Max’s travels in Ethiopia – Part 2

Max Levene

Upon our return from Mekele we had a couple of lazy days around the house. One of these days I decided to leave the confines of the house with my helper Haile, to not only meet our local neighbours and see the area, but also to practice some Amharighna (the local language).

Outside the house is what some would describe as shanty but you soon realise it is rather better built then the slum areas; people dry their spices on the streets and sell vegetables, and there are numerous small shacks selling groceries.

The trip was interesting seeing the ‘local stores’ however the Amharighna
did not go so well as I pointed to Lucy (our Ethiopian street dog) and said,” Habesha woosha”, which to my understanding meant ‘local dog’, however it turned out I had insulted the old Lady I was talking to, calling her a dog. Haile later told me adding the word ye in front of my phrase would have worked! Oops!!

Graduation ceremony

Upon the arrival of the weekend we had been invited to a disability event. Being the only known frengi (foreigner) in a wheelchair I was invited to the first ever graduation of disabled sports eachers in Ethiopia. This was being held in the National Theatre.

When I arrived I was promptly hown through to what I thought was my seat only to find myself behind stage with the graduates.  Hding behind the curtain so as not to be seen (I really didn’t want to take any of the spotlight from
them seeing as I stood out like a sore thumb) I explained I wasn’t one of the graduates and was ot so quickly carried up the stairs to the auditorium (great disabled access for the graduation).
The crowd was going crazy hooting and hollering and it was a great ceremony, very inspiring, but w also smiled at the unseen person somewhere who kept wanting to blast out Ethiopian music at full volume at every smallest lull in the procedures, to be firmly told by Lydia, the Dutch organizer to turn it off .

He finally got his chance and we were blasted out of the Theatre with the sound
following us across the car park. Later we went to the celebratory party held in the Dutch embassy, a really modern building with even worse access than the theatre, even though it was designed by Dutch architects.

Meskel in the rain

The next big event was Meskel (the finding of the true cross) and one of the biggest celebrations in Ethiopia. This was held on Tuesday 27th September. Typically, Meskel day was blighted by downpours of tropical proportion but we decided to go to the main square (to the surprise of many) to watch the ‘must see’ celebrations.

I got kitted up in 4 layers and a coat with a bin bag on my legs and off we went, somewhat resembling the Michelin man. The celebrations start at 3pm and round up with a bonfire at 7pm so we arrived nice and early. The crowd swelled in the huge amphitheatre – type square until there must have been in excess of 100,000 people in the square, an impressive sight.

We found a spot on one of the terraces and the police allowed me to sit in the stairway for a better view, however everyone else stood in mud- puddles a couple of inches deep. They have people who try and sell you bits and bobs, food, crosses and such-like, although amusingly one was flogging fireworks to the crowd.

To be honest not a lot happens before sunset; the priests gather and each Sunday School presents a dance to the Ethiopian Pope. We were more entertained by
the game of how many Ethiopians could huddle under my umbrella during one of the downpours.
The whole event was a mixture of perhaps the sort of ceremony that happens at Lourdes, crossed with medieval type religious alms giving to disabled beggars, with a large amount of torrential rain as typifies the Glastonbury Festival!

The wait is worth it for at sundown at 6pm, once the sun sets everyone in the crowd lights a taper and suddenly the square is alight in twinkling beauty- although the restless crowd were told off by the Pope for lighting up too early, though they are never officially told when they SHOULD light up!.

Finally at 7pm the bonfire was lit by the Pope and soon after the crowd started to frantically exit. I ended up surrounded by a heaving throng within seconds, with thought of another Hillsborough type disaster, although the people did let me through with every farengi in the crowd latching on to the path I was creating.

Eventually we escaped.

That night we got home at around 8 o’clock, just in time for the Meskel celebration on our front lawn. The locals in the neighbourhood had built a bonfire, set up a marquee (with sofas and rugs for the old ladies) and had even got hold of draught beer. The lead organiser seemed to be the CD man
from outside our house who usually blasts Ethiopian music most of the day.

When asked before the
event to help out with the celebrations we were sent a letter saying we could ‘ give anything’ or ‘do anything’ that we wished to the CD man; not sure that’s quite how they meant it to sound.

The’ garden party’ was a fun night. Firstly, they cut bread and each person made a promise, most people offering money for next year’s celebration, however to our surprise the German family from across the road promised to build a children’s playground in our front garden; nice idea but the landlord might not be too happy!

Later into the night the bonfire was lit, first with sticks but on failing that a rather large quantity of kerosene did the trick. Once lit the local men ran laps of the fire and chanted songs although once they realised the fire was out of control and about to burn down the telegraph pole they all stopped to find water to douse the flames, after which the chanting continued.

The fire is officially finished when the large cross, made of yellow Meskel flowers placed in the middle, falls over whereupon the chanting stops. After the bonfire a music player was blasted out (courtesy of the CD man) and everyone danced into the night.

On the Thursday we were asked by Martha (a friend of ours and wife to dad’s assistant) to trial run the new restaurant and art gallery where she works. With trepidation about being human guinea pigs, and mum driving for the first time, we set off.

Mum drove quite well, aided by 3 back-seat drivers, but the roads are very chaotic and you always have to be on guard, therefore rightly she was anxious. This wasn’t helped when something came through the window and smacked her in the side of the head; at first we could not fathom what it was however upon finding a rather stunned bird in the car we soon worked out the culprit.

Once there, the food was good and thankfully it was vegetarian (being a trial run it felt safer eating vegetables). The art gallery was also interesting,
displaying local art with an exhibition by a disabled artist who works with shattered glass due to start next week.

Max Levene broke his neck playing rugby.  See also –

2 responses to “Max’s travels in Ethiopia – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Max’s travels in Ethiopia – Part 2 | Somerville's Safari – Wildlife and Eco-Tourism

  2. Hi Keith, I had the pleasure of meeting Max and his family, in Addis in autumn 2011. I understand they are now based in the Bale Mountains and have opened a lodge there….

    Ben and Jen ( ) report, “From the Plateau we dropped over the other side into the Harena Forest and stayed in Katcha camp. The camp is in a small clearing and looks up at the most almighty mountain, it was really beautiful. We had a really nice evening chatting to various people also staying at the camp. There was an English couple who were in the process of building an eco lodge. I was really interested to hear about how they were making a sustainable building that would be self sufficient in water and energy. I was also rather pleased that we’d arrived before the lodge had been built as I don’t think we’d have enjoyed the same views at the proposed $300 a night! There were also some animal and bird experts who were carrying out surveys in the park. There are lots of species that are unique to Bale and they were in the process of discovering all that is hidden in the depths of the park. Our final night in Bale was spent in Dinsho, near the park headquarters where deer and warthogs wandered around vehicle quite happily…… ”

    The ‘English couple’ are Max’s parents. Our local Vet side, Torbay Sharks RFC, played a fundraiser vs Ivybridge RFC after Max had his injury, hence getting in touch with them in the first place, before I left for my own trans-Africa journey. The world can be very small and friendly at times!

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