Thursday, April 19, 2012

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.

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