An Archaeologist's Dream - Axum

Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
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Trip End Jul 05, 2008


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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Monday, June 23, 2008

Another amazing day of history:  Queen of Sheba, the Ark of the Covenant, King Ezana's Inscription (like the Rosetta stone), teetered Stelae, all led by an eccentric archaeologist!  He told us that he would only reveal 2% of the history of the area so as not to overwhelm us.  Well, 2% was a bit too much...

Now this are is more like the dry and dusty vision of Ethiopia I had in my mind.  While other areas of the country have started to get rains, this area has not had a drop!  How the animals are eating I'm not sure, as there does not seem to be anything alive in the landscape.  We are right up by the boarder to Eritrea and were surprised to see camels being led through the streets!

Got lots of great use out of my headlamp today.  Not only did we have the opportunity to walk through underground dig sites, but there was also a lack of electricity in the city.  When going through the shops, we needed to turn it on to see what was for sale!  So sad.  There were many ancient relics being sold.  As amazing as it would be to have a bible written 500 years ago with an ibex's blood, I just couldn't be a tourist with pockets lined with another country's history. 

Supposedly, starting tomorrow, the archaeologists are coming back to resume their digs.  I don't know if we were a day early, or just right.  3 months of digging gives them enough material to catalog and clean for the rest of the year!  Our guide was actually injured and unable to work anymore after a tunnel collapsed on him during a dig.  The first tunnel we went through, was lit with handmade candles which added to the atmosphere.  Our guide had an affinity for taking photographs of us in strange places, so now we have a lovely collection!

Queen of Sheba's palace and bath were less than exciting, but mostly because there was so little left.  Her palace looked more like a stone maze of waist high piles of rubble.  But still, we got to see her stove, bathroom and throne room!  Again, the guidebooks will advise that this is not the real site, but I still like thinking about this beautiful queen and a romantic tryst with King Solomon

Onto the stelae park with the giant towering tombstones of ancient kings - many of which are toppled.  The size of these is incredible!

A museum containing many relics was less than impressive.  I'm sure anywhere else it would have been fabulous!  But here, it was just dirty glass cases filled with dusty robes and dull jewels. Yellowed handwritten tags were in Amharic, so we could not read them.  

Next door was Queen Mary's church was a re-make of one of the largest in Ethiopia - fitting over 3000 people at once!  The acoustics were incredible in here, and true to form, the walls were covered with murals.  Some very old bibles draped in fabric were shown to us by the only men who had authorization to touch them.  Grant (being the only male with us) got to go in another older church building.  According to pictures, looked pretty much like any other church we've seen so far!

Then, the building we've all be waiting for...the home of the Ark!  There is much dispute about this, and I'm no historian.  But I can tell you that the Ethiopians believe that they have this whole-heartedly (whether it's really in the building they show everyone or not).  People offer their children to the cause of guarding the Ark.  The lucky winner spends his whole life in study of the bible and can never leave the premises, will never set eyes upon a woman, and only eats once a week.  Talk about dedication!

I've been having some issues trying to figure out what to do with 'young entrepreneurs'.  We are traveling outside of the usual tourist season, so I don't know if that makes it better, or worse.  I've been trying to politely say 'no', but this does not seem too effective.  We've been warned about buying things from children on the street as the money they receive encourages them to drop out of school (not seeing any need to an education and profession).  But pleas for pens so they can do school work is something very different.  Your soul yearns to help, but the fact is they would probably still only hawk the pens to get some money as well.  Beggars are another issue as well.  Due to the fact that there is no heath care or support for unemployed these people must rely solely upon the charity of others.  I would like to give to these individuals and have started to carry some spare change easily accessible in my pocket for a quick gift.  Anything that takes more than 2 seconds is likely to attract attention and form a crowd of beggars. 
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