Saturday, January 18, 2014

Let the Festivities Begin. Timket!

Clergy, choirs and umbrellas.  Some of the hallmarks of Timket festivities in Gondar.

we left our hotel in Lalibela at 9am this morning to catch our 11:30a flight to Gondar where we will be spending next few days experiencing Timket and doing a lot of sightseeing. The flight was only 30 minutes. Our guide in Addis, Belay ("buh-lai"), who everyone tells me is the owner of the local tour company that is running our tour and was suppose to accompany us from the get go but was not able to, was waiting to meet us. It was good to see his familiar face.

As we exited the terminal, Belay then introduced us to Haile who turns out would be our guide until we return to Addis in about 5 days time. Waiting outside the van was our driver, Hameed (sp?)

Luggage piled into the van and we all boarded. It was pretty the same type of van as what we've been driving around in so everyone assumed the same seats that they've been occupying the last few days - Sam in the front passenger seat and me right behind him.

We pulled out of the parking lot into a sea of vehicles. We were back in the city. Such a change from Lalibela where donkeys out number vehicles at least by 10 to 1. :-)


The landscape in Gondar is much greener than that of Lalibela though it's still pretty arid looking to me. I don't think it gets any more rain but being located near Lake Tana, I think water from small rivers and tributaries that feed into Lake Tana make the ground much more conducive to plant life.

It was about 20 kilometers from the airport to the hotel. As we drove along, Haile was already beginning to give us background information on Gondar including the fact that during the Italian occupation of Gondar, the city served as a military base for the Italians - hence the former Italian barracks.

More cars than Lalibela but just as many people walking everywhere!


We're staying in another tourist class hotel - this time in the center of town. Belay got us checked in and handed the keys to each of us. So nice to have a guide handle all the little details for you though we've been doing fine without one for the past several days. People have noticed how much more disorganized the tour has been without a lead guide. Hopefully, things will get better from this point forth.


In the heart of downtown Gondar, heading to our hotel.

As I was settling into my room, I glanced down at my shoes which were a light blue color when I started this trip.  A layer of Lalibela dust has turned them some odd shade....dusky blue perhaps?

Once we got checked in, we headed down to the hotel restaurant for lunch. Buffet lunch and it was okay. A few minutes after we sat down for lunch, we heard the sound of music and singing just outside the restaurant. It was a procession of some sort. According to one of the hotel employees, the procession was part of Timket celebrations. Timket, or Epiphany as its known in English, commemorates the baptism of Jesus by St. John in the River Jordan. Timket is the largest and most significant religious holiday in Ethiopia. The tradition is that the day before Timket, each church in town takes its copy of the Ark of the Covenant to one of two communal places in town - one is the pool of a former palace and I don't know what the other one is. I don't know how many churches there are in town - someone said 44 and someone else said 13. In any event, each church has its own procession. All the churches going to the same place e.g., the palace pool, march to an agreed upon meeting place and from there, march as a group to the final destination. Our afternoon was spent watching the collective parade.

The Ark of the Covenant is carried under the protection of the umbrellas. 

There's a crew of men rolling and unrolling two carpest for the clergy to walk on as they proceed down the street.

Everyone is either fully dressed or draped in white which is the color of Christianity  here.  It was really hot day in Gondar and people were holding up umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun.  It was a hat and sunscreen day for me!

Church procession heading towards a central meeting area where they will meet up with the processions from the other churches.  From that point, they will all march towards the pool where the Arks will be left overnight.

After lunch, we followed Haile out to the street where we saw a processional group getting ready to march. As much as we wanted to stay and watch them, Haile had us moving on. We headed down towards the center of town. Somewhere along the way, we lost Jean so Haile went in search for her. I think Belay was with her so we knew she was in good hands and so we continued our walk.

Lots of celebrating going on. As always, I'm too short to see what's going on.

Break in the crowd.  I managed to catch a brief glimpse of the clergy.  The Ark is somewhere under the umbrella.

Everywhere, groups of young men would be dancing and singing.  According to Haile, some sing religious songs while others pick popular pop songs to dance to.

Main square in town.  Quiet for now.  In less than a couple of hours, it would be packed with people.

We eventually ended up at Gondar's Post Office which had a terrace that was the perfect viewing platform. A few other tour groups also had the same idea. None of us were sure how we would know when the parade would start so all we could do was keep our eyes peeled on the street.


The small square in front of the building was relatively quiet but in no time, it filled up with people. Young men, singing and dancing, started to make their way down the street towards us.

Lots of men on horseback. 

There's nothing to announce the start of the procession of the Arks so we just kept waiting and watching.

Way in the distance is the town square which is now filled with shoulder to shoulder bodies.

Another group of young men, dressed in green, singing and dancing their way along the procession route.

Here's a snippet of what the atmosphere was like.


Yet another group of singing and dancing men. This group was outfitted in shirts imprinted with the flag of Ethiopia.  Very colorful!

A small truck, with a banner atop, approached.  We didn't know what it was all about but we were certain it was related to the procession.

Here's the truck.   The banner is of an image of Jesus Christ being baptized by St. John.  This is the start of the procession! 

The crowd has grown so massive, the truck can barely move!

Another float followed.  This one had two young boys sitting atop.  Haile explained the float but it was long explanation - sorry, can't remember what he said.

The second float trying to make its way down the street.

A young boy sitting atop the float.  The image of the lion represents the Lion of Judah which represents the tribe that Jesus is believed to hail from.

The choirs from the various churches were all together.  There was a lot of joyous singing.  It was quite a sight to see and hear!

Every church choir wearing a different color but all singing in unison.

The first few seconds of the video are fuzzy but it gets better.  Enjoy the sights and sounds of the choirs!

Somewhere under the flotilla of umbrellas are the Arks from 13 churches.  Haile clarified that there are 44 churches in town but only 13 participated in the procession.

Just minutes before the flotilla of umbrellas made their way to where we were standing.  The crowd is massive but well behaved.  I guess you don't get rowdy at a religious event.

I loved the choir outfits; each church's slightly different from the other.

Here come the umbrellas! 

Men unrolling the carpet.

Everyone was straining to see the Arks.  Ironically, none of us had no idea what to look for :-)

Clergry surrounding the copies of the Ark of Covenant which are shielded by the umbrellas.

The Arks making their way through the crowds.  There ware a few guards trying to keep people back but even with that, there was such a mass of people that the clergy and their precious cargoes of boxes had to snail their way along.



After the Ark passed by us, Haile waved us to follow him to a short cut that led out to a street where we actually arrived ahead of the Ark. We quickly got swept up in the crowd and not wanting to get left behind, I held on tightly to Gale's hand. We made sure we didn't get separated and that we kept up with the rest of the gang.

I'm walking right behind Haile.  That's him in the gray Dolce & Gabbaba (yes, a knockoff) sweatshirt.  I head the camera low so it would not look like I was videotaping - don't really why that mattered.

At street level, walking behind Sam and Judy.  The float with the young boys sitting atop was just making its way by us.

It was a day filled with people dressed in colorful outfits!

In no time, we got swept up into the procession.

We were just ahead of the float with the two young boys atop it.

One of the young boys posing.  I think the white globes in front of him are ostrich eggs which Orthodox Ethiopian Christisnas consider to be sacred objects

Watching the float go by.

A joyous crowd and a poor policeman trying to keep the procession route a clear one.

We headed down the streets of Gondar. Then Haile had us head up the second floor of a building where there was a balcony overlooking the processional route. It seemed like an eternity before the procession would pass beneath us but it did. We had the perfect vantage point to see everything. I loved the singing - it really brings a festive atmosphere to the whole celebration.

Our vantage point from the balcony.  Streets were crowd free.  That would soon change!

When we arrived on to the balcony,. there was a handful of other spectators.  That would soon change too!

Across the street, balconies were also beginning to fill up.

Even the sheep (family pet?) wanted a front row seat!
This we didn't see earlier - men laying down straw for the procession to walk over.


It's Saturday today so everyone is off from work and school.  Felt like the whole town was out and about on the streets of Gondar.

If your path to the pasture or home runs through town, then you and flock must go through town!

Street filled up fast.

More men singing and dancing.  Wonder why the women don't get into the act? 

Timket is an auspicious time to get married.  In fact, January is the popular month for weddings in Ethiopia.  We saw quite a few brides on horseback, being led through the streets by their groom.


As the streets filled up with people, so did our little balcony.  Two little munchkins squeezed in front of me.  I know what it feels like to be short so I gladly made room for them.

It was a veritable mob scene by the time the first float made its way past us.

The smoke is from incense and the music is from the choirs.

My absolute favorite part of the entire processional parade was watching and listening the church choirs perform. Two Ethiopian women were standing right next to me and they started to sing and sway to the beat. Every now and again, one would make the trilling (??) sound that is so commonly heard in this part of the world. Before I knew it, I found myself tapping my feet to the beat. It's very infectious.





Watch for yourself!


Then it was time for the Arks to appear.

Rolling out the carpeting....to the joyous sounds from the choirs.


And finally, the procession of clergy and the Arks.  We had great view thanks to Haile!!

It was barely a few seconds of a view but I finally caught glimpse of one of the boxes containing the Ark.


Once the processional passed us by, we followed Haile back down to the street where we continued walking. Our destination was the palace pool.

It was quite a long walk, though a very pleasant one - under the shade of tall trees. We eventually arrived at an open area where one section was terraced.


This whole time, I've had no idea what was happening or about to happen. I just decided to go with the flow so whatever waits us at the palace pool is what awaits us.  I later learned that we were at what is referred to as the Bathing Palace of Emperor Fasilidas who ruled Ethiopia from 1632-1667.  It was Fasilidas who made Gondar the capital of Ethiopia. 

Haile had mentioned something about benches and when I saw the terraces, I thought that's what he was talking about. But it was not. Instead, we stood on one side of a long stretch of red carpet. In front of the carpet was a large wooden door.


We stood in our spots for quite some time until Haile waved us forward. Gale and I immediately grabbed for the other one's hand - we move as one :-) We were making our way through the wooden door which had opened up. On the other side were the palace grounds.


There, we followed Haile to what was essentially the front row. We had about an hour to wait before the procession and the Ark would arrive. At one point, Carol, Gale and I left our positions and joined the rest of the group who were standing quite a few feet away from us. Best for the group to be together. As a result, the three of us ended up standing behind a group of nuns who were seated on the ground in front of us. They were obviously there to witness the arrival of the Ark just as we were.

The front of Emperor's bathing palace. The pool is located behind.

Pat holding up a candle that Haile bought for us.  I was a bit uncertain about carrying anything lit in this crowd plus it would make it impossible for me to take photos so I passed my candle over to someone else.

The nuns sitting in front of us.  Several spectators tried to sit in front of them (so rude) and the guards rightfully pushed them back.  Please....give the nuns the first row seats!

The nun who was seated just in front of me locked eyes with me at one point and started to speak to me. She kept pointing to herself and kept repeating the word "Bueno". I had no idea what she was saying. Then she kept repeating the words "Si" and "Grande". Didn't sound Amharic to me but then I don't know Amharic. I decided to have Haile do some translation so I called him over. He and the nun chatted for a few seconds and then he explained to me that she was actually speaking Italian. She is of the generation that was born and raised during the Italian occupation so that is her mother tongue. He had to ask her to speak in Amharic so he could figure out what she was saying. He told me that she said that I was "young". If she only knew exactly how old I am:-)

A clergy man walking by.  The staff and horse tail wand he holds is typical symbols of Orthodox Ethiopian Christianity.

A nun holds up her staff which also doubles as a support cane.  The symbol on the top represents the horns of a goat.

Clergy a-waitin'

....and they wait.

Camera crews get into position.  Of course, they have the best spots but given where they were relative to us, I began to wonder what we would see from our vantage point.

By dusk, the lights were turned on but the procession had still not yet arrived.

A bit of a panoramic view of the Bathing Palace and its grounds.

Twilight and still no procession.

As we stood in the crowd, the sun soon began to set. By the time we heard the music and singing that proceeds the arrival of the Ark, it was already night and dark. The crowd started to push forward. Gale and I locked arms and hung on to the others so we all moved as a group. It was too dark and I'm too short to have been able to see what was going on. Someone pointed out the umbrellas that shield the Ark. I did manage to capture one photo but that was it.

It was pitch black night when we heard the choirs and then saw the umbrellas.  Strange thing is that the procession arrived quite a distance from where we had been waiting so we had to rush forward....and so did everyone else.  It was a mob scene in the dark.  A bit scary at times. 

Unfortunately, because it was dark and we were frequently moving about, it was impossible to take photos. Doesn't help either that I'm so short - I tried to hold up the camera as high and as still as I could.  The white blobs on the right side of the photo are the umbrellas shielding the Arks.

I tried video and it's a wee bit better.

Procession going by.

There were people singing and dancing all around us. Even Haile got into the act. I tried to capture it on video but unfortunately, it was just too dark. Still, it was nice to capture the sounds on video - everyone was just having so much fun!

The sounds of a jubilant crowd celebratiing!

As the procession neared its end, we made our way out of the palace complex. From start to finish, we had spent nearly 5 hours watching the procession. It truly did not feel like that much time had flown by but it's easy to lose track of time when something interesting is taking your attention. The whole event was pretty surreal - the crowds, the singing and dancing, the carrying of the Ark - all in devotion of the baptism of Christ. This is truly a very religious country.

Riding back to the hotel.

We only had to walk a short distance before we met up with our van. Haile had arranged for the driver to pick us up and take us to a restaurant for dinner. We first had to stop at the hotel to pick up Jean. When we got to the hotel, there was a lot of confusion about how to find Jean - no one knew what room she was in. Then, there was disagreement on whether or not we should go out for dinner. Some folks, including me, were willing to skip dinner in favor of just resting. I went in search of Haile and found Belay who told me that Jean had told him that she was not interested in going out to dinner. I told him that there was no consensus among the group members either. Long story short, we opted out of going out for dinner. Those who wanted to eat, dined in the hotel's restaurant and those who preferred to rest, headed back to their rooms.

Tomorrow, we are leaving the hotel at 4:30a - I think to see the procession of the Ark back to their respective churches.....I think but I don't know for sure at this point. I'll find out tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, I'm going to call this an early night. The procession was sheer sensory overload for me and I need to detox my senses not to mention that I need a good night's rest - tomorrow is going to be a long day!

Goodnight from Gondar!