Holy Week In Ethiopia!

With Thanks to Ethiopian Airlines!

We traveled with Dawit Israel, of Ethiopian Exotic Adventures.

His email: dawitethiopianadventures@gmail.com

His FaceBook:

https://www.facebook.com/dawitethiopianadventures/



Above, a banner from the city of Axum, in the state of Tigray. Christianity came to Ethiopia in the 4th Century CE. The country displays a devotion to the rituals of Holy Week no longer seen in Europe or the United States. We saw white Easter robes everywhere. Ethiopian faithful crowded the churches. BLUELINK Nelson Kiguni,

We did not know the complication of the Orthodox Easter events before we arrived. Dawit followed the traditions, yet he did not impose his faith on us. He maintained his traditional fasting throughout our tour as we ate what the hotels and restaurants catered to foreign tourists. All through our time with him, he provided all the services expected of a guide and translator, and when circumstances got extreme, fixer. A marvelous fellow. Diligent, imaginative, tireless.

Yet, that first morning, soldiers blocked him.

"If you are here to meet foreigners, call them. They must tell us you are their agent ...."

Dawit? Where is Dawit?

Soldiers toldl Dawit to call us inside the terminal, we did not have an Ethiopian SIMM card in my cellphone. How could he call us?

This difficulty confronted us in the first minutes of the tour. As the situation with Somalia required extreme security measures at the international airport, Dawit could not wait in the terminal to greet us. He needed to call us. We needed to call him. How? A young woman working for a hotel explained the situation and helped us.

Even though we were not her clients, she called Dawit. So many of the Ethiopians we encountered proved as helpful as the young lady working for the Crown Hotel.


A Soviet-Era Hotel

From the airport, Dawit took us through the chaos of Addis Abba to the beautiful gardens of the Hotel Giron. The quiet, wood-paneled hotel once served as the luxury showcase of the capital to visiting Russians. Not now.


Russians partied here

In the past, Ethiopia offered escape from the snow for Soviet functionaries. A bar in the lobby, a gift shop stocked with exotic liquors. We no interest in drinking, we had flown fourteen hours to video a documentary. After checking in, we walked through the sunlit gardens to -- what the management called -- bungalows. Showered, changed clothes, prepped the cameras. Perhaps the room pleased Russians. I saw the toilet leaking, the missing drawer knob, the broken window without a screen -- after malaria in Kenya, I consider mosquitoes a threat. The video below shows the problems. In a TripAdvisor review, I suggested the room needed remodeling.


In the time of their grandfathers, the government declared the ancestral lands of the Maasai to be national parks, dedicated to the freedom of the wildlife -- without the Maasai.

No longer could the Maasai move through the horizon-spanning acacia forests with their herds of cattle and sheep. They received assignments of land. As the decades passed, many went to the towns. The dispossesed Maasai lost their traditions and merged with the millions of Kenyans wearing cast-off American blue jeans and donated t-shirts.

The group of families I visited had settled on a plot near the highway and attempted to continue their traditional lives.

Their land? A narrow strip of desert sand between a highway and a railway. On one side, the Nairobi to Mombasa highway, to the other side, the railroad linking the port of Mombasa to Nairobi. Water came from a single pipe -- for the families, the animals, and the few rows of corn and vegetables the families tried to grow in the desert sand. The corn would feed the families, the husks and stalks would feed the animals. Yet never enough grew. The rain and the sand could not feed the animals.

To survive, the Maasai trespassed on their ancestral land, the Tsalvo National Park. When the park police saw the cattle and sheep, the police fined the Maasai for trespass.

In times of sickness, to buy medicines, families sold livestock. For children to attend a school, the fathers sold livestock or found work away from their families. I met men who worked as guards. Thieves with knives do not confront Maasai who stand guard with spears and swords. But that work did not come often. Kenyans who ride in Mercedes Benzes hire men with pistols.

What work came most often?

Dancing. Performances of traditional Maasai tribal dances. For the foreigners in the safari resorts. The 5-star safari resorts collecting thousands of dollars / Euros a day to take the foreigners through the the Tsalvo National Park, the national park once the lands of the Maasai. When the Maasai trespassed in the Tsalvo to graze their animals, they saw the distant Toyota Land Cruisers passing with the several foreigners pointing cameras at the elephants, zebras, gazelle.

The resorts sent stake-side trucks for the Maasai, the type of truck used to transport animals. At the resort, the Maasai performed in the lounge with a basket in front for tips.

In Tanzania, I videoed a dance performance of locals. Tribes people? University students dressed in tribal clothing? Some tourists watched, others watched television, they talked and drank.

In the Tsalvo resorts, did the foreigners watch the Maasai performance? Did the Maasai distract the foreigners from their talk and television? I know they did not tip much. I know the resort did not pay much. The Maasai did not have money for batteries for their flashlights, they did not have money for school books, I know high school teenagers asked me to help them pay their school fees.

For that reason, I thought of the Maasai recording their dancing and traditional lives. Photos, videos, audios. And selling the DVDs to the tourists passing on the highway.

MaasaiCameramen. The project continues.

However, when I return to Kenya, I will visit their new settlement. To move more cargo from the port of Mombasa to Nairobi, then on to Uganda and Rwanda, the government of Kenya is constructing a second railway. The railway required the Maasai familes to relocate.

Dispossessed again.