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Friday, February 3, 2012

Catching Up - Post #2

Lalibela was one of the highlights of our trip for me. It's a really famous site in Ethiopia, since it's home to a whole bunch of rock-hewn churches that are hundreds of years old but still in use today. It's completely unlike anything I've ever seen before - the churches are carved DOWN into the rocky ground, so from ground level you actually look down on the buildings. They were built way before machinery and technology and all that, so it's particularly impressive that they are not only architecturally sound but also symmetric, highly decorated and actually useable! The insides of the churches are filled with pillars, paintings, carvings and all sorts of mysterious areas that non-Orthodox Christians are not allowed to visit. Several of the churches are connected by these amazing underground tunnels, and there are little areas set aside for hermits to live, religious folk to get buried, communion bread to be baked, etc etc. Each church is dedicated to a different holy figure - Mary, St. George, St. Gabriel, etc - and they all vary in size, shape, motifs and interior decoration. It was pretty amazing to see. We were in Lalibela on a Sunday, so many of the churches had priests and worshippers in them. One of the priests was blessing (aka hitting) people with a 7kg cross made of gold! Quite a sight. At one of the churches (St. George's), we had to wait for a while until a priest could be roused from wherever he was. Once he opened the passageway for us, he showed us all sorts of relics - crowns and crosses and robes that were very old. It was an amazing experience.

Also in Lalibela, we went to the open-air market. Wow! You could almost literally buy anything you could dream of there - livestock, chickens, grain, fruit and vegetables, salt from the Danakil, handmade textiles, jewelry, cooking pots and ceramic coffee jugs, coffee beans, honey, baskets..... it was amazing! Very neat to walk through and shop at. We also made friends with a local souvenir seller whose shop we visited several times. She sort of adopted us for the time we were in Lalibela and had us over for coffee, gave us small gifts and generally was incredibly friendly. I got to practice my Amharic with her and act as translator for the rest of our group. It was pretty neat to see how much of the language I've picked up just living here!

Awash: Our final stop of the trip was Awash, a national park about 4 hours outside of Addis. It's a much more savannah-y ecosystem - acacia scrub, large ungulates, baboons and gorgeous sunsets. We didn't spend much time there, but managed to see a plethora of new animals while we were there - oryx, kudu, crocodiles, vervet monkeys, Hamadryas and Anubis baboons, giant tortoise, dikdiks, bustards, African fish eagles, Abyssinian rollers, hammerkops, weaverbirds, warthogs and even an Abyssinian lion!! There was a beautiful waterfall right by the lodge where we stayed, and it was neat to hang out by the river and watch the wildlife come and go. We went on an amazing sunset game drive to the edge of the Rift Valley and got to watch the sun set over the edge of the Rift. Our driver let some of us ride on the roof of the Land Cruiser, so we had a particularly amazing view of the landscape and the wildlife as we drove along. On our second day in Awash, we got up very early and drove to the nearby hot spring. On the way we saw more wildlife, including the lion. What an amazing experience - in my time in Kenya, I had hoped to see a lion but managed to be in the wrong car every single time someone else saw a lion. Well, I finally got my chance in Awash. We were driving along and there was a male Abyssinian lion just lying there next to the road in the shade of a tree! So amazing. We were able to get quite close before he stood up and wandered off.  Incredible. The hot springs were also pretty awesome - a oasis of palm trees and creeks and pools in the middle of dry acacia scrub pocked with termite mounds. The water was very hot, but most of us decided to go in anyways. It was fun to be in a hot spring that was so different from the ones in the Sierras! All in all, Awash was a great way to end our family vacation!

A few weeks later, Sam and I took a weekend trip to Axum with our friends Derek and Claire. We took the public bus there (12 hours of hot, dusty, cramped travel - not the best way to get somewhere!) and spent two days exploring the many stelae, tombs and carvings that are in Axum. It was pretty neat - there are stelae there that are 25-30m tall and were erected about 2000 years ago. They are still standing today - pretty incredible! We also saw the Ethiopian version of the Rosetta Stone, a tablet carved in the 4th century in Ge'ez, Greek and Sabaen. One of the tombs we went in is allegedly the tomb of one of the Three Wise Men! It was pretty cool to explore. I also climbed down into a tomb that was still being excavated - something that would never be allowed in America but seemed fine in Ethiopia! We also got to see the outside of the church where the Ark of the Covenant is stored - no women are allowed in the church compound and nobody at all is allowed in the church so we just looked from the outside. It was neat to be in a different part of the country. Axum is in Tigray, the northern-most province of Ethiopia. In Tigray, they speak a different language (Tigrinya), have different styles of clothing and hair, and make different crafts. It was cool to be somewhere so different from everywhere else I've been!

I guess that's the news from up here. Work is going well, although two of my groups have been missing for the last week or two. We've been searching for them, but so far no luck. Luckily the rest of my study animals are still easy to find so I've been collecting a lot of data. I'm starting to play with a social network analysis program, so hopefully soon I'll be able to actually visualize some of my results! I've passed the halfway mark for this field season - under four months to go now! - and I'm starting to think about how I want to organize my summer lab and data analysis work. Sometimes it feels like I've been here forever and I can hardly remember what life is like back in America! Thanks to my family and Sam, I think I have enough goodies to last me for the next four months. :)


  1. okay in ethiopia == no one was nearby

  2. ashkanarauhaogluaughznu joooooooooooooooooos

  3. LOVE TO ReAD "you"... Take care!