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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Dear Aidan, Day 15 (Lalibela, Genna)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dear Aidan,

In less than 48 hours, you’ll be in my arms again!  I can’t even imagine having to wait 6-8 weeks for the US Embassy to clear our adoption in order to hold you!  10 days has been long enough!  How has your day been?  We’ve heard there are a few families staying at the guesthouse, so maybe you’ve seen some friends tour the foster home!  Hopefully you are well and getting lots of sleep in preparation for our return to Addis!

Today was another great day!  I am truly exhausted and lying in bed feels amazing!  Dad and I woke up early to get ready for the day- around 6AM!  Our hotel still didn’t have water as the city is having a water shortage, let alone with all of the pilgrims here.  After we were ready, we had a delicious breakfast of tea, toast, scrambled eggs and French toast.  The French toast is different than the toast I make.  It’s still bread soaked in eggs, but it’s deep friend instead of cooked on a griddle.  Early in the morning, it tastes wonderful!  After breakfast, Dad and I began walking into town where we were to meet Addis, our guide.

The pilgrims were already up early walking towards the churches.  This morning, there were an especially large number of animals being brought to the town as well.  They were all going to the Christmas market to be sold as fasting ends on Christmas Day (Genna, January 7).  There were even more people out and about today than there was yesterday!  After meeting Addis at the city center, which lies up a very large hill at around 2,600m, we sat down for coffee.  The coffee here still amazes me in that I actually like it if a lot of sugar is added!  I’m not sure you’ll ever see me drinking coffee outside of Ethiopia!  Addis explained that he needed to go the airport, and that his friend would be our guide for the day.  We met up with Yelmo, his friend, who would guide us on our hike.

This morning, Dad and I hiked to 10,165 feet!  There is a large mountain to the east of Lalibela that has 2 old monasteries and a church on top.  It is very popular for pilgrims to climb so we decided to try it!  Many “faranji” (foreigners) ride on mules to the top.  We walked/hiked/climbed!  As such, all of the locals were surprised, and happy, to see Dad and I walking/huffing-and-puffing our way to the top!  The hike was 14 km round trip and the first half was quite the climb!  There were a lot of switchbacks on rocky soil.  I definitely felt the elevation!  There were hundreds of pilgrims on the mountain, and many passed us!  Yes, we were slow compared to the locals!  They are amazing!  There were even goats, sheep and many large cows and bulls that were climbing the mountain or coming down for market!  We had to be fast to get out of the way! 

It’s funny because when Dad was in Nepal in November 2011, he went on a hike with his team in the Annapurna Mountains.  His goal in some of the highest mountains in the world was to climb above 10,000 feet.  However, they had to turn around just short of that.  Today, your Dad brought his GPS with him (no surprise there)!  At the top, it was clear we had climbed above 10,000 feet- in Ethiopia!  How amazing!

Dad and I practiced our Amharic!  Every time we said “Salam,” “Salam-no,” or some other words, the locals smiled.  Some even laughed.  Many thought Dad was fluent in Amharic and tried talking to him.  Our guide was impressed and said that the locals loved that we were trying!  We loved making them smile and feeling connected to them!

After our travels in Ethiopia, we were actually able to determine where certain people were from based upon their hair styles- well, the women at least!  Women from Axum/Tigray often had the front half of their hair braided back, and the rest left natural, but cut short.  Women from Addis were a bit more fashionable.  And women from the local area had complete shawls on and short hair.  Many local women from Lalibela wore green dresses with white buttons- the traditional dress of the area.  About ½ of the people had shoes, the others did the climb barefoot!  I was very impressed!

Along the way, we stopped to take hundreds of pictures.  The landscape and mountains were gorgeous!  It was wonderful to see the town of Lalibela below with her churches!  We also walked through many local villages and made friends with children!  The locals on the mountain live in round huts made of sticks with thatched roofs- tukuls.  This was a different design of house than what we’ve seen previously!

Once we reached the top, we saw the Ashetan Maryam monastery.  This was carved into the mountainside for a way for priests and Christians to be “closer to God and heaven.”  Heaven it was!  King Lalibela was believed to have commissioned the monastery.  Inside the monastery, we saw the monastery’s gold Cross of Lalibela, as well as Axum.  From the monastery, we climbed up even further into a small cave/alley to the top.  Up here, we observed the church on top of the mountain!  There were many priests and monks!  We were even able to have our picture taken with some!

The way down from the monastery was scary- it was loose dirt and rocks.  Dad and I went slow and many locals passed us!  Many came down singing and chanting with clapping rhythms!  Groups of 20 people or more would sing their songs!  I purchased some cloth dolls made by local girls.  These will be for you to play with!  I loved them!

Once we reached the bottom of the mountain and were back in Lalibela, we set off to meet up with Addis.  We thanked our guide and headed towards the Christmas market.  Lalibela was very crowded by now, so we walked slowly down the gravel and rocky streets.  The market was unbelievably crowded with people buying and selling everything!  Addis was our loyal guide and I followed your Dad by holding onto his shirt.  We saw people selling pots and pans, eating utensils, clothing including shirts that said “Obama”, fruits like oranges and lemons, and vegetables like tomatoes and onions.  At the bottom of the market was the animal section, where goats, sheep, cows and donkeys were for sale.  It was very chaotic but amazing to see! 

After the market, we headed back to our hotel for lunch.  We had a delicious lunch of pasta, French fries and beef fingers!  It was perfect after our long day of hiking!  Our hotel had water, so we took advantage of it by having hot showers.  Then, we got dressed again and ready for the afternoon!

We were met outside our hotel by our guide assistant.  For each church, we are required to take off our shoes.  We hired an assistant to watch our shoes to make sure that they weren’t stolen.  As a bonus, he brought our shoes to the door we exited out of- quite the touch!  We walked through another market to the southern group of churches.  There were 5 more churches to see and Addis was there waiting!

The first church was Bet Gabriel-Rufael, a set of twin churches that are connected.  The entrance to this church was through an alleyway carved into the rock earth that opened up into a very large area.  The church is extremely tall and has a silver-colored rock roof that’s called the “Way to Heaven.”  The entrance was via a bridge at the top story of the church, which was different from the other churches which have entrances on “ground” level.  It is possible that this church was made for Askumite royality in the 8th Century…maybe there was more than one king around Lalibela for some time!  Bet Rufael’s roof collapsed, and so services are not held there anymore.  Below the 2 churches are buried rooms…rooms below the churches already underground!

The next church was Bet Merkorios.  There is a long, very dark and narrow tunnel from Bet Garbriel to Bet Merkorios.  It is nicknamed, “Hell.”  Due to the crowds, we didn’t access the tunnel today…maybe tomorrow.  Much of the roof of Bet Merkorios collapsed about 100 years ago.  75 years ago, much of the church was restored.  However, there was barbed wire surrounding parts of the roof to prevent people from walking on it…just in case!  There is rumor that this church, at first, wasn’t a church at all!  It may have been a prison or a courthouse as chains and shackles were found.  But maybe people were devote followers as well…who knows!

Inside this church, we saw many old paintings.  One of the paintings was from the 15th Century and depicted the 3 wisemen, one of which was from Ethiopia!  There was also a painting showing the 12 apostoles, as well as the stations of the cross.  These paintings were painted on cotton fabric, and were attached to the walls with mud, straw and ox blood!

Next, we visited Bet Amanuel.  The entrance to this church was through many alley-ways, stair cases and tunnels carved into the stone earth.  Without Addis, we would have been lost!  This church may have been the private chapel for King Lalibela’s family.  King Lalibela wanted the church to resemble churches in Askum, which are made of rock and wood.  The rock of this church was carved so that the texture looks like rock and wood in alternating layers- amazing!  There is an upstairs section of the church that was closed off.  Under the church, there are 3 tunnels that lead to the other churches!  Along the wall outside of the church, there were many graves of pilgrims.  There were also very deep tunnels for monks and nuns (“hermits”) to live back when the church was first built.  Additionally, one of the walls has a beehive!  This is in honor of King Lalibela- the “honey eater.”  To this day, it is believed that honey produced in churches has special healing powers!

The last church of the day, and of Lalibela, was Bet Abba Libanos.  This church was very unique in that it is made of 2 parts!  The ceiling and floor are the same stone that were carved hollow.  The church itself is of a different stone, so the church is called a hypogeous church.  The church is made to look like it is a small neck supporting a large head with a crown of thorns like the one Jesus wore.  As such, the floor and ceiling are much larger than the church.  Another unique thing about this church is the story.  Although angels are rumored to have helped with the other churches, they really helped with this one!  King Lalibela’s wife, Meskel Kebra, built this church with the help of many other women.  No men were allowed!  But the amazing legend is that they built this church in 24 hours!  Men claim angels must have helped!  Women claim they did it on their own!  :)

After this last church, we climbed to a look-out point where we could see all 11 churches and the Christmas market.  After taking in these sites, we thanked Addis for all of his help and for being an amazing guide!  We headed back to the market for some shopping!  I bought a reusable bag made from a concrete bag that has Amharic on it.  We also bought scarves for our family.  For you, we bought a scarf that is green, white, yellow and red- the colors of the Ethiopian flag.  We also bought a beautiful blanket!

We then made our way back to our hotel where we sat down outside for some dinner.  We at popcorn (part of a coffee ceremony) and fasting food.  After dinner, we retired to our room.

As I sit here, there is a priest below giving a sermon over a microphone.  The house next door has the voices of happy families chatting and a sheep baying very loudly.  It was purchased today for the feast to come!  This city is still very lively!

Tomorrow will be a very crowded but fascinating day!  Then after tomorrow, we’ll be back in Addis with you!  Oh, how I can’t wait!

Sweet dreams Aidan Bedassa! 


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