by Jenny Makepeace

Rimbaud houseArhtur Rimbault the French poet and gun runner also lived here in various places.

The old emperors house contains works by Rimbault and many photographs of old Harar.

We wandered about with our guide – Biniam – a Rastafarin who took us to the market.

It was wonderfully genuine local affair with different areas for various goods including a recycling section.

Every bit of  vehicle paraphanalia is available and old tin cans are bashed flat for reuse as something else;  there’s a second hand clothes section and, of course, food.

This is positively medieval, overflowing with sacks of foodstuffs. There are all sorts of cereals like wheat, teff, oats, barley, dried peas, lentils, linseed, raw coffee beans, herbs, turmeric, pea flour.

Also were spices and ginger, sacks of varying grades of frankinsence including a rough one dug up from around the roots of the trees. The best grades are almost white and kept out of sight under little cotton cloths.

The vegetables include red onions, garlic, cabbages, carrots, tomatoes, aubergines, lettuces and courgettes.  There are sweetmeats made from peanuts and sugar.

Not a tourist in sight. Donkeys being laden with sacks in the streets. Many women sellingHarer Market small quantities of this and that on the edges of the streets or cooking samosas and such like, more often than not with a baby or small child.

Sugar cane is sold this way too, brought to the town often on the backs of camels in uncut very long lengths.

There are women selling milk both cow and camel, often to regular customers.

Donkeys are carrying heavy loads of building sand in panniers made from oil drums cut in half. Huge round water tanks are strategically placed and filled daily, people pay a few cents to use it.

Unesco has declared Harar a World Heritage Site and are about to embark on a restoration programme.

They will be connecting sewage to all houses, restoring many historic buildings, removing those built up against the outside of the walls and rehousing their occupants. And repairing the walls and gates.

Most of the houses are of the courtyard type, behind doors which were once all timber, now often metal, but it is illegal to replace wood with metal now.  Many families occupy each courtyard, Muslims and Christians happily co-habiting.

Our room at the Rowda is up some stone steps with high risers and must once have been the womens quarters. It has a timber fretwork screen looking down over the main sitting area and windows on two sides.

One is looking into the courtyard where there is a kitchen and other guest rooms and a rudimentary washhouse.

When we arrived our room was locked, so we left the cases and went out.  It had been occupied by a young Korean woman who we met at breakfast the following day.

Min has lived in Europe and NZ for many years studying theatre and dance.  We gave her Semma’s phone number as she would love to go North and visit the rural areas.

The company she is attached to have sent members of the group to various countries to study different historical figures. Min chose Arthur Rimbault.

Before dinner last night we watched the feeding of the hyenas. This is a uniquely strange activity involving hand feeding about 20 wild hyenas who come to the city walls at the same time each evening.

Hyenas at HarerBaskets of meat, often with hair attached is hand fed or hung over a short stick and held in one’s teeth from where these beasts quite delicately take it.

The fellow in charge is exactly like Lenny Henry and has a huge smile and raucous laugh.

He takes great delight in allowing tourists to feed hyenas.

He has names for many of them and calls them in from the dark, where they appear in their rather hunched, cautious manner.

After the show they are encouraged into the city to scavenge on the debris of the day, thus keeping the city clean.

Had pizza for supper with Eskinder  –  there were ‘Minced Bees’ on the menu!

Today we have been to a private historic collection in one of the grand old houses.  Manuscripts and copies of the Koran from 700AD, rebound and written on papyrus paper. Jewelery, a few clothes, photographs, tools and weapons.

We then went to an antique shop in another courtyard where we looked for bells.  John bought an old clay butter pot with rawhide straps for hanging, its black unglazed, about 10” high.

The people were just gathering for their market, many donkeys laden with sugar cane and piles of huge sweet potatoes. Took a put put to the ethnographical museum..
On the square where we are drinking coffee, there is a group of men sheltering under multicoloured and gold thread brollies, selling candles and other stuff outside a church.

The RC church in Harar is in the compound of an old French Missionary. An elderly nun in her blue robe took us into the church which is being prepared for the Christmas services with a simple nativity scene.

The priest arrived in mufti, a gentle soul who gives communion to the lepers twice a week. Seems dreadful that they have not caught on to the fact that there is now a cure for this disease.

There is a big multi-faith school here, from primary to Grade 7.  It was playtime and a little group of mainly girls came and sat on some steps with me, so enchanting.

The mission also runs an orphanage. All seemed calm, happy and well organised. The town is full of old Peugeot cars, all blue and white dating from the 70’s.

The area from Dire Dawa to Harar was horribly littered with plastic bags and other detritus, something we did not witness anywhere in the North.  Yet the town within the walls is tidy. The markets – some like souks with covered walkways are pretty littered.

A group of goats which had escaped from a courtyard were licking the mortar of the opposite wall – salt perhaps?

Chat at HarerMany of the local farmers are growing chat or quat instead of  cereal crops.

Much is sold in the markets and it is a problem apparently, but not as obviously so as in the Yemen.

We visited a coffee packing outlet, where there was a gleaming stainless steel piece of kit for roasting.

An old belt driven grinder and all the coffee is packed in 1 kilo paper bags.

Coffee represents Ethiopia’s main export, there are no other natural resources, all oil is imported from the Sudan or elsewhere.

Think they must have had silver mines once, and there is evidence of some quarrying. Ex US Aid oilcans are reutilised as pots for growing plants in the courtyards.

Our next leg is to Abaminch – an eight hour journey with Habtamu driving and Girma guiding.  This area is more populated, many carts drawn by donkeys or oxen.

The houses around Hosaina,  3 + hours out, are circular, mud walled and often prettily painted, tall thatched roofs.

 Jenny’s article will continue on the next part.

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