Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Happy New Year, sweet boy! It's the very beginning of an entirely new year with many great things ahead! This year, you will legally become ours and forever be a son in a loving family. You'll forever be in our arms. You'll visit the US and meet your extended family. You'll move to Thailand and entertain your 3 big puppies! You'll learn to walk, to talk, and to play. You'll go swimming in a pool, travel though a jungle and see amazing things. It will be quite an amazing year, and to think, today is just day 1!
Today was another great day for your Dad and I as we enjoyed entering into the next leg of our journey! This morning, we woke up early in Gonder, grabbed a very fast breakfast, and then took a shuttle to the airport. We ate a delicious, large breakfast at the airport of eggs, french toast and tea. We then boarded a plane and flew an hour north to the city of Axum.
Axum is in northern Ethiopia, very close to Eritrea. The two countries used to be one until the Civil War. Then, Eritrea became its own country, taking with it Ethiopia's coastline. So today, Ethiopia is landlocked. There's still some fighting on the border and tensions are high. The border crossings are closed so even though we're so close to another country, we can't get there over land.
Axum was the capital of the Axumite Kingdom, which existed from about 0-1,000 AD. The Axumite Kingdom was the second oldest kingdom in Africa- second to only the Egyptians. It quickly converted to Christianity in the 3rd-4th Centuries and was one of the first Christian Empires in the world.
When we landed in Axum, we were surrounded by an entirely new environment. The land was dry and almost barren. It was hot. And mostly flat. The local houses are made of mud and stone, which is a change from the mud and wood houses we saw earlier in Gonder and Bahir Dar. Arriving here, I realized why Ethiopia struggled so much during the drought in the 1980s. This region was hit hard. Life here already seems hard enough with little water and tough land. But I can imagine how it was without any rain.
The city of Axum is very small, but nice. It consists mainly of a 4-lane road with a very nice median in the middle. There are many hotels, restaurants and shops along the way. A van from our hotel met us at the airport. As expected, there was a guide in the van who was willing and able to assist us in our plans. We stayed at the Africa Hotel, where our room was $10.00 a night. It was either that or pay $80.00 a night for a nicer hotel. We decided to be adventerous!
Once at the hotel, we checked in. The hotel had a large open area/plaza in the middle. Our room was simple- a queen bed and table, and bathroom. There was a shower and running water (although our hot water didn't work). The area was secure, so we took it! We then met with our guide and arranged a 2-day trek to the churches of Tigray. We leave tomorrow and will have our driver and car for 2 days. It should be quite the adventure! Once everything was finalized, we set out to explore Axum for the day on our own.
Axum is a very interesting town. It is based somewhere between truth and legend. Ethiopians claim Axum is the home to Queen Sheba- one of the world's most mystical and beautiful women that ever lived. No one knows for sure if Queen Sheba existed, and if she did, where she was from. Yemen and Ethiopia both claim her as their own. But in Ethiopia, there's no doubt she lived, and was from Ethiopia. By the end of our day, Dad and I had a joke...
Me: "Did Queen Sheba really exist?"
Dad: "I don't know. Axum!" (pronounced Ask 'em)
Me: "Is the Arc of the Covenant really in the St. Mary of Zion's church?"
Dad: "I don't know. Axum!"
This could go on and on about all of the legends that we learned today as fact.
We hired a tuk-tuk driver who knew English and he drove us to the Queen of Sheba's Palace. This was an area of collapsed stones that once was a large house/estate. They are currently working on restoring the site. It is rumored that Queen Sheba actually lived in this house. However, many historians believe it was the house of a nobleman. But it's still Queen Sheba's Palace...
Across the dirt road was a field of small stellae. I cannot say that word in front of your Dad as he prefers the word OBELISK. Just to bug him, I say stellae :). Stellae are carved stones that the people in the Axumite Kingdom used for headstones. The field was covered with the stellae- most had collapsed or fallen down, some were still standing. Who was buried there? Axum (our saying for WHO KNOWS)! Why were they there? Axum!
Our guide book, Lonely Planet, described a place near by with an impression of a female lion on a rock. There is a legend (or true story...) that says St. George was in Axum and was got in a fight with a female lion, who represented the devil. She was a large beast and after much fighting, St. George finally was able to throw her body against the rock, winning the battle. To this day, there is an impression of a female lion in the mountain.
Reading this story, Dad and I thought that the face of the female lion must be in the mountain nearby. Parts of the mountain must look like a female lion. We started looking and both picked out what we thought was our female lion in the rock.
I thought the cliff face was the lion's head, looking left. Dad thought it was the cluster up top looking straight ahead...
Our tuk-tuk driver kept telling us, "No! You can't see it from here!" So we asked for him to show us. We ended up hiking for about an hour up a very large hill. We were wearing Crocs, and with the heat and dirt, quickly regretted our choice. It was very hot and dry, and we were not wearing the best clothes! After scramgling up rocks, climbing past trees, and making our way up hill, our guide stopped. There was a large boulder with the shape of a female lion carved on it. That was it!
Meanwhile, Dad and I kept waiting and waiting to see a massive shape of a female lion in the mountain. But no, it was just the carving. We honestly couldn't believe that lion made it into the guide book, or that we walked for an hour to see it. But we did and took a few pictures to remind of us this hillarious story!
On the way down from our hike, we stopped to see where many of the large stellae were carved. Some of the stellae in Axum are at least 20 meters high and are carved out of one solid piece of stone. We saw the ancient quarry where the stellae were carved from granite. Many stellae were only part carved. No one knows why they were never completed. After all, Axum!
When we were almost to our tuk-tuk, we walked through a field. There were 3 farmers using 3 cattle to stomp their tef. The farmers tied their cows together and walked them in a circle to help crush the tef so it could be used to make injera. We stopped to say hello. I, of course, told the farmer that they animals looked great, which they did. This made them very happy and they wanted to show us everything. They demonstrated how they harvest, stomp and collect tef. We said it looked wonderful and then one farmer disappeared. He soon returned with a large basket full of fresh injera made from his tef and a heaping mound of freshly made spicy topping. We wanted us to eat and eat and eat. He was very excited to have us there and loved that we were interested in his job. I had our driver translate for us. I said that his job was incredibly important and that his work is very admirable. Because of him, many more are able to have food. He smiled and gave me a very big toothless grin when he heard this!
We thanked them very much for their generosity and left them some money as a thank you (we felt bad eating their food when they don't have much). Once back in the tuk-tuk, we sank back in our seats. It felt so nice to sit down! Our driver drove us back to town and dropped us off at an Ethiopian restaurant. We gave him a large tip for his guiding services before ordering a delicious meal! Once we sat down, we started laughing! We couldn't believe we walked all that way for a carved lion in the rock! Oh well ;)
After lunch, we walked to the main stellae field in Ethiopia. Egypt has the Giza pyramids that served as final burying places for their pharohs. Ethiopia has the stellae field. Each stellae is unique and had its own tomb built under it. It is still unknown who was actually buried there (AXUM)! as the tombs were all raided by tomb raiders hundreds of years ago. It is rumored that the tombs had beautiful treasures and ellaborate coffins. They have found a few artifacts and are piecing together the mysteries.
Dad and I enjoyed our time exploring the tombs. A few had very long passageways and hidden rooms. They are still excavating the tombs and are finding more hidden areas. Again, it was something we didn't quite except finding in Ethiopia!
After the tombs, Dad and I walked up a hill to see the Queen of Sheba's bath. We were anticipating an ellaborate place like we saw in Gonder. But these baths were a bit different...it was essentially a large reservoir. Most historians don't think this was ever used for the Queen's bath, but for a water supply for the town! Of course, when we arrived, there was an entire family bathing! So I guess it is a bath!
On the way back to town, we walked past St. Mary's of Zion Church. This is the most famous Orthodox Christian church in Ethiopia. It is very large and was built in the 1970s. It is not the most beautiful church, but is interesting to say the least. Inside the church grounds is a small chapel. In this chapel, it is said that the Arc of the Covenant (the stone tablets carved by Moses with the 10 Commandments from God) are kept. Legend has it that the Arc of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia by Queen Sheba's son and have been kept here ever since. Priests guard the chapel and foreigners are not anywhere near the chapel. No one is allowed to see the Covenant, except for the local Axum priest. Is the Arc of the Covenant in Axum? AXUM!
We walked back to our hotel and came across a few teenage boys trying to sell local Ethiopian clothing. I really wanted a shirt for Dad and an outfit for you. Dad tried on some shirts, but they were way too small! The boys were very disappointed as they wanted to make a sale. Dad said that if they found a shirt that would fit him, he would buy it! The boys ran all around town looking for a shirt to fit Dad! They also were looking for a small outfit to fit you! About an hour later, when we were just ordering dinner at our hotel, they arrived!
The boys had found an XXL shirt that fit Dad (almost). It was still a little tight, but it was the best we figured we would find. They also found a small outfit for you, size S. It was perfect! We bought the clothing and the boys were so happy! They couldn't hide their excitement. And doing business with them really made Dad and I happy. They were so cute and nice and were wonderful businessmen!
We enjoyed a delicious dinner of local Ethiopian food and steak, which was very, very, very well cooked! We were laughing at how dirty our feet had become during the day! After dinner, we went across the street to check our e-mail and get in touch with family back home. We then retreated to our very simple room. Dad studied and I started your daily letter.
Sweet dreams Mr. Bedassa! I cannot wait to be able to spend 2013 with you and watch you learn and grow! I know every year after this will keep getting better and better! But for now, this will be the best year yet- for you, Dad and I!
All my love!