Monday, January 20, 2014

Timket in the Field.

Posing with the women I met in the village of Gondar Kossoye Kebre.

Road trip day! I love road trips and this is the first one we've had so I was really looking forward to it. We all piled into the van for the two hour to Simien National Park where we would get to have a bit of a hike and (fingers crossed) meet up with some gelada baboons which can only be found in Ethiopia and only in this region.

It was nice to leave the hustle and bustle of Gondar behind and finally be able to see some countryside. A short distance outside of town and the flat landscape turned arid.  Acacia trees dotted the ground.


At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much arable or grazing land here but we did pass by quite a few shepherds leading their flocks to graze for the day.


It was amazing how quickly the landscape turned though.

Next thing you know, we're high up in the mountains.  Sadly, pollution created a blurry view but it was spectacular nonetheless.  We made a quick pit stop for photos.

A panaoramic view.

As we were cruising along, Haile all of a sudden had the driver pull over the shoulder.  Villagers, all dressed in white, were gathered in a nearby field.  It was a local Timket celebration.  We were all thrilled to happen upon it and when Haile asked if we were interested in taking a closer look, we all jumped at the opportunity.  We later found out that Haile himself had never been to a village Timket celebration so he was as excited as we were to be able to witness it.


I ran down the embankment as quickly as I could and soon found myself wandering in and among the village people. I am sure I was a bit of an oddity to them - strange looking person, this Asian being.

I was completely fascinated by everything happening around me so much so I completely forgot to take photos. Men, women, and children were all gathered around the area where the village clergy were performing the Timket rituals. Off to one side, a tent had been set up. There was a man seated on the ground receiving what l guess were offerings from the villagers - some people offered money while others handed over grain.

As Haile had told us, no one minded our presence.  In fact, I know that they were curious about a few of us - including me, the sole Asian standout.  I am an oddity in this part of the world.

Walking among the villagers.  I tried to be discreet with taking photos and video. 

The service was taking place and although I was taller than most of the village women I was standing behind, I was still too short to really capture good video.  Sigh.

Village clergy, draped in white, standing with their staffs.

The service was underway.  Trying to get close enough to the clergy to either take photos or shoot video was impossible so I decided to hand my camera to Haile.  Not only is he much taller than I but I figured that as an Ethiopian man, he could probably get closer to the action.  Whether or not he could take good video was another matter but at this point, I just wanted to have something to remember the moment by.  Luckily, for me, he agreed.  Only concern was that I only had about 4 minutes of video left on my camera so hopefully, he can capture some good video in that time frame.

Here's Haile's video with 6 seconds of video left on the camera!!  I'm very happy with how it turned out.
There were definitely  some scenes I would never had been able to get!

While Haile was busy with my camera, I walked around the field to take in the views.  As so often happens, I find myself gravitating towards the women.

The friendly face is the second one on the left.  The women always seem shy at first but once you get them talking, they are ever so friendly.

I walked around a bit and then found myself standing next to a group of older village women. It was obvious that they were as curious about me as I was about them. One woman in particular caught my attention. I think it was the gentle look in her eyes and her warm smile that drew me to her. I immediately took her hand held it up to my cheek and forearms so she could feel my skin and then I lifted it so she could feel my hair. We both smiled at each other. I had gone through this same greeting ritual countless times when I was traveling through the Dogon villages in Mali where for many villagers, the sight of an Asian person is a rarity. I repeated the same greeting for several of the other women who had no gathered in front of me. I then pointed to myself and said "China". Surprisingly, they all nodded their heads - they understood the word. I would like to think that I was the first Asian person that they had ever encountered and that I set a good example for any of my cultural counterparts who they might cross paths with in the future.

Lucky for me, Haile was standing nearby so I asked him to come over so I could have him interpret for me. We started with the basic question of "What is your name?" The woman who first caught my attention replied, "Dinkneh". I don't know if that's how her name is actually spelled so I'm interpreting it based on what I heard. I repeated what I thought her name was pronounced and it took a couple of tries before I got it right. Lots of giggling at each of my failed attempts. I then pointed to my chest and said, "Julee". She quietly repeated what I said. Not right but no matter. She still has a name she can say when she tells others about this moment in time. The same question was asked of several of the other women but I don't recall any of them. Ethiopian names are not the easiest to remember unless you're somehow named after Haile Selassie.

I wanted to leave a contribution behind so I asked Haile for 100 birr which I folded up and gently placed into the woman's hand. She immediately held me by the shoulders and gently pulled me towards here to give me the traditional Ethiopian greeting which is to touch shoulders - right to right and then left to left. This was followed by an invitation to her house for injera. Such a gracious offer to a complete stranger! I was truly touched. According to Haile, villagers are extremely friendly and it's not uncommon for them to invite you to their homes for a meal. I had Haile thank her for the invitation and to explain that we were traveling and had to leave soon. But before we parted ways, I asked if I could have a photo taken with them. Haile did the shutter honors. This ranks as one of my favorite travel group photos from all my trips. 


I waved to the women as I walked away. I headed back to watch the clergy perform the Timket rituals. They had reached the point where the Archbishop was going around and blessing anyone who wanted to be blessed. I asked Haile if I could be blessed and he replied, "Of course". I think he thought I was just asking a question out of curiosity but I actually wanted to experience the blessing! I indicated as such to Haile and followed him as he walked towards the Archbishop. I took watched other villagers receive their blessings - the Archbishop touched his right hand on the person's forehead and then the person kissed the palm of the same hand. When it came to me, I felt the touch of a rough palm and then looked down quickly and gently planted a kiss on it. I have been blessed by an Archbishop as part of Timket celebrations in a village field somewhere outside of Gondar, Ethiopia. Now that's a priceless travel moment!

Judy pointed me in the direction of this tent.  In front, villagers were leaving offerings - not sure for who.  Perhaps for the clergy who had come to conduct the Timket service.

It was quite a sight to take in - dozens of villagers congregating in field for a religious service.  Who needs a church?

The men were just as keen to have their photos taken as anyone else.  Mirrors are pretty much non-existent here so seeing their image, played back on a camera, is the first time many of these people have seen what they look like. I can only imagine what that a surprising experience that would be.

By now, I had my camera back and started to take a few photos but I found myself distracted by curious children - some very young and some much older. I found myself drawn to the women and on the way back to the van, I couldn't help but stop to have aconversation with another small group of women. Again, I started with my de facto greeting of touching my check, forearms and hair. That was followed by the question of name and acknowledgement of the word, "China". Sadly I admit, I don't remember any of their names. The one woman kept repeating a sentence over and over again. I called for Haile and he came over to translate. She was inviting me to her house for injera and milk. Another gracious offer! If it had been just me alone traveling with Haile, I would have accepted the offer but traveling with the group, that was just not an option. Another reason why I have to stop traveling on packaged tours - there's just no way to divert from the program of the day. Damn. Once again I had Haile thank them for their offer but that we could not accept because we had to leave. Before going, I quickly took a photo of the women. The one in the center is the one who extended the invitation to me.

I walked back to the van with Haile and on the way, got *talking* with another group of women.....and I left with another invitation for injera and milk from this woman with the turban style wrap on her head.  If it had just been Haile and I traveling, I would have graciously accepted her offer but once again,I asked Haile to graciously decline on my behalf.

Back in the van, we found out that the name of the village we had just been at is Gondar Kossoye Kebre - too small a place to show up on Google Maps.

Our journey towards Simien National Park continues!