Monday, October 15, 2012

Musings from a Hindu Temple

Waking up at 6:30 in the morning to climb a hill and watch the sunrise from a small
Hindu temple at the top is something one must try at least in one’s life. The sheer bliss of being alone atop a hill with just the sun on your face and the sound of early morning cannot be matched. Especially in a place like India, which is a country not know for its quiet, lonely spots for there is always so loud racket to rattle your nerves or people all around you asking questions. Greetings from Mussoorie dear readers. Considered the “Queen of the Hills,” Mussoorie is one of the many hill stations that developed and flourished during the British times and nowadays is a mecca for vacationers wanting a break from the stifling, smoggy cities down below. I have come here for a week of R&R after a hectic month of my YSEL camp in the Punjab with 40 Afghans and a staff of 14 to manage. The camp was extremely successful, we had a great group of kids and my staff was super as usual. I always love to see the progress of our kids from when they arrive to when they leave. If I can get them to be open minded, use their critical
thinking skills, and have boys and girls work together successfully, then I am happy. And guess what? I am happy. You may wonder why I haven’t blogged in so long, mainly because I have been traveling and had literally no time to sit down and jot a few lines. I did start an entry on September 10th, my 48th birthday, to note my feelings of the day, but it concided with the first day of my camp so there was little time to write. Getting 40 Afghans on my birthday was quite a lovely gift and reaffirmed all the important work that means so much to me. August was very busy with most of it spent in Washington DC
running orientation programs for arriving students on the YES program, beginning their one-year exchange in the US. At the end of August I was off to Afghanistan for a week to run a follow up workshop for my students from the last camp, and then on to India for YSEL4. That should bring us up to date. Seems the last month has gone by in a blur and flurry of activity as camp always does. Now I get a week’s reprieve before heading off to Ethiopia to start working on a new YSEL program for Ethiopia. After that I get 5 glorious days in Paris and Brussels with good old friends from my Russia days. Seeing each other after so many years will be stupendous, I can’t wait!
One of the highlights I’m looking forward to will be seeing Versailles. I’ve been to Paris numerous times and never did make it to Versailles. Finally I get to, and in autumn, which is the time I’ve always wanted to visit. The solitude and serenity of the morning is gone with trucks roaring past my hotel, blaring horns, dogs barking and people talking as they make their way to school, work or wherever they may be going. In between the horns and engines, I can hear the gentle sound of the street sweepers branch broom as it sweeps the leaves and litter from the road. Quiet doesn’t last long here, but I embraced the small sliver of time I had it.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Charlevoix--my summer place

The singing of a bird, the tick-tock of a clock, those are the only sounds I hear this Monday morning on Pine Point. Slept a heavy sleep eventhough I went to bed early last night. Instead of trying to get up at 6 a.m., the time set on my alarm clock, I shut it off and continued in my deep sleep until almost 9. Somehow after the weekend at a funeral for my aunt and quality time with my family, I just needed to sleep. Even Lulu my cat was out cold for all that time. Usually she is up early meowing in my face to be fed, but today, I had to wake her up for breakfast. I came up here to write my book, and I need to get on a routine. So far, one week into it, and I am not in my routine. It’s OK, family comes first and the death of a much beloved aunt must be marked with all the ceremony and pomp she deserved. My uncle and cousins lost a wonderful person in their lives and little by little they will come out of this, but for now we, their family, are here to provide them comfort and support through this difficult time.
Family is important to me, and Charlevoix is a magnet for my family. It is where my aunts, uncles, and cousins all became family, where we learned what it means to be family—something we will never lose and something that keeps us bonded through life. There is something comforting about this summer place, where for generations we have come to spend time together and find refuge from the realities of the world for a bit of time. It’s a place to reenergize our batteries so to speak and reconnect, laugh, play Scrabble, swim, watch sunsets over Lake Michigan and just enjoy each other’s company.
I am here on Pine Point, a quiet enclave a bit out of town to write a book about my Afghans for the entire month. Trying to write a book at my home in Brooklyn seemed implausible and I really needed a quiet place to focus on getting this book done. Initially I was going to go to Croatia, since I had a free place to write there, but that fell through. Charlevoix seemed a great second option. I always found Pine Point to be a perfect place to write and I hope to delve into a lot of writing while I am here. I’ve printed out the 80 pages I’ve written so far and now just need to sort through everything and make it into a book. It’s a process I know and I worry that I’ll get too distracted by family and other things to stay focused. I think though that I will accomplish a lot while I’m here.
The squirrel in the tree off the deck is making his angry noise again. He does this when Luu is out by the tree and he feels threatened. He makes a chucking sound and flaps his tail, glaring down at her as she peacefully chews on the grass below. A white cat came up to the door to check things out, Lulu was asleep in the other room and missed out on hissing at her and chasing her away. The birds continue to sing and the clock goes “Tick, tock, Tick, tock.” Soon the loud siren will blow from downtown to denote the noon hour, a boat horn will blow and the ding ding ding will be heard as the drawbridge in town brings down its guards while the bridge opens to let boats out from Round Lake to Lake Michigan. The red lighthouse stands guard at the end of the channel on the Lake Michigan side. At night people will gather there or on the beaches to watch the sunset over this Great Lake. We will look for the green flash as the sun says “Good Night” to us and “Good Morning” to someone on the other side of the world.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Road Trip in Retrospect

There’s something about the first cup of tea in the morning that is just heavenly. Just like there is writing in the morning when the world is quiet. The added bonus was that my sublettor Sasha has already left for the day so I can be in peace with my tea and my blog. She has gone off to do yoga in Times Square and study all day at the NY Public Library for her upcoming CPA exam.
I didn’t get to scribing much along the road trip, as you can see. Mainly because we were driving long days and so in the morning there wasn’t much time to sit down and write. Plus we had a mandatory road trip rule about exercising every morning and that came first. I can’t believe the trip is already over and I’m back in New York for a week before the next adventure begins. I wont tell you about that now but will reveal it later on.
At the last writing we were awaiting G’s brother’s arrival in Calgary, which happened late one Tuesday night. We spent another full day with him in Banff before heading on to Vancouver. I must tell you that the Canadian Rockies are absolutely gorgeous, much more so majestic than the US side. After leaving Edmonton, G and I drove over to Jasper and down the Icefields Parkway to Banff. The weather was perfect and the scenery was just fantastic. The winter was one of the biggest on record and so there was still a lot of snow covering the lakes and closing many a campground. We “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” at every turn as the scenery just got more amazing. We made Banff our home for 3 nights and it was so worth it.
After three nights in Banff, we made our way up over the Rockies to Vancouver, the Canadian gem on the Pacific Ocean. My friend Jon got us four nights free at a hotel downtown, which saved the budget and was a nice little reward for all the driving we had managed to do. Canada is a big country and it takes some time to traverse it. Ironically, after all that driving, I was not able to enjoy a weekend in Vancouver but merely one full day, for I had to attend a graduation in Baltimore on the weekend. So in true world traveler style, I hopped on a plane early Saturday morning to Baltimore and returned Sunday evening to continue the road trip. Most people would think I’m mad doing such a thing but hey what are frequent flyer miles good for if you don’t use them, right? More importantly this was a special graduation that I promised to be at, and a promise is a promise.
The graduation in question was a high school graduation for one of my Afghan students who has become like a daughter to me. I was her local coordinator in New York where she spent her exchange year in Queens and I helped get her this scholarship to this excellent all-girls high school two years ago. I promised her father in Kabul that I would watch out for her while she was in the U.S. and I felt I needed to be there for her as she walked onto the stage to take part in the graduation ceremonies. I’m glad I wore sunglasses that day for I had tears of joy streaming out of my eyes—so proud of my little girl. Next to me was an empty seat and I imagined how proud her father would be if he was sititng there and I felt his presence and could see the pride in his eyes too. It was a powerful event for me, for I was reminded of the long road that Afghan girls have, compared to boys, and the power of women as an entity. I came away from that graduation with new ideas for empowering my Afghan girls and a refreshed respect for the opposite sex.
It was a nice break from the road trip, albeit a long way to travel, and by the time I got back to Vancouver, I missed G and our adventure and was ready to continue the trip. It also gave him some time to be with his brother since he is moving away to go to grad school in the fall. Monday morning, after a breakfast with Jon, we made our way down to Seattle tocomplete the loop back to Toronto on the US side. The border crossing was less annoying than the one in Michigan but still we were delayed as they made us wait. Homeland Security definitely needs some cultural sensitivity training and needs to relax a bit and not suspect everyone of something and interrogate as if the person is a criminal. Not a pleasant way to begin a trip into our country.
Once we were free of the border, we made our way to Seattle for lunch with my dear friend Lisa. I haven’t seen her in about 7 years so it was great to catch up, eventhough it was just over lunch. She and I go way back to studying Russian together in San Francisco and living together in Russia for many years. She’s one of those friends that you pick up where you left off, no matter how many years have gone on in between. There are a handful of people like that in my life and I cherish them very much. After a delicious Vietnamese lunch with Lisa, G and I hit the road east towards Montana. Lightening and pouring rain marked our way as the road unfolded before us, giving G an experience of driving in crazy weather conditions. We made it as far as Missoula before calling it a night at one of the fanciest Motel 6’s I’ve ever seen. Morning will come and we will be on our way again eastward toward the next destination, with sights to see and talks to have as the journey continues.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On the road across Canada

Cruising on the Trans-Canadian highway in western Ontario on day three of a road trip across
Canada. My traveling companion is one of my former students who just graduated college up here. He and I always said we’d make this trip and now we both have the time so we’re doing it. It’s sort of like a father and son trip, since he has become over the years like a son to me.
The trip started two days ago in Toronto and has taken us through Michigan, then up around Lake Superior. The drive around Lake Superior is so beautiful, with vast pine forests and small

lakes poking out of the trees along the way. We get a glimpse of the big lake now and then as we wind our way around it. This is moose country and so far we haven’t seen any, which according to the locals is a good thing.
Last night we stopped in Marathon, a small city along the route. We got in late and fortunately found a 24 hr restaurant that just happened to be attached to a hotel where we ate and crashed for the night. Rover’s restaurant is run by Mark who has moved in to town and stirred things up by adding a splash of color to the place, decorating the restaurant, giving it a cozy atmosphere and staying open 24 hrs. The locals have grumbled a bit he told us, but change is never easy and I’m sure they’ll come round to his way of thinking.
G and I have one main rule for this road trip—exercise. This morning we got up as early as we could and started our jogging regime that will be part of our daily routine during this trip. We both need to shed some pounds, plus after sititng all day in a car, it’s good to get some exercise. I’m sure by the time we get to Vancouver we’ll be looking rather fine.
Our first day of driving had us going from Toronto to Traverse City, where my uncle and aunt live. My Aunt Sharon is in her last stages of a long fight with cancer and I needed to stop by and see her and bring a smile to her face. Despite her condition, she is still rather spirited and upbeat although it is not easy for her to be positive all the time. This is really taking a toll on my uncle and cousins to lose someone they love so much. It is also very sad for my whole family to lose someone so wonderful. It’s a strange feeling to say goodbye to someone you love and know you probably won’t see them ever again. We didn’t want to cry but we did shed some tears, and hugged and kissed each other goodbye just a little bit longer. She was very excited about our road trip and always wanted to do it. I promised I’d send her postcards from along the way so she can live out the road trip through my postcards. This will give her and my uncle to look forward to in the mail everyday. Sharon also told me she was upset that she never got one of my TCat t-shirts. Well I just happened to have one in my bag that would fit her so I took it over to her. It came at a perfect time for she was having a bad morning, and the bright green shirt with a big blue cat on it brought her mood up and a giant smile to her face. I can’t make her better, I can’t cry in front of her, I can just bring some simple joy to take her away from her pain and suffering. This is what I do best in these situations.
We slowly inch our way towards Thunder Bay, through the small towns and forests. G is getting his driving practice while I blog and look at the gorgeous scenery. It’ll be a great trip these
next two weeks, all the way to Vancouver and then back through the US. Our goal tonight is a Ho-Jo in Winnipeg, another 10 hours or so to go!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

That's a Wrap Ethiopia!

My final day in Ethiopia. It has been two weeks since I arrived here and have had a wonderful

time. Now the winds have shifted and it is time for me to move on, back to New York, back to an unplanned reality. In these past 2 weeks, I have taken some time to reflect on my situation and what I plan to do. I’m pretty sure this opportunity has opened up as a sign for me to finish my book, and finish it I will. Since I have subletted my apartment starting in May, it is best that I find a quiet place somewhere in order to finish the story I have already begun to tell. That is what I shall do.
Denis and Bob have been very gracious hosts and I’m so glad they allowed me to stay for this long in their big house. We already have plans to make a trip to Djibouti in October after my next camp. These past few days have been quite remarkable, visiting Aksum, Gonder, and Lalibela and they will stay with me forever, especially Easter in Lalibela. I can say I really enjoy Ethiopia, its people and places. There is something quite special about this country. It has a different feel from other African countries I’ve visited. Maybe becaue it is the only African contry that wasn’t affected heavily by European colonization, and it has its own unique history. In any case, it is a fabulous country that I will definitely visit again. Denis and I really want to take the train up to Djibouti next time and explore that tiny country that was cut out of Ethiopia. That should be a fun, if not long, trip.
So tonight I head off to New York via Dubai and Frankfurt. Back to my other reality, back to
homeowner responsibility and cat owner as well. I miss Lulu and look forward to spending some QT with her before I head off again to wherever it may be that I am going. Already there is a list of things on my Brooklyn To Do list and it seems to keep growing. Gardening, redoing Liz’s bathroom, selling t-shirts, basement purging, finishing my mural outside my house, and so on. It’ll be nice to unpack, unwind, recharge and plan out the next phases of my life. There’s a travel list also being made but I won’t reveal that to you until tickets are booked and plans solidified. So you’ll just have to wait and find out.

In The Cradle of Ethiopian Orthodoxy

Lalibela is the heart of Ethiopian Orthodoxy. It lies up north sort of smack dab in the middle
of mountains, 1/3 of the northern loop that is the required course for tourists visiting Ethiopia. After Aksum and Gonder, my next stop was Lalibela, where I met up with Bob and Denis on Good Friday for the weekend. This was one of the most special times to be here given it was Orthodox Easter weekend and there was not only a lot to see, but to witness the rituals of this high holy weekend.
Known for its 11 churches dug out from stone, Lalibela is amazing. Centuries ago, King Lalibela began this Herculean task of digging out of the rock sided hills 11 magnificent churches, all made out of one entire piece of stone. Legend has it that Lalibela’s brother poisoned him and while in a coma, the king went up to heaven where God told him to make the
churches and create a second Jerusalem. The legend also says that God sent down angels to help King Lalibela build the churches. His subjects worked all day, the angels working all night. Whether true or not, these churches are a miracle of engineering, planning and artistry.
Our guide for the 2 days we were in Lalibela, Mulule, took us around to all the churches and
explained in detail the history and special features of each church. It was rather tricky on Good Friday since each church was packed with worshippers and we had to squeeze our way through the crowds and over people going up and down furtively in prayer. We stayed at St. Georgiyos church for
the procession around the church to symbolize Christ’s walk up to Calvary Hill where he was crucified. With bright coloured, glittery umbrellas, censers wafting aromatic frankincense, and big gold crosses on staffs, the priests led everyone around this ancient church. It was a beautiful ritual, and
as was we walked around the church I reflected on how many times this procession has been done. It felt like something that harked back to the time of the first Christians and it felt so real. We are just mere people taking part in an ancient ritual—many have done this befire us, and many will do it after us. Humanity expressing their respect for their religion and their God. It wasn’t just another tourist experience but a chance to take part in an ancient Ethiopian
religious tradition.
Saturday was a better day to see the churches for no one, and I mean no one, was there. The Good Friday crowd was down at the town market buying their goats, chickens, sheep and ther food
for their Easter feast. Ethiopians fast for 55 days, denying themselves all animal products, and the final day before Easter, they have no food or water. From the churches we could see the mass of people at the market place down below St. Georgiyos church, and as we made our way through town, the locals would pass us with upsidedown chickens and sheep or goats on a small leash. The churches
we visited on Saturday morning were amazing as well, especially Bet Emmanuel, one of the largest churches carved out of the rock. What’s interesting is that most of the churches are not painted inside with frescoes or intricately carved. Maybe because after carving these monolithic churches out of rock, they were too tired to spend the time making the inside look nice. I bought a white cotton wrap that everyone was wearing over the weekend, the required white wrap that one must
wear when going to the church on the holy days. It was a little short, but I was able to wrap myself up in it sufficiently. Mulule had a longer one on that he wore the entire time he was with us.
After lunch at a fabulous new restaurant in town Ben Abeba, co owned by an Ethiopian and a
Scottish woman. This new place has made its mark on Lalibela with its very unique architecture—a structure that resembles some organic plant life sprouting flowers. Overlooking the valley, it is the perfect place to watch the sunset, and also look up at the towering moutain above the town. If you ever
get to Lalibela, put this place on your dining itinerary for it is worth it. Not only is the ambience wonderful, the food is delicious. Mulule met up with us at the restaurant and we piled into a van and drove off to see Yemrahana Kristos—another ancient church set in a cave up in the hills 45 kms
outside of Lalibela. The road is not too long, but it is not the best road so it takes about 1.5 hours to get there. It’s definitely worth the drive, for it is a beautiful wood and stone church that is
almost as old as the ones in Lalibela. My favorite part was the skeletons scattered in the back in a large recess in the rock. Over the years pilgrims have come here to die and their mummified remains are all that are left of them. They’ve fallen apart with time so now one can see piles of femurs, skulls, rib cages, and such just lying there. Creepy, but fascinating.
The highlight of our trip was definitely Easter service on Saturday night. People start gathering at the churches from 9pm and the priests sit outside the church, chanting, praying and reading from the Bible. Worshippers lay on the ground around the church in their white cloths and it looks like a sea of white glowing in the darkness. We had a perch up top on the edge, overlooking the priests and Bet Maryam (the church of Mary) and with a glorious view of the stars. As it got
later, more and more people came, locals and tourists, and the chanting and drums and singing could be heard from all the other churches. At 11:30 or so, there was a candle light procession around the church with more chanting and drumming, which was just magical. The soft glow of the hundreds of candles, reflecting off the white shawls, the drummers, the big velvet and gold umbrellas,
the frankincense, the chanting made this a wonderfully spiritual experience. Afterwards, everyone layed down and there was a quietness that fell over the town. The tradition is that you lay down until the priest announces that Christ has risen. Only then do you arise, just like Christ. This rising symbolizes rebirth and is marked by yelling and rejoicing loudly. Beautiful, is all I can say.
Eggs are not part of the Ethiopian tradition, but reeds are. On Saturday, everyone gets a piece of reed that they split and tie around their heads. Like the egg, the reed symbolizes new
life and rebirth. We got our reeds from a priest in one of the churches and wore them around our heads all day and night. Interesting to see the different Easter traditions around the world. I missed making Easter eggs this year, but was happy donning my reed around my head all day.
Easter morning came with the sounds of chickens cackling and sheeps and goats baaing their
last sounds before becoming a family’s Easter dinner. Around 9, the cacophony ceased and it seemed like the dreaded end came to those animals I could hear from my hotel room. Sad to know that the animals ended their lives this way, but such is life. I was talking to an American gentleman at breakfast who is working on a USAID agricultural project here, and he was telling me about the impact that fasting has on agriculture, especially all the cow’s milk and eggs that go to waste
because no one is eating them for 55 days. Interesting thought, there should be alternatives to this food use so as not to waste so much.
At 1pm Bob, Denis and I were aboard a Bombadier plane full of other tourists heading back to the capital after an exciting 5 days in northern Ethiopian. Just two more days and I’ll be on a bigger plane, heading back to my home base, New York City! I’ll have to enjoy the rest of my trip as much as possible!

The Camelot of Africa

The sun rises early here in Gonder over the mountains to the east of the Gohar hotel my glamorous lodgings perched high on a hill overlooking this medieval town. The Gonder town
musicians were my wake-up call again—a cacophony of roosters, dogs and a donkey bray now and then to add to the animal chorus. All that was missing was the meows of a cat, but I’m sure it was uttered just left unheard by all the rest. The rhythm of life in a small, historic city on the northern loop.
Gonder is most famous for its medieval castles set in the center of town. The Royal Enclosure, as it is called, surrounded by walls is an amazing ensemble of old castles built by
various emperors and empresses of yore. These old structures have held up impressively well over the 400-500 years since they were built. I fended off the offers from tour guides politely and enjoyed imagining how life was like way back when, when the gorunds were teeming with royalty and their minions running to and fro. Those out of favor hung from the trees outside the palace walls,
probably as a reminder to stay in good standing with the emperor.
I had about three hours to explore the main sites of Gonder upon my arrival from Aksum: The Royal Enclosure, Fasilade’s Bath and Debre Selaissie church. I hit all three, the church being
closed for a service, so instead went to Kuskuam, another palace up on a hill outside of town. Built by Empress Mewatib after her husband died, she decided to live outside the court (and away from gossip, for she loved her young boys) not much is left of the place. The Sudanese dervishes, the Brits and Italians trashed the place as they went through Gonder at various times throughout history.
Most impressing at Kuskuam was the singing coming from the church in the palace complex. Women furtively crossed themselves and bowed on the ground outside the church. The prayer ritual here reminded me a lot of the way Muslims pray; bent knees and head to the floor. Similar yet different, yet same goal—worshipping God.
After touring the town, had a little nap and enjoyed some G&T’s on the terrace as the sun set
over the mountains to the west. Met Richard and Nina, two vactioners while watching the sun go down over Gonder. He works for Medicines Sans Frontieres in Somalia, and she’s a social worker in DC. We enjoyed the view over dirnks and then went down the hill to town for dinner. Richard was craving a
steak, so they went to a hotel for din din, and I to the Four Sisters restaurant, which came highly recommended by Bob and Denis. It was an off night for Four Sisters, as I was one of two tables that were busy. Usually the place ishopping, but it’s off season I guess. Still, I got a guy singing traditional songs just for me as I sipped my honey wine and had a very delicious meal of lamb tibs and veggies. Got to meet the four sisters too who were all very pleasant and hospitable. At first it seemed sad that such an exotic Ethiopian restaurant, so fabulously decorated would
be empty, but by the end, I was quite content by the individual service they provided. I even got to play the masenqo-a one-stringed instrument while two of the sisters danced for me. At the end of the
evening, the sisters called me a tuk tuk and off I went into the night, speeding up the winding road back to my hotel. A full half day but oh so enjoyable. This morning I’m going to make the trek to Debre Selaissie church to see if I can take a peak inside before Goof Friday service begin and
before I have to fly to Lalibela. Wish me luck!

A Walk Through Aksum

Morning comes to Aksum. A chorus of roosters awakes this small city with their cock-a-doddle-
doos 100+ strong. Other birds chirp in to add to the avian chorus. A donkey brays loudly nearby, not to be outdone by the birds. Soon Aksum will be humming along in its daily routine as it has for thousands of years.
I really love this town. In many ways it reminds me of a Mexican colonial town; orderly
streets, bright coloured houses of green, blue, and ochre. Wide boulevards lined with beautiful flowering trees, little street cafes where locals sip coffee and watch people go by while catching up in the latest news. My most favorite of places to visit is the giant tree growing in the middle of
town, encircled by a three-tiered cement platform where people sit, talk, and check out the scene. This is where
real Aksum life happens; the old men sit and talk, ladies rest a spell with their loads before heading on, young
guys wait for friends, others playing Foosball. This is what I love to experience, not all the historical and touristy stuff that I supposedly need to see. Tourists get shuttled from one
place to the next on their buses, but I just want to sit and watch present-day Aksum go by, chatting with whomever
comes and sits next to me.
Aksum is an ancient capital of Ethiopia, and is known for its amazing steles (giant,
monolithic, edifices) that have been standing around town for centuries. Also there’s the Ark of the Covenant that apparently lies in a small church between the old and new St. Mary of Zion churches. I say apparently because only one man is able to see it—a blind monk who holds the
key. Lastly, this is where the legendary Queen of Sheba ruled Ethiopia. Legend has it that she went tovisit King Solomon in Jerusalem, wound up having a baby by him and her son, Menelik I, was the one who
brought the Ark back to Ethiopia when he went ot visit his father. Ethiopia is a place of many fantastic stories and with enough evidence to make them more or less believable.
Yesterday I flew up here from Addis and spent the day roaming the historical sites and streets by foot. The only thing that takes away from the magic of Aksum are all the people that glom on to you along the way. They follow you, trying to get something out of you, take you to a shop,
offer a guided tour, etc. It’s as if we (farenji) are only a source of income for them, and yes technically we are, but I don’t enjoy being hustled every step I take in this town. “Hello, Hello, Hello” they yeall at you or follow quietly beside you and then pop a cross necklace or a geode at you. By the end of the day, it’s hard to be civil with them and you don’t want to buy anything at all from them. There’s also the myriad of guides who want to show you things, most of them are unofficial guides. I have to be honest, I HATE guides. It goes back to my Russia days where you were forced to have a guide in every museum or historical place. I enjoy reading about thing, then going to see them. I don’t like to be told what I am looking at, thus I’m sure that
I am the bane of many a guide here. I fended them off as best I could, politely saying NO and complementing them of their wonderful city. Aksum does need to diversify itself. Tourism is big business but it can’t be the only game in town.
In a few hours I will be off to Gonder, another ancient capital of Ethiopia. Less churches,
more castles. It’s called the African Camelot, so I look forward to a break from churches for a day, and see some old castles. On Friday, Good Friday here in Ethiopia, I’ll be meeting up with Bob and Denis in Lalibela, the holiest of places here. That should be an amazing place, given we will be there Easter weekend and it’ll be packed with pilgrims. Can’t wait for that! If you want to know what happens, keep reading.