Sunday, January 19, 2014

More of Timket - Sunday Mass.



We left the hotel at around 4:40a this morning.  Today is Sunday and we were heading back to Fasilidas's pool to attend Timket mass.  This should be an interesting experience.

Though it was an early departure time, I had hit the sack early last night so when I got the 4:00a wake up knock on the door followed minutes later by a wake up call, I was already in the bathroom brushing my teeth.

I made it to the lobby 20 minutes later and was the first to arrive. One by one, everyone else trickled in.



We made our way back to the palace pool by van - we just had a very short walk but had no clue where we were going and it was hard to see in the dark. We linked arms and pulled each other along :-)

The  man is standing on the wooden poles supporting the bleachers above.  The other people are standing on the *steps* (aka poles tied together) leading up to the bleachers.

Haile led us around the back of a set of wooden bleachers - basically poles tied together or at least that's what it looked like. Haile had made arrangements with a friend to *reserve* i.e., block off a few spaces for us. We stood *in line* to walk up the log ramp to the bleachers - we had to wait for dignitaries to arrive and take their spots before we were allowed to go up. At first, all was okay because there were just a few people around. After an hour, we were still waiting but by this time, it was like a mob scene around us. Soon, the pushing and shoving started and we were squashed in like sardines in a can. It reminded me of what I experienced at the Naadam Festival in Mongolia - a lot of pushing and shoving despite the fact that we had seats in an assigned section of the bleachers.

Haile had warned us about pickpockets so I had prepared accordingly. Everything either in the pocket inside my fleece jacket or in the zippered compartment in the front pocket of my hiking pants. I had fingers crossed that nothing would be taken. Yesterday, I had a bottle of water in those same pants pockets and that served to not only hold the bottle but also to block entry to the pocket. Crude method but it worked!

Even with all the pushing and shoving, we moved at snail's pace up the ramp and to the bleachers. To our left was the King Fasilidas's Bathing pool.  There were decorative banners and lights hung around the pool.  Even with that bit of light, it was still dark for photos - not to mention that every few seconds, I was shoved about this way or that way.  I couldn't see well but I did catch glimpses of people already gathering around the pool.  There were no assigned seats.  Instead, Haile had come to the bleachers at about 2a this morning and had brought a friend with him.  While Haile came to pick us up at the hotel, his friend had stayed behind to essentially *hold* the seats for us. We all kept our fingers crossed that our spots would still be there. Lady Luck was shining down on us because there indeed was a section of bleachers with available seats.  We clamored up and plopped ourselves down.  THANK YOU Haile and friend!!! Once we were in our seats, we had to wait.  There was a bit of a chill in the air - I was glad I had bundled up - sweater and fleece jacket.

Photo and video wise, it was a challenge for me.  The light made it difficult plus we were essentially stuck in one position so there was little variation in terms of angles.  Just images and videos of what was happening before us.
 



More pushing and we eventually made it to our seats which gave us a great view of the pool and the King's summer house. I tried to take a few photos in the dark but quickly gave up - just not enough light.

The bleachers were all packed with people who had arrived earlier.  Considering we left at 4:40a, I wonder what time they left their hotels or perhaps, they spent the night here?

After we scrambled to our seats,  more people were streaming in.  All tourists except for the occasional guide.

From the bleachers, we had a great view of the Palace and the pool.

People were gathering around the pool.  It looked like the clergy were congregating on the left side and on the side directly in front of the bleachers.  I think I used the flash to take this photo so it's not realistic but you can at least make out the people.

It was so hard taking pictures -  I just snapped away.  When I uploaded the photos to Google, the system automatically pieced them together to create a GIF.  Pretty cool.

We waited patiently.  Night soon gave way to day and we could see more the activity happening around the pool.  It looked like the choirs were gathering on the right side of the pool - opposite from the clergy.

Haile had bought more candles for us.  Several folks decided to light theirs.  I opted out - don't think lighting flimsy candles while you're sitting on a set of flimsy wooden bleachers is a good idea.

Finally, when daybreak came, we could see the clergy gathered about.
You can see the people around the pool and a few spectators who found their seats up in the trees!

Close up of the clergy getting ready for mass.

The clergy.

The choir members and spectators hanging from the tree limbs!

The clergy who were standing poolside, just in front of us.

A few clergy had found their prime viewing spots from the windows on the Palace's balcony.

Another view of the scene unfolding before us.  The crowd with every minute that passed.

The Archbishop and Priests who will be conducting the service.

Once service began, we all had to stand for prayer.  After that, the sermon was communicated via loudspeaker.  Of course, non of us non-Amharic speakers had any clue what message was being conveyed.  I was full caught up in soaking up the atmosphere and watching all the activity that was taking place before us.

Lined up and ready for service to begin!

The choir bowing in response during the service.

Service finally gets underway and if not for the unusual surroundings, it is a Christian mass as you would experience in a more traditional church setting.

Not your usual altar scene.

Closer view of the clergy.

They had to stand for quite some time.  No wonder a few were resting on their staffs.

Even a few of the choir members were tired of standing.

Quite a spectacle!  You would never see people sitting up in trees in your typical church ceremony!

The one thing that I learnt about the Ethiopian church is that it is highly symbolic down to the body movements and hand gestures that the clergy make during service to the *accessories* they hold.

Senasel
There are two symbolic body movements and gestures in the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian church.  The first gesture are the clergy repeatedly hitting the ground with their staffs.  This symbolizes the death and resurrection of Christ.  The second gesture is the swaying back and forth symbolizing Christ stumbling as he bore the cross on his way to Golgotha.

In addition to their staff, the clergy also hold special *accessories*.  One is a traditional Ethiopian fly swatter which I later found out (thanks Google!) is known as *ye feres chira* - the swatter part is made from white horsetail.   The other is known as a *senasel*, a liturgical rattle that is a relative of the tambourine.

The clergy repeatedly striking the ground with their staffs.



The clergy swaying back and forth; fly swatters and senasels in hand.

None of us tourists had ever attended service in an Ethiopian church let alone Timket mass before so we had no idea what was going on.  About an hour in to service, Haile pointed out a few young men stripping down to their skivvies.  They were preparing jump into the water.  At the service, the Archbishop will bless the water and then whoever wants to jump into the pool, to commemorate the baptismal of Christ, they can. As service continued, more and more young men shed their clothing.

Three men, far right, at the ready to jump in as service wraps up.

The service ends when the Archbishop takes his cross and dips it into the water.  I cannot believe this but I watched the man do this and I thought I had captured it on video but I must not have had the record button turned on.  DAMN!!  The big moment and I didn't get it!

The instant the cross touched the water, the crowd burst into a huge roar and the young men began to dive into the water.  I saw the first man go in but didn't get it on video either.  Double damn!

Later I had Sam check to see if he had captured both moments and he didn't either.  I guess will both have to go back :-)

Getting ready for the big dive!  According to Haile, even men who are sitting high up in the trees will take the plunge!

And in they go! 

A most unusual ending to a church service.....ever!

It was a chilly morning.  I can only imagine how cold that water must have been!

What the scene looked like from where I was sitting.  I had to hold my camera up high to get a shot above the heads in front of me.  In my next life, I will be a tall man!

After the service was over, we walked back towards town - on the same street that we had strolled along yesterday.  We would head to the hotel for breakfast.

Women, wearing *church white* on their way back to town.

The road was crowded but everyone here is well behaved - no shoving.

A couple of times, floats would make their way by us.  We had no idea what they were all about.

Even the clergy were returning to town on foot.

More joyous singing and dancing. It was indeed a day of celebration!

It was indeed a happy mob scene!

Vendors selling sugar cane (for chewing) and limes.

There's a cute tradition here about the limes.  If a single guy sees a girl that catches his eye, he tosses a lime at her.  If she catches the lime, she's signaling her interest back.  If she is not interested, she simply ignore the lime tossed at her.  We talked Haile into buying a couple of limes but I never saw him toss it any one.  Maybe after he left us?

Haile, there's a pretty girl standing there.  Toss her a lime!

Everyone was dressed in their Timket finest.  I particularly loved the green outfits with the green buttons, a style that is typical of Lalibela but which is quickly being adopted by other regions.  The buttons were used in all sorts of very creative designs.

Haile took all the short cuts.   That's him in the green shirt.  Just in front of us was a man who needed assistance of a cane to walk. We were walking up a hill and amazingly enough, he kept pace with us.

Walking back to our hotel.  Typical of many of the towns in Ethiopia, Gondar has its share of unpaved streets.

By the time we made it to the top of the hill, we were less than a minute walk from the hotel.  Attending Timket mass was an extraordinary experience that I will never forget but, Timket festivities are not over yet.  We will be the procession returning the Arks to their respective churches.  But for now, it's breakfast and a short break before we have to meet back up with Haile.

I'm hungry!