Here are some animals, all in the wild, I photographed in Ethiopia. How many of them can you identify?

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My daughter’s getting married tomorrow. Feel free to wish me Mazal tov!

My local guide in Aksum (also spelled “Axum”) told me there are no mosques in the city. When Muslims ask why this is so, the local Christians reply, “When  Muslims allow churches in Mecca, we’ll allow mosques in Aksum.”

Aksum is the holiest of cities for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. It was the seat of the earliest Ethiopian monarchies – as long as we don’t count the ancient kingdom of Cush as “Ethiopia,” but that’s another story. According to Wikipedia:

The original capital of the Kingdom of Aksum, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Africa. Axum was a naval and trading power that ruled the region from about 400 BC into the 10th century. In 1980 UNESCO added Aksum’s archaeological sites to its list of World Heritage Sites due to their historic value…

The Kingdom of Axum had its own written language, Ge’ez, and developed a distinctive architecture exemplified by giant obelisks, the oldest of which (though much smaller) date from 5000–2000 BC. The kingdom was at its height under King Ezana, baptized as Abreha, in the 4th century (which was also when it officially embraced Christianity).

Today’s Ethiopians consider themselves the descendants of the Aksumites, even those who belong to the more southern tribes. I think this is akin to Americans referring to our “founding fathers” even if their actual ancestors only arrived in America a hundred years ago. Or modern Jews referring to the biblical patriarchs as “our patriarchs,” even when it’s obvious that many of today’s Jews are descended from converts. They’re our cultural/spiritual forefathers.

The language of the ancient Aksumites was Ge’ez, and modern Amharic Ethiopians consider Ge’ez to be the ancestral language of Amharic, even though the truth is much more complicated. Tigrinya is widely spoken in some parts of the north, and it is more clearly derived from Ge’ez. But there will be other posts on the languages of Ethiopia, so I won’t delve into this subject much here.

Of course, when I visited Aksum, I saw its famous obelisks:

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Right next to this archeological site is a museum. The old man in charge of the museum gave me a tour, and I found some of the exhibits very interesting. Some of the Aksumite coins were so small they were hardly the size of grains of rice, and yet they were engraved; one needs a magnifying glass to make out the design. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the museum.

The museum’s walls are decorated with large murals depicting Aksumite kings and their soldiers and subjects. I couldn’t help but notice that these ancient Aksumites are shown as having olive complexions and Middle Eastern features, so I asked the guide about this. He took my arm, pointed to it and proclaimed, “The ancient Aksumites were your color. This is in our history and our tradition.” As for modern Aksumites, and Ethiopians in general, he echoed what I’d heard previously: “We are a mixed people.” I didn’t notice any difference, in appearance, between today’s Aksumites and other Ethiopians.

Also near the ruins is a gift shop. Among the various souvenirs being sold was an old Bible manuscript on parchment. Having a weak spot for old books, I haggled the vendor down to about half of what he was asking, and bought the manuscript. Soon enough, it became clear that such manuscripts are sold everywhere there are tourists, on the streets, in shops and in hotels. People continued to use manuscript books, in this part of the world, until fairly recently. So they are definitely not rare. I’d say this one is about 200 years old. Here’s a page from it:

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Later, I saw a sign (inside the tourist office of the Simien Mountain park) warning tourists not to buy such manuscripts. It stated that they are sometimes stolen, and that they’re illegal to take out of the country. I was told that if I got it from a reputable dealer, and got a receipt for it, that it probably wasn’t stolen – but I couldn’t get a straight answer about removing it from the country. Apparently, it’s up to the whim of whatever customs officer is in charge at the airport at the time.

All shops in Ethiopia are required to provide receipts to their customers, and they certainly do; the government sends secret shoppers to make sure that such receipts are issued, so that taxes can be withheld. If the Ethiopian government really cared about manuscript bibles being sold to tourists, they wouldn’t allow them to be openly sold the way they are; they’d enforce the law the same way they do when it comes to sales tax. Instead, they allow them to be sold to tourists – and then, after the fact, warn us we may not be allowed to take them home.

As it turned out, there was no problem taking my manuscripts (I later bought another, smaller, one) out of the country. Nobody even asked. What I bought was old books, not national treasures – and they are certainly not rare.

Near the obelisks are also some underground chambers and temples, some Christian and some pre-Christian. Some of the stonework reminded me of the better Inca stonework one sees in Machu Picchu or Cusco, though this is much older:

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I’ll conclude with a modern Aksumite girl selling guavas, which were very tasty:

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Some of the other tourists I spoke to in Ethiopia described Lalibela as the highlight of their trip. I’m not sure this currently applies to me, but I may have second thoughts.

I think what impressed the other tourists most about Lalibela is the architecture; the fact that its 11 famous churches were all carved out of solid rock. Whenever I travel, I find myself drawn to architecture. I end up taking numerous photos of both primitive traditional huts, and of grandiose cathedrals. Both of these, and everything in between, fascinate me.

And yet it wasn’t the churches themselves that most drew my attention; it was the worshipers who populated them. Their presence, and their devotion, overshadowed the structures themselves. I had the good fortune of visiting during one of the Ethiopian Orthodox holidays, so there were throngs of people.

They reminded me of Orthodox Jews in Israel, of whom I was one. Of course I took many photos of the worshipers, and as they noticed me, they probably assumed that my attention to them was due to my curiosity of the exotic. That in my eyes they weren’t much different than hippos or the primitive tribes of the south.

But now that I think about it, I realize that my fascination may partly be due to envy.

One of the basic tenets of the establishment Left is that it’s our superior intelligence that distinguishes us from other animals. This is why leftists get so upset when we point out racial differences in average IQ; in their eyes, this is tantamount to saying that one race is less human than another.

But there is another major difference between humans and other animals: Humans have religion. There are some animals whose intelligence rivals that of very young, or mentally disabled, humans. So there is some overlap. Not so with religion. Only humans practice religion, and there are few grey areas here; the vast majority of humans practice a religion of some sort or another.

Even atheistic leftists have religion, though they won’t admit it. In their eyes, they reject all organized religion. This means they cannot cite religion as a characteristic that distinguishes humans from the animal kingdom. Instead, they fall back on superior intelligence with that much more vigor.

If there were numerous traits that we could point to, which clearly distinguish humans from the animal kingdom, then we wouldn’t have to emphasize any single trait very much; they would all share the burden, so to speak. But when it comes down to only one trait, people will cling to that trait fanatically. Pointing to group differences in average IQ then becomes heresy. To question the intellectual equality of all populations is blasphemy.

To be religious is to be human. It’s a part of my own humanity that I lost years ago. As I saw the throngs of Ethiopian worshipers and pilgrims, what I saw was humanity. Humanity in one of its most naked forms, without the trappings of the modern world. It didn’t matter if they were worshiping one god, or three gods. It didn’t matter whether they were praying in Ge’ez or Arabic or Hebrew. By participating in this communal act, they were expressing their humanity – and they were 100% human, regardless of what their average IQ is. Not that it doesn’t matter – but it certainly doesn’t affect their humanity, one way or the other.

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If you’re the type of person who sometimes pities yourself for your difficult job, perhaps you should visit the Afar salt miners of the Danakil. They spend their days cutting salt out of the earth in the hottest place on Earth. After the salt is cut out and shaped, it’s loaded onto camels or mules and taken to Mekele, some 70 miles away.

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The Afar are accustomed to tourists; dozens visit them each day to photograph their activities. The Afar react with anything from indifference to mild irritation or amusement. I didn’t feel right squatting on the salt, with other tourists, and shooting their photos as if they’re animals in a zoo. So I approached several of them and let them take some photos of their own with my camera. It was obvious they’d never held an actual camera before; they had no idea what to do with it. I had to guide their rough, work-worn, hands over the controls to get any results. Without exception, they were tickled by the experience. When I showed them the photos they’d shot, on the LCD, wide smiles broke out. Soon enough, other tourists were doing the same.

The name “Afar” means “dusty people” in their language. Having been through a dust storm on the way to Erta Ale, it was easy to see why. By the end of my 3-day stint there, all my cloths and possessions were permeated with dust. We were told there would be a shower in the next town we stayed in (before Erta Ale). Indeed there was: An “African shower” – which consists of a bucket of water and a vessel to scoop it up and pour it over one’s body.

Some of the Afar sold us handicrafts. As we rested, before our hike to the volcano, one Afar approached us to sell us a 2-piece fire-making device. For a few minutes he tried to make fire with it. Then a young man from Ireland helpfully handed him a lighter. It was very funny at the time, even for the tribesman. The Irishman did buy the gadget in the end, for about $2. I bought a traditional Afar scarf; it came in handy a few times later on. But my favorite souvenir is a small block of salt I had the Afar carve out just for me.

Cordial as things were between the various groups, we still had an armed escort – and who, in his right mind, would challenge a guy like this?:

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The Danakil Depression holds several attractions. In fact, it’s a geological treasure trove, and a mecca for scientists.

One of these attractions is a place called, by the locals, “Dalol,” which means “colorful place.”  The range of colors one sees there varies over time. I’m told that it’s more interesting in the rainy season, but that it’s also less accessible then. All things considered, I think my visit was well-timed, and here are a few images for your enjoyment, both of Dalol proper and the nearby salt cave and mineral springs:

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I once wrote about a lone Bedouin I happened across in the Judean desert. I was impressed by the simplicity of his existence. His lonely days in the desert had rendered him free of the personality pollutants that afflict the rest of us. It’s no accident that our major religions have their origins in the desert, a place whose emptiness forces our minds inward. That they later became burdened with ritual and dogma is another issue.

It was a long drive from the ancient city of Axum to the Simien highlands, and we passed through many villages whose names probably don’t even appear on maps. Places with names like Indaabaguna, Adigebru and Indamadri. The poverty in these villages is unfathomable for most of us. It was in one of these villages that I first saw real hunger in Ethiopia. We had stopped in one of them for something to eat, but my driver was ill and could only eat a portion of his plate. A couple of passing kids motioned that they were hungry, and I told my driver that he might as well give them his leftovers. Within about two seconds the food was completely gone, and the kids were extremely grateful. It’s one thing to theorize, and pontificate, about hunger in the third world from the comfort of one’s home – but seeing it up close arouses all kinds of emotions. I think if it doesn’t, then there’s something wrong with you.

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We stopped at another such village for some coffee and to stretch out. This was Amhara territory, and the vast majority of these people are Christian. At the coffee shop sat a young man with a fez. Apparently, he was a priest and he had no problem with my taking his photo. After I took his photo, he asked to see it, and wondered if I could send him a copy. Unfortunately, his town had no postal service or internet provider, so I didn’t think this was possible. When I showed him the zoom function of my camera, he was filled with wonder. In a way, this man reminded me of the Bedouin in the desert.

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The people of this town were clearly not accustomed to having “farenjis” (white people/tourists) stop by, and all eyes were upon me. There was no hostility, just curiosity – especially from one little girl, who stood nearby and couldn’t take her eyes off me. She partially hid herself behind a tank, and had clearly never been this close to a farenji. I snapped a couple of photos of her and then motioned to her to come look at them. Cautiously, as if I might bite, she approached and saw her photos. Giggling, she flitted away and resumed her post behind the tank.

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In other parts of Ethiopia, where tourists are common, the natives demand money to have their photos taken. Sometimes, if they feel they’re owed money and it’s not forthcoming, they’ll throw rocks. In some places, they’ll distort their own traditions in order to attract more attention from tourists, which translates into more photos and more money. But these Amhara villages of the high country are as yet unspoiled.

I hope these rural Amhara can improve their lot in life, and I hope they don’t lose their traditions and humanity in the process.

I normally do; I don’t much care what it looks like. As long as it doesn’t affect my job, or grow so long that it gets in the way, it’s a low priority for me. So I cut it myself whenever I feel like it.

Except that my daughter’s getting married in a couple of weeks, and I owe it to her to look presentable. So off to the nearest Greatclips I went, and this is what greeted me opposite the entrance:

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My last propaganda post attracted some ridicule from the unenlightened. As expected, they view each instance of micro-propaganda in isolation, and make comments such as:

In that picture, it just looks like they put in a token black guy. But in the mind of a racist, putting a black man anywhere in an ad is idolizing them and furthering the “black agenda,” whatever that is.

If black women were featured with white/Asian men just as often as black men are shown with white women, then it might not be propaganda. But when we see the same pattern over and over again, we cannot view each instance in isolation. Intelligent people will ask, “Why is this pattern being presented to us so consistently? What are the motives of the powerful people who make such decisions?”

These are not unreasonable questions to ask. What is unreasonable is to willfully blind oneself to a phenomenon as ubiquitous as the one in question.

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