans and then her sister ground them outside and ground them. She put them into the pot on the fire, added water, did something with water in all of the cups (perhaps rinsing them?), and served us coffee. I don’t usually drink coffee, but this cup of coffee was delicious.

Ayu told us that the coffee ceremony is done every day. The people who don’t work prepare the meals. They cook outside. Perhaps it is a community kitchen. When the person who works gets home, the sit down to a meal and all tell about their day. Members of other people in the small community get together often to share stories.

This is Mazda ‘s Mom.

We went back to the hotel for a shot time and then went out to eat at Ban Ababa which is a Scottish / Ethiopian Restaurant. The food was delicious.

It is hard to believe how much we did this day. We could not have had a better guide than Zerwdu . We are so lucky to have Ayu as our drivers


Lalibela – Jan 6th

Over 100,000 pilgrims come to Lalibela to celebrate both the Orthodox Ethiopian Christmas and King Lalibela and we are here..

Ayu drove us up to the area of the rock churches where we met our guide, Zerdu.   We started walking towards the churches. This is the day before the Ethiopian Christmas. There were pilgrims everywhere.

They were sitting all over the ground.


These two women were sitting under a tree.

They were mostly dressed in white. I love taking photos of their faces.


We had to wait for Zerdu to buy our tickets so that we could enter the churches.

Many pilgrims were standing on the walls.

We knew we would have to get into lines with the pilgrims waiting to get into one of the churches.

They were so jammed together and we had to follow them.. This was going to be quite a day.


It was hard for Jane, Sue, and I to stay together with Zerdu. There were many stairs to go down and there were shoes left all over the stairs. (You can’t enter a church wearing shoes.

I asked Zerdu how all of these people ever found their own shoes and he told me that when they leave the church, they just take any pair that fits them.

There are actually 11 rock-hewed churches in Lalibela. They date back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Their building is attributed to King Lalibela who set out to construct in the 12th century a ‘New Jerusalem’ after God apparently appeared to him in a dream after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the holy Land. Many of the churches are names after churches in Jerusalem. The city is, of course, name after King Lalibela.

The churches we visited in the last few days were carved into a mountain (semi-monolithic). The churches in Lalibela were hewn from the living rock of monolithic blocks. These blocks were further chiselled out, forming doors, windows, columns, various floors, roofs etc. This gigantic work was further completed with an extensive system of drainage ditches, trenches and ceremonial passages, some with openings to hermit caves and catacombs. Amazingly, they only had hand tools like hammers and chisels.

Their building is attributed to King Lalibela who set out to construct in the 12th century a ‘New Jerusalem’ after God apparently appeared to him in a dream after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the holy Land They only had primitive tools like hammers and chisels, etc. It is really unbelievable.

It would have been much easier to take photos of both the inside and outside of these incredible churches at another time of the year when all of the pilgrims were not there. But it is the pilgrims that made the experience so wonderful.

This of the top of the Church of Bete Giyorgis (Church of St. George). It is in the shape of a cross.

You can see one of the original drainpipes that was installed on the top of St. George. They are on three sides. Because they church is higher on the 4th side there was no need for one. It is amazing how brilliant they were at the time these churches were carved out of the rock.

And this shows a side view of Bete Giyorgis

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