On Monday, Feb. 8th (Boy Scout’s Day) Jean and I visited Steve Sampson in Belltown as he fidgeted with his office-studio. I took the first view below of the two of them. The place is a-funk because Steve was at the time closing it down before returning this coming Sunday to his new home in Paris with Cynthia Rose, another good friend.
Next we came upon the stables or livery door in the alley that Jean put up on this blog a ways below this contribution. We were on the way to the Pike Market where we shared lunch at the Pan Africa. Jean used his “Ethiopian utensils” for the Ethiopian dish prepared. I have often enjoyed Jean’s many good stories of his trips to Ethiopia and he will include below some highlights and illustrate a few of them too.
This evening we met with Steve again – for the last time during this visit to Seattle – in Fremont at Brad’s Swingside Cafe. Next time Jean will see him in Paris this summer. There we found Brad revived from a long and risky stay in hospital (last fall) but now back again behind the stove where he is famous for his delicious concoctions. The carved angel on the front porch of the Swingside was placed there in a vigil for Brad’s recovery. The gracious guardian did well, enjoyed the stay and has decided to abide a while longer.
As Paul suggested above, I’ll revisit a few highlights of my last trip to Ethiopia, which was, Paul neglects to mention, a number of years ago. The photos I took are pre-digital – a compact Canon point-and-shoot – scanned much later.
I last went to Ethiopia in Nov 1999, missing the Battle in Seattle, the progress of which I watched on a flickering hotel TV in Lalibela, (arguably an eighth wonder of the world – which begs the question, is there a single eighth wonder or is that a category?).
It was a little shocking after a month of travel to see images of Seattle on CNN Asia, which was the only channel available. Of course, it being CNN, the images were stock – a ferry approaching the docks with the space needle in the background. But I’d gone to Ethiopia on a bit of a lark, hardly imagining the serendipities that would grace my trip.
On the plane from Rome, I sat in front of, and carried on a long sore-necked conversation with, Hussein Feyissa, who’d studied engineering in the midwest and ran his family’s burgeoning tannery in Addis. Amazing man of industry who sent me to friends and associates all over the country.
Within my first couple of days, I booked an in-country series of flights on Ethiopian airlines, and standing at the counter, met Firew Bulbula who, it turned out, was returning to Ethiopia for the first time since 1974 when Mengistu overthrew Haile Selassie and became an Ethiopian Stalin. We were flying the same routes and became traveling companions. Amazingly, in 1974, Firew was a freshman at the University of Washington, ended up studying economics and teaching it at Seattle Community College by the early 80s. We actually had friends in common, in particular, Gassim, an Oromo prince and PhD, with whom I’d spent long hours chewing the fat at the Last Exit.
Firew and I toured the north together, visiting Bahir Dar and Lake Tana,
Gondar, and Lalibela. Each one deserves a short novella. In Bahir Dar, accompanying Firew to a tej bar, where country men came of an evening to drink honey beer and sing improvised poems to the lyre. The old man who sang of his fallen friends on the battlefield (translated in whispers by Firew) and overcome with emotion had to step outside to recover.
In Gondar, meeting a Japanese woman traveling alone across Ethiopia by bus, staying in roadside hotel/brothels to save money, her arms and neck covered with bites from bed bugs. Brave beyond measure, but she was the nail who refused to be pounded down.
The hyena man of Harar, who made a show each evening of feeding a pack of hyenas outside the walls of this medieval town (once host to the greatest of Victorian travelers and linguist/translators Richard Burton,
as well as Arthur Rimbaud, whose putative house is labeled ‘Rambo’s house’ and was built long decades after his death).
Heart pounding after feeding the hyenas and being plunged into unexpected darkness, I tipped him a month’s rather than a day’s wages and an Ethiopian friend told me that the hyena man said he would pray for me and my family as long as he had the good fortune of surviving the hyenas.
Near the stone meeting bell of an island monastery,
I stumbled over an unusually heavy and seemingly once-molten stone, unlike any other in the area. After returning to the states, I sent a picture and a description of it to a geologist at Harvard, who also thought it likely to be a meteorite.
Or the 4 hour trip crossing Lake Tana to reach another island monastery where the mummified remains of Ethiopian emperors are enshrined, and where the monks, pissed off at my belligerent young guide, threatened to beat us up. One of the monks had an infected ulcer on his shin and I gave him a tube of antibiotic cream as a gift, which mollified him and the others.
The night before I flew home, Hussein Feyissa brought me a bucket filled with fresh honeycombs as a parting gift. I was sure that raw honey would certainly be impounded by customs and insisted that he take the bulk of it home to his wife, who loved honey, he said. But the two of us slurped through several handful of golden brown comb before Hussein took it away. In the middle of the night, I felt my stomach begin to roil in protest. By the time I boarded the plane the next morning, I was munching on fistfuls of anti-diarrheal pills, just to allow me to stay seated through take off. A month wandering Ethiopia, eating virtually everything that came my way, and it was honeycomb that leveled me.