Just got back to Addis this morning, so I'm able to have a little more bandwidth to send some more pictures of my walk through Tigray yesterday looking at some of the old churches there. It was a beautiful day. Some might call Tigray desolate and lifeless (some may say the same about Kansas who have only driven through!), but I strongly disagree. It is in these rural, isolated places that people learn to make due with what they have (in the case of Tigray, just barely) and build strong communities in the process.
Of my 14 day trip, only 2 remain. The next two days will be high level meetings in Addis with the major stakeholders of the project. All signs are pointing towards a very successful set of talks, we've done the groundwork locally and regionally to make these next days hopefully easy. But they still need to be done - these are the make or break people. I'm excited about all the personal infrastructure we've put in place on this trip - people are informed and talking to each other without our help, and everyone is sharing really good ideas. What I'm most excited about is that this is truly a project where the local local people, the poorest farmers in already a poor place, are having input in designing the solutions to their own poverty. And I can tell you, as part of the design team, their ideas are forming the basis for the project. Now we just need the head bosses to say yes, and it will happen.
I'm also looking forward to getting home. Even though it's been a great trip, I'm at the stage where I can see the end of the tunnel, and its getting closer. I'm looking forward to building some community of my own when I get back - both in Kansas for Emery's baptism this weekend, and back home in New York, where I have a lot of smiles waiting for me. =)
Ethiopian TV, at 1am. (After our big meeting Friday night!) Our 4 channels were, Ethiopian TV (ETV), Fox Movies (I watched Back to the Future III), BBC World News, and BBC sports (I also watched part of Manchester vs. Liverpool).
Start of the drive up into the highlands from Mekele.
The main road from Wukuro to Howzen.
A beautiful tree-tunnel!
Another tree-tunnel on the steps up to the first church, Abraha Atsbeha.
The outside of the first church. You can see how they literally carved the mountain away to make the church. Lonely Planet says the church was built in the 10th century. (over 1000 yrs ago) Just to be clear, all of these churches were carved, by hand, from a single piece of rock (usually out of the side of a mountain). Google/Wikipedia for more info.
This was an amazingly lucky moment. I arrived to the front steps of the church just as the traditional morning service was ending (all the churches that are still operating are Ethiopian Orthodox...) The priest's vestments were just beautiful. This is the best picture I got of the priest - but it doesn't show too well the vividness of the colors, red, green, and gold. Imagine stepping into a 1000 yr old church for the first time seeing this scene - with chanting and incense and a dozen or two really old, really devout rural Ethiopian men and women (a woman is kneeling in the background) not knowing whether to look at this new foreigner or pay attention to the service! It was pretty amazing.
A detail of the wall paintings inside the church. I don't know how old they are, but it's absolutely amazing they look the way they do. So beautifully detailed and vivid and inspiring.
Some of the old men that hung around to watch me after the service. (You can see more of the wall in the background)
The interior of the church. This was the nicest, most well-kept church I visited. Probably one of the most actively used rock-hewn churches in Tigray. You can see the pillars are carved into the shape of crosses (the church itself is also in the shape of a cross), and also you can see some of the drums in the back on the left.
The priest locking up the church after I left. I think he was waiting on me - and I took my time!!
The priest with his cross (that he lets people kiss), and the keys around his neck. He actually wanted me to take this picture, so he could see himself on the screen in the back of my camera. He thought it was pretty funny.
The second church - Debre Tsion Abraham..... waaaaaay on the top of that mountain. It took about an hour to climb up, with 6 little boys trailing me the whole time as "guides".
The way up. In addition to lots of cool sandstone formations, we saw 2 monkeys, a bunch of cool birds, and a small lizard, which the boys tried to kill by throwing rocks at it. It got away.
One of the boys (with his Air Jordan tshirt) stopped for a picture (and to see the back of the camera) near the top.
Some markings in the ground along the path pointing the way to the church. Not sure how old these are, but the sandstone is pretty soft so probably only a few years/decades at most. Especially since tourists have just started coming to these churches in the last 50 years.
The view from the top. This building is the monk's workshop.
The monk - who let us in and walked us around. The priest was gone to market, since it was Saturday (market day).
The front of the church.
The monk opening the door.
Inside/ceilings... some of this is carved/some painted. I think the stone was covered with plaster for the paintings at some point, because some of the paintings were chipping away.
One of the boys talking to the monk... it was really cute. The monk was very hard of hearing, so the boy kept having to repeat himself louder and louder. It could have happened in any language, anywhere in the world!
Detail of one of the paintings.
This church was kind of two churches in one. It had an inner and outer wall. This is between the walls. The boys said that this is where the women would be during a service (they weren't allowed inside the main part).
An engraving of St. Michael... I had to crawl through a really small tunnel/hole to get to this room (the boys showed me) and use a flashlight to see cause it was so dark. The light you see is from my flashlight (which one of the boys was using).
One of the boys paying the monk for me (by this time, a second monk had arrived), and the monk giving me a blessing. His hand was on my shoulder.
Self-timer of me and the "guides". They were really cute. I quizzed them on world capitals on the walk down. They were pretty good.
A couple of boys on the walk down. (Just before they saw the lizard)
The market in town, as we passed through to the 3rd church.
A troop of Gelada baboons crossing the road....! they are found only in Ethiopia. There were at least 50 of them... and about 12 big males.
Kitty sleeping on the steps of the 3rd church. Not an endemic baboon, but probably cuter.
The third church - Chirkos, in Wukuro town.
The monk opening the door. He was a pretty young monk, maybe 40 or so. We connected. He showed me his bible made of animal skins, and then I showed him the pictures (on the screen on my camera). He was smiling a lot.
Inside of the church - you can see the beautiful sandstone swirls in the pillar.
This church had a lot more detailed carvings than the other ones.
The monk with the bible - hand written on animal skin paper.
The outside of the church. You can kind of see how it was carved.
Some of the tinkling metal chimes on the guard house of the church.
Neat little shop on the way back to Mekele.