'Fuck you' kids and hyenas
Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
84Trip End Aug 18, 2005
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We had arranged to meet Nebel at 8am, so we got up at 7 and sorted stuff that had been abandoned in our tiredness the previous night. Outside the hotel window, we could see the open area where the hyenas had been. In the light of day, it appeared to be a football ground cum driving test centre. Kids would scatter to get out of the path of learner drivers as they made wide circles on the red ground, kicking up dust. The cars are little Beetles - I've not seen them anywhere else in the country. Maybe they are special learning cars?
There were a load of vultures in the trees parallel with the window. We spent a good few minutes trying to get pictures of them - as with most birds, they are camera shy and often choose to fly off at the wrong moment. They're not as ugly as marabous.
Then down to breakfast, where we were joined by Nebel. We discussed the hyena trip more and he gave us directions to the bank. On the way, we stopped in a pastry place to feed our espris addiction. Armed with money, we walked down to the bus station to acquire bus tickets to Nazret for tomorrow. When they are not in use as such, the bus stations in Ethiopia are often gathering grounds for hawkers and animals. Mainly goats, drawn to the piles of tchat leftovers. As we saw yesterday, the buses get covered in the reject leaves and twigs, and at the end of the journey it is all swept out onto the station floor. We are wondering whether the tchat has any effect on the goats. Another thing the goats eat is plastic bags. Sometimes you see a goat with a swollen belly, and you wonder if it is pregnant. But then you see it from behind and you notice that the huge swelling is only on one side, not evenly distributed. I suppose it's the plastic stuck in the gut. Nasty.
Chores done, we headed in through the walls to the old city of Harar.
We walked to a central roundabout and then cut down into the little streets and passages. We didn't get much hassle, with the exception of a gaggle of kids who followed us for some time. They were mostly harmless, though one of them did provide the first 'fuck you' of the trip. Lovely little urchin. There are chat-faces everywhere (as we have affectionately called the men who sit around ruminating on tchat).
After wandering around a bit looking at material and hats, we emerged at the far side of the walled section of the city, near to where the Hyena Man lives. We sat for a while on a set of stadium-like steps/seats until we attracted too much attention. We slunk off back to the hotel to eat some kai wat. Checking the map so we'd have something to aim for, we returned with the intention of going to Rimbaud's house. Arthur Rimbaud was a French poet and adventurer who lived here in Harar in the 1880s. His house is now a museum. We couldn't find it on our own, so a young man helped us out. There was a mildly awkward moment where we tried to establish whether he wanted paying for his help. We were prepared to give him a little for his bother, but at the same time we didn't want to insult him by offering money for what could have been a simple kind gesture. In the end we erred on the side of caution, but he laughed it off and refused the offer. The doorman unlocked the house for us but we took a little time to wander around the yard first - mainly because Stef wanted to take pictures of the plants.
Inside there were some pretty good black-and-white pictures of Harar from way back as well as some nice artwork.
After our guided tour was over, we randomly walked down alleys heading in the right general direction until we got to the roundabout. From there we took the road straight across from the road we took in that morning. When we reached a church with some walled off grounds, we ducked in and sat quietly and undisturbed for an hour or so, occasionally stirring to try in vain to photograph some birds.
It wasn't too hot - we had been lead to believe that Harar would be baking, and we had imagined it that way too, it being on the edge of the large chunk of Ethiopia that sticks into Somalia. But it just wasn't. However by the time we left the walled city again it was definitely time for some juice. We also went on a wander of the city outside of the walls, hunting for some fresh bread to take on the bus tomorrow. On the way we bumped into a policeman. Initially we were a little apprehensive about his attention, but he was only being friendly. So we chatted for a while, reassuring him that we liked Harar and Ethiopia in general. We continued on past the bus station and a market-like area, where women sold peanuts and fruit and, of course, tchat. This end of town is very busy.
Just before we took this photo -
a guy crossed the street ahead of us and as he got close to the pavement, he caught sight of us. He did a classic double-take and as he turned back he clocked his head on the back of a stationary truck. Poor guy! It must have hurt apart from anything else, and I bet he felt a bit silly.
Eventually, we went into a little street-side shop and our calls for dabo were answered.
We wandered back to the hotel and Nebel, who invited us to sit with him a chew some tchat. When in Rome...
Conclusion? I don't really get the point - it's very bitter (though if you pop a few peanuts in the mouthful it's not too bad) and it creates that horrible light green paste we saw on the lips of the men on the bus. I didn't feel any effect, but I probably didn't have enough. Basically you have to go at it for a while. Not worth the effort and discomfort in my opinion.
After 2 hours - which wasn't as bad as it sounds since we were able to chat to Nebel - we were offered tea to wash it down. Then, after an altercation with the taxi dude, we drove off to the edge of town to see the hyenas.
When we got there the hyenas were already starting to arrive. The taxi headlights helped to illuminate the area, creating a pool of light. Some hyenas were in the pool, circling the 'Hyena Man' as he is known (I think his name is Mulugeta Wolde Mariam). The more nervous animals were lurking at the edges of the night, giving the sensation that outside of the light pool was a dangerous place. Occasionally he would call out to them, and they made their own noises, yips and that eerie kind of 'OoooWoop'. There was a small cluster of us watching, another white couple and a handful of Ethiopians. We all spoke in awed whispers, and gasps. I didn't actually feel any fear in the hyenas' presence, despite their obvious upper body strength and predatory nature. They are quite skittish and since the Hyena Man is boss, they deferred to him. If one of them got too bold, he would shout and sometimes lunge slightly at it and it would lope off with that distinctive gait.
They were being fed what looked like strips of skin, and he would either throw bits to them or offer them out on a small stick.
Sometimes he would put the stick in his mouth and the hyenas would grab the meat inches from his face.
The strangest thing was the cats. A few obviously desperate small cats (I'm talking like little moggies here!) were hanging around hoping for scraps, completely unfazed by the hyenas. It was a good size comparison - they would have been about bite size!
Stef was offered a go at feeding them, which he gleefully accepted. He was hugely excited - having never seen any African animals in the wild, this is his first encounter. And what an initiation!
The scraps ran out and then the show was over for another night. Some of the group was walking back to town, and although I didn't really feel it was a danger, it was still nice to go back in the cab. On the way back we stopped to get Stef some coffee beans - Nebel knew someone who could supply some that late. He got out the car and left us in the pitch dark, and as our eyes adjusted we noticed that there were people on the street. Some children came over and peered in through my window, one small boy pressing his face to the glass and cupping his hands around his head. I waved but I'm not sure he could see us. Then Stef leant over and scared the crap out of both me and the lad by switching his torch on. His torch has a really powerful beam, and the reflection in the window shocked me enough. But I could see the whites of the boy's eyes as they flew open in shock - he threw his mouth wide to scream and then shot off into the night. Poor kid. I laughingly berated Stef, and he apologised, not realising the light would be quite so bright.
Nebel returned with a kilo of Ethiopian coffee, and we drove back to the hotel. Probably due to his earlier tchat munching, Nebel was wide awake and so he sat on the balcony with us as we ate a late dinner. We talked about all kinds, about how the Bradt author Philip Briggs had been there a few months earlier, about what we do back in England, about how strange relationships are. Very sweetly, he mentioned how nice we seemed together, Stef and I, and how it was obvious that we got on well and loved each other a lot.
Then he discovered he had lost his watch. He was quite distressed about it - I think more for the sentimental value it held than anything else. He went off to look for it but came back empty handed.
By this time Stef and I were completely knackered and we were trying to draw the conversation to a close. We had to be up ridiculously early again for the bus to Nazret, and I didn't feel like being sleepy for the journey. Being completely unable to stay awake but having nowhere to rest your head whilst on a bumpy hot bus has to be one of the most uncomfortable sensations around.
As we were saying goodnight, I noticed at large shadowy shape flit across the street over Nebel's shoulder. It seemed to run into the doorway to the compound area next-door to the hotel. I didn't say anything, but a short while later a shout went out and there was some activity. It was a hyena, and it was sniffing around peoples' doorways down in the compound. I was glad we were up on the 1st floor.