After breakfast, our Axum guide, Mesgana, meet us in the hotel lobby. We walked from our hotel, the same route we had taken the night before on a futile search for an ATM. Today was the basket market, with a bunch of vendors sitting under a huge sycamore tree displaying their wares. Baskets in all sizes, woven in straw with wool blended in to make colorful decorations.
We left the market and started climbing a long hill. Passing in the other direction were farmers taking their products to the market in the town below. Cows, goats, donkeys carrying bags of produce, the occasional chicken.
Many/most of the people, men and women, wrap themselves in big scarves, evidently as protection from the sun, which is very strong at these high altitudes, just a few degrees from the equator. They have the scarf around their shoulders, and frequently fashion a hood to cover their head. Some men wrap it into a cylindrical turban, some in a lazy turban, loosely wrapped on the head with an end hanging down the back. Men also carry sticks, to herd animals or to hook on a bag to carry over their shoulder, or often just to put across their shoulders and hang their hands from. Sometimes they will wad up their scarf and use it for padding when carrying a load on their stick.
On the walk up the hill, Maria had her scarf over her head and arms. The sun was hot, but when we encountered a rare patch of shade, the air was quite cool.
At the top of the hill were ruins of a structure built by some king a long time ago. Of much greater interest was Mesgana talking about new prime minister Abia, who seems really good (everyone else’s leaders seem really good right now). Mesgana has mixed feelings. Abia made peace with Eritrea, which has a lot of Tigre people (the people in Axum are Tigre). But in taking the pressure off the majority Oromo people who had been suppressed for a long time, he unleashed a bunch of tribal pride crap. There have been tribal clashes, with different groups carrying their tribal flags and fighting each other. Nationalism. Like Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda or Basques and Catalonians in Spain or Republicans and Democrats. Or historians and tour guides
We walked down the hill to see the Steles of Axum, granite obelisks carved and erected as tomb markers for kings in the 4th century AD or the 3rd century BC by Christians or Pagans. The whole day was like this. We saw the church where the Arc of the Covenant is kept, but no one gets to see it, so who knows if the real 10 commandments are in there (though we did see a German tour group whose faces started to melt when they walked by the building…)? We saw the site of the Queen of Sheba’s palace, who really lived in Axum, not Yemen as the books say.
This is wedding season. We saw 9 weddings yesterday, on the street or from our hotel window. Big processions of people dancing, honking car horns, on parade. Traffic got screwed up and regular cars and trucks and tuktuks and donkey carts just moved over to the other side of the divided street and went the wrong way. It was lots of fun.
We had heard that Ethiopians eat raw meat. We finally saw two guys slicing up some raw beef in a local restaurant. We’ve been sticking to vegan…