Friday, March 13, 2015

Harar, The Walled City in the East

During the break between semesters, we took a journey to an ancient, walled city in Eastern Ethiopia: Harar. Harar has 6 gates and has everything from wide traffic circles to tiny alleys. One alley is so small that it’s named “Peace Alley” because one cannot possibly pass by an enemy in it without reconciling. It’s simply too tiny for animosity! 

a gate of Harar
Nikhil, fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, in Peace Alley
Harar was built with walls to protect it from the surrounding raiding tribes of the past. A mostly Muslim city, it has numerous mosques and shrines to various religious and historical people. The national language of Ethiopia (Amharic) is widely spoken but there are also a couple local languages, namely Afan Oromo and Harari. We learned a couple greetings in Harari and the people loved it!

We spent the days exploring the old town: poking in shops, twisting and turning along alleyways, drinking coffee, and visiting historical sights. After a long day of adventuring, we would drink some Harar Beer straight from the factory, go feed hyenas meat dangling from a small stick in our mouths, or just go out to eat with our fellow travelers and revel in everything we had seen and all the kind people we had met that day.

One afternoon, we took a trip out to Babile Elephant Sanctuary. We had a scout lead us way out in to the bush on foot to spot some wild elephants. As soon as we were near, we had to be deathly silent. A human has no chance against a frightened, charging elephant!

Another day we were invited into a local’s house for lunch and his wife prepared us a traditional Harari dish. We sat on the raised platforms endemic to Harar and talked for hours. It was a leisurely afternoon and one that truly showed just how hospitable Ethiopians can be. His friend stopped by and guessed we were with Peace Corps. He had heard of it before and was grateful for our being there. It’s always nice to hear a local telling us thank you and that we are doing good work.

lunch in a traditional Harari living room
traditional Harari food
There’s something magical about a walled city: the soft light of the late afternoon spilling onto the cobblestone streets, the children coming out to play as it cools down, the closeness and the pride in the town. It all comes together to create something unique, a certain vibe that is almost indescribable and definitely palpable.  

a gate of Harar

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