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April 10, 2011

They are called plonkers

by swebackpacker

I arrived in the afternoon after an early morning flight to Dire Dawa (Ethiopia’s second city) from Addis Ababa. Tewodoros Hotel was my choice of budget accommodation in Harar I asked for room 117 or 118  for a view  of the hyenas crossing the football pitch at night. The room was clean and tidy with en-suite hot showers for 70 Birr (about 10 US $).  There was a water shortage and an enormous smell from the common toilet for the ground floor rooms. The manager said, no problem the water shortage is fixed before the evening! I walked out of the hotel to Harar gate then I was about to go through the gate a lad turned up! I want to be your guide what do say? This was one of the so-called plonkers!

My answer was a clear no, I don’t need you! Please leave me alone! The lad disappeared, I turned left and strolled through the old quarters just inside Harar gate heading towards Fallena gate. Few tourists choose to walk these streets, I surprised the children and people were coming out of their old houses and greeted me welcome to Harar. I would meet the complete opposite behaviour from local people in other areas of Harar later. Harar is a muslim city considered the fourth holiest city in the islamic world after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. This is an open friendly cheerful city and not as one might expect a serious city. It´s even possible to order a beer or drink in the cities many bars and restaurants. I changed direction and walked back up to the main street again.

A youngster appeared I want to be your guide? I said no, I don´t need your help. At the next street crossing a new boy turned up and asked the same question? He received the same answers as all the other youngsters. At Feres Mergala Square the same lad as I refused guiding work at Harar gate was back again asking the same question. Now he had changed his behaviour and was far more persistent in his actions so I changed my behaviour as well and didn´t bother to answer his questions. The lad followed me everywhere in Harar city for several hours. He commented what I was doing and gave some advice about what to see and do! Some of these ideas were good and there was another great advantage, as long as he was one step behind me, didn´t need to answer the I want to be your guide questions anymore from other youngsters. It was late in the evening so it was time to return to Tewodros hotel for the night.

Next morning I popped out of the bed at five a´clock in the morning it was time for a sunrise photo of Harar Gate. When arranging my camera on a tripod for the twilight photo of Hara gate, I heard a voice! You are up early! It was the lad from yesterday evening! I realised that I wouldn´t get rid of him this time and keeping the other boys at bay I made another choice. I made clear that he wasn´t my guide but he could follow me around the city if would like to do so. He agreed on the suggestion. The boy’s name was Ramon dark-haired and about sixteen year old. We strolled through the city and Ramon come up with some decent ideas about where to take photos, places to see. We went to a restaurant for a lunch. It was in the end of Ramadan with far for people than normal in Harar city. Tomorrow it was time for celebration the end of Ramadan. Women walked from Feres Mergala square to Medane Alem Church to the right into a small cobblestone street called Mekina Girgir (Machine road) the name comes from all the male street tailors (no woman tailors) sitting at their sewing machines. It was the busiest day of the year for the street tailors all Harar Women was out and about to find a new dress for the celebration tomorrow. The Mekina Girgir street was jammed packed with women in their colorful dresses, and the tailors worked in a furious speed, trying to complete their work before the evening.

Hyena man

We walked past a butcher’s shop. A photo idea turned up in my head. I said to Ramon, ask the butcher if I can take a picture of his shop. Ramon said something in amaric to the butcher and the butcher answered. Ramon said it´s allright to take a photo! I took a photo and a furious butcher comes running out of the butcher’s shop with very big knife in his hand shouting something in amaric. I said to Ramon the butcher refused the photo didn’t he? Well, said Ramon I wanted you to take the photo anyway. Ramon asked if I would like to see the hyena man? This is an old tradition there the Hyena man feeds the hyenas with camel meat in the evening. Some say this tradition started in 1890s to avoid famine in Harar. If one feeds the hyenas the people of Harar would have food as well. Other beleave this tradition started in the beginning of 1950s. I knew this was something extraordinary, so I said we go to see the Hyena man. The Hyena man had his house outside the Harar walled city between Erer and Sanga gate. We took a taxi through the city down past Erer gate to the feeding place. It was dark and a full moon in the late october night the Hyena man was lit up by a floodlight. I put my camera on a tripod just two meters away and was lying on the ground. He put some camel meat on a stick and started to call for the hyenas. After just a few minutes there were several hyenas on the feeding ground. Suddenly one of the hyenas snatched the camel meat from the stick the hyena man had in his mouth. Seeing a hyena snatching a peace meat from a stick just cm / inches from someones nose is absolute incredible, if one takes into account that a hyena are able to break a zebra leg in few seconds. The animal jaws have an enormous power that one need to see before one can beleave it. The hyena man put a new peace of camel meat on the stick, put it into his mouth and moved his head back and forth, trying to avoid the jaws of the hyenas then they were trying to snatch the camel meat from the stick. After about an hour the performance was over and it was time to go back to the hotel Tewodros again.

It was time to say good-bye to Ramon I was leaving for Hrina next morning. Ramon had not been my guide but he had been of great help. I had paid for breakfast, lunch and soft drinks but after all it was correct to give him some money. A waitress earns about 100 Birr during a month work at a restaurant, a guide earns about 150 Birr a day. Ramon had been with me for a couple of days so I decided to give him 150 Birr. Ramon reacted unexpectedly. He shouted, are you so greedy, my Canadian friends gives me 600 Birr for my services. If you are so cheap, I don´t want your money, you can keep them! I looked at Ramon and said, ok, thank you very much, have a nice day, turned arround and walked into Tewodros hotel. After an hour Ramon come back to tewodros hotel he went up to my room and knocked on the door. I didn´t open the door nor did I say anything. Apparently Ramon did know I was in the hotel room. After a minute he started shouting and hammering on the door like Fred Flintstone. I didn´t do anything, after five minutes Ramon gave up and went away.An hour later it was time for dinner in Thewodros restaurant. I ordered food and a beer after some minutes the guide working at the hotel asked if he could talk with me, behind his back was Ramon. It was not much left of Ramon´s stoical move  to refuse to take the money I had offered him two hours earlier. After some discussions forth and back I gave Ramon 150 Birr.

© SWEBackpacker, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material including pictures without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to SWEBackpacker with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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