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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Catching Up

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last month and a half - my family was out here visiting, and then Sam stayed until yesterday. Balancing work and vacation and visitors and all that has cut into my blogging time and motivation! Finally though, here are some highlights from the last 6 weeks!

Bahir Dar: I met my family (my parents, my sister and her boyfriend, my uncle, my brother, Sam and Sam's sister Ruth) in Bahir Dar in mid-December. Despite the long journey from the States (with a 10 hour layover in London and part of a day exploring Addis Ababa), they were happy to see me and excited to be in Ethiopia! In Bahir Dar, we went on a boat trip across Lake Tana to the Zege Peninsula, where there is an old monastery called Ura Kidane Meret. It was a really beautiful place - gorgeous, brightly colored religious paintings from the 14th century, a collection of interesting old crowns, and even the "practice sketches" of failed and hired painters on the doors and interior walls of the church building! Definitely an interesting place. The boat ride was also neat. We saw a bunch of pelicans, as well as men paddling traditional papyrus canoes piled high with firewood. A fisherman even paddled up to our boat and offered us some freshly caught tilapia!

We also went to an azmari beyt in Bahir Dar - a traditional bar/dance house with live, traditional music and dancing. As the token white folks, we all were forced into dancing which was both fun and embarrassing. The best was when my sister's boyfriend Mark was called up to dance. He's very tall (and surprisingly good at Ethiopian shoulder shaking!) and the guy who invited him to dance was very short. He quickly realized the problem though, and ran behind the bar to get a stool. Once that was settled, he hopped up on it so that he was the same height as Mark and started dancing away! Pretty awesome. We also went on several nice walks around town, including one to the local open-air market. While we were walking through, a tomato rolled across the path in front of my mom. She nicely picked it up and offered it back to the seller, who, it turned out, was throwing it away because it was moldy! All the other vegetable sellers thought it was pretty hilarious.

After Bahir Dar, we drove up to the Simien Mountains for a few days. It was so much fun to have my family visit the research station! We spent several days with the geladas, and I got to introduce everyone to my gelada babies. We all had a great time watching the juveniles scamper around, chase each other, wrestle and generally cause trouble. We also hiked to the local waterfall, and went on a very nice day hike up in the higher elevation part of the park. That hike was at about 4100m, and in a completely different ecological zone than our field site. The plants were mainly Giant Lobelia - these crazy Joshua tree-like plants that look like they belong on a different planet. The views were spectacular, and we got to see some more geladas and a lot of neat birds. It was the first time I'd gotten to explore that section of the park, so it was a real treat for me. We also did a lot of communal cooking, and had plenty of time for cards and games in the evenings.

Next, we drove back down to Gondar, where we had several days before our flight to Lalibela. Several people got sick in Gondar, so we spent a lot of time just relaxing at our hotel and doing nothing. We did get an afternoon trip in to the Gondar sights though - a bunch of 16th century castles (complete with lion cages, a sauna, banquet halls, stables, and a library!), Debre Berhan Selassie Church, and the royal baths. The castles were neat - we got to go inside them and explore everything in a way that you would never be allowed to in America. You could touch the walls, climb in and out of pretty much anywhere, and basically just explore things at your own pace. We had a very knowledgeable guide, so we were able to learn about the history of the various kings of Gondar, who had built what and when, and what the various buildings in the royal enclosure were used for. The church was also amazing. Apparently it is one of the most famous churches in all of Ethiopia (and there are thousands of churches, so that's saying something!) and the inside was filled with extremely detailed paintings of religious scenes and figures. Even the ceiling was covered with painted cherub faces, all of which had a different expression! The grounds were neat also - we got to see the squat towers that the monks live in, including the entrance tower which was designed to look like the Lion of Judah! The bath was the third stop on our tour, and the only one that we didn't have to share with a bunch of other tourists. It's an amazing large pool (empty when we were there) with a building in the middle of it that is reached by a bridge. We couldn't go in the building because it was being renovated, but we did get to walk around the bath. Every year for Timkat, the celebration of Jesus' baptism, they fill the pool up with water that is blessed by priests, and then everyone in town jumps in for a holy water bath. We didn't see that happening, but we got to imagine the the pool and the surrounding compound packed with people! The compound had a bunch of beautiful old trees in it as well - lots of shady places to sit!

Still to come in the next pot - Lalibela, Awash and Axum, as well as an update on how work is going! (I have been working for the last month, despite only mentioning vacations so far!)

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