Priest holding traditional taper
Yesterday (9th April) was Palm Sunday or Hosanna – the Sunday before Easter. It is a very special day in the Orthodox church commemorating Jesus’s march into Jerusalem on a donkey with Palm fonds laid before him. It is marked with palms (worn by many worshippers on hands or head), processions and special services in the church.
Ethiopia is now in the last week of Great Lenten fast or Hudadi, this last week of Hudadi is commonly known as Holy Week, or the “Week of Pains” or the Himamat and is the strictest part of Lent. During Himamat no absolution is given, and during this week the fast becomes yet more rigorous. For some strict worshippers, having broken the fast after mass on Thursday they will not eat any food nor drink even a drop of water until Easter morning. So they totally abstain for all of Good Friday (or Sekelet) and Saturday, breaking this fast after the church service that goes through the night on Saturday, finishing at around 3am on Sunday morning. These three days are known as “Qanona”. The priests neither eat nor drink but remain in the churches singing and praying incessantly.
No other major religion has such penitential fasting. For the strict observers of the fast, the 55 days of Lent are very tough on the body. Fasting in Ethiopia not only means a vegan diet but also means many hours of no food or drink. Each fasting day the observer will not eat of drink anything from the time they wake up until after the mass in the middle of the day is finished in church for many that means 3-4pm. Two simple meals may then follow, a late ‘lunch’ or more properly ‘break-fast’, and a light supper in the evening. What is staggering is that there is no drinking – not water, not coffee, nothing – during those fasting hours.
On Easter Sunday chicken, cheep, goats and cattle are dispatched for the pot as the fasting comes to an end in no uncertain terms. Sunday sees piles of sheep skins on street corners, to be picked up by small dealers in trucks. For the days leading up to Easter flocks of sheep and goats as well as herds of oxen were driven by herders into the city, chickens were driven in trucks and pick ups. They are sold at impromptu markets all over the city to be slaughtered in back yards. Prices of livestock more than double for Easter. Sheep come to Addis with drovers bringing them across countryside from several hundred miles away, across Shoa and even as far as Wollo.
After Easter there is no fasting not even on Wednesdays and Fridays until after Pentecost on 4 June (Parakilitos). In the countryside the end of the fasting is celebrated in different ways. In Tigray priests are feted with parties held by different households from their parish. In Wollo I have seen the girls making swings from rope to hand off trees and play on them singing songs, while the boys have javelin contests. Its also a second wedding season as people like to get married before the rainy season and after the fasting. These are enjoyable times in the countryside, and if you have the chance to spend a week or so up in the countryside on a Tesfa Trek in Wollo, Tigray or the Simiens you will be a very welcome guest and participant at the celebrations.
Happy tourists on Mnt Abuna Yoseph
The British FCO has now removed the travel advise against non essential travel to Eastern Amhara, (including Lalibela and the Meket & Lasta Community Treks). [See here] This means UK insurance companies policies will be valid for visits to these areas.
This change in advise has also been taken by many other western governments, all of whom have realised travel in Northern Ethiopia is safe for tourists (and has been for some time now!)
What about Gondar, Bahir Dar and the Simiens?
Giyorgis festival in Meket, villagers ready to welcome tourists
Well the British still advise against non-essential travel to these areas. We sincerely hope this will be lifted in the coming weeks too. Other western countries no longer give advise against travel even in the western parts of Amhara and Tourists are traveling though these places in quite large numbers with no problem. I myself will be traveling to the Simiens, Gondar and Bahir Dar next week and will report on my trip with photos.
If you are visiting to places where the FCO advises
Lalibela – a subterranean labyrinth of passageways
against non-essential travel, then do check with your insurance company to see if your insurance will still be valid. Some companies will provide cover for medi-vac, and other services (but not political evacuation) for areas to which the FCO advises against. Examples are TAG and BUPA Global.
So how about you plan your trip for Christmas and New Year now before all the good slots get taken! We can arrange wonderful treks on the Meket plateau or climbing mount Abuna Yoseph (4,300 m peak and home to a pack of Wolves), and give you time to make a visit to Lalibela with its labyrinth of subterranean rock hewn churches.
Tash McCarroll photo – Cloud gathering around the mountains near Erar
“A few friends and I spent a four day weekend at the end of May trekking in Tigray organised by Tesfa Tours. It was a few days that felt like weeks away from the bustle of Addis and work and we were treated to hiking in some of the most stunning landscape I have ever seen.” Tash McCarroll. Read this account of a trek in Tigray, illustrated with some of the most fabulous photos. (You will see some in the up coming Tesfa Calendar)
Curtesy of Tash McCarroll, portrait of a girl in Shimbrety.
Curtesy of Tash McCarroll, Low cloud around Erar, on a Tesfa Trek
The new Tesfa calendar is ready now. It runs from 1Sep 2012 – 31 Aug 2013.
Below is an example of one of the months pages showing common monthly Saints’ days and other holidays
This is one of other monthly photographs featured- a shot taken from one of the Tigray community guest houses
Copies available from our office. We do ask for a donation towards the community tourism. We can post abroad.
Congratulations to Simon Nazer for his great shot of tea at Mequat Mariam. Have a look at the photo in the Guardian competition
Tesfa Tours, in a meeting with representative for all the Meket communities, the local management of TESFA CbT, representatives from the Guides, and the head of Meket Woreda, agreed new prices for the new season to start from 01 August 2011. These prices take into account the devaluations in the birr over the last 12 months and the increase in costs in Ethiopia.
The basic price will now be 800 birr + VAT per night, with the communities still keeping the same percentages: –
Hosting Community – 380 birr (47.5%)
Community providing Lunch – 55 birr (6.9%)
Guiding Enterprise – 205 birr (25.6%)
Marketing & booking contribution – 160 birr (20%)
These new prices will be likely adopted by all TESFA Communities.
Our intention is to keep the prices at around $45USD per night. If there is any major devaluation we may need to change the prices before the end of the 2011/12 season.