Today marks the celebration of Eastern in the western world. By the Ethiopian Orthodox calender, Easter or "Fasika" as it is locally named, is still one week away. This morning I attended a Sunday mass at St. George Church. As I listened to the service, given in Amhraic, the national language, I heard the term "Fasika" come up frequently.
Below are some images from the scene at St. George Church. Happy Easter to all.
The top of St. George Church has a cross carved in the roof
St. George Church as seen from above, Lalibela, Ethiopia
The church was created by chiseling out the bedrock. As you approach the church from town, you have to avoid falling into a deep canyon created by the construction of the church. To enter the church itself, you have to descend via a few tunnels and smaller canyons to reach the "ground" level which is actually some 50 feet below ground.
Worshipers looking down on St. George Church from above
Looking up from ground level at St. George Church
Man and Juniper Tree near St. George Church
Deacons pouring water to worshiper at St. George Church
Inside St. George Church morning light pours in through a small window
Reading Holy Texts, St. George Church
Deacons and Girls, St. George Church
Reading Holy Texts written in Amharic
Listening to the words of the Priest
Priest Reading, St. George Church
Worshipers listening to the sermon from ground level
Kids obeserving from above
Deacons Reading Holy Text
Man with Cross
Aside from visiting the churches, I've been spending a lot of time with Befakadu's family and eating meals them. The food is excellent, ranging from injera and sauces to rice, breads and vegetables. Hearing Befakadu's life story is really fascinating as well. He has seven children and operates a small health clinic in town. It is a good feeling to be welcomed into his family, eating together and talking. Last night we ate at a neighbors house, it was amusing to watch Befakadu try to fend off the encouragement to eat more and more. I am happy though, people are nice to me, and don't force feed me too much :)
In addition to the postie vibes from his family, there's still a lot of negativity I find out on the streets. Today, for the first time in about ten years, someone threw rocks at me. The last time that happened I was in high school. A class mate threw a rock and it hit me in the head. I remember getting very, very upset at my classmate.
The cross-Africa cyclists I got to know in Addis told me that kids would often throw rocks at them, even baseball sized rocks. They said they usually stopped their bikes and returned fire, but it happened to them so often that they would not cover terrain if they didn't pedal through most of the "battles." Hearing this really surprised me. Why would kids throw rocks at people on bikes? I mean, why harm someone who is doing nothing wrong to you? How could you have learned that that was an acceptable thing to do?
Yesterday I saw a local kid throw a small rock at a local girl and it hit her in the leg. She then began to cry, and there was a police officer who saw the whole thing but didn't do anything. I also saw some kids fighting in the streets. Although the fight seemed like play, testical-grabbing and eye-poking were included in the range of techniques employed... not exactly my idea of play...
Facial recognition is a really important element of learning how to live in this world, even from a young age. That is how we learn to identify our family members: mother, father, etc. In this case though, it is also how you identify an outsider. Travelers generally look different than the people around here, and the kids are learning from a young age how to see the difference. Noticing the difference is one thing, but acting differently towards a person based on what they look like is another thing. As I understand it thats the defintion of descrimation or predjuice.
Most of the time when I walk around town here, I hear kids say to themselves "farangi" and then come running. Often the first thing they ask is for me to give them something. Verbal exchange with most people I encounter around here seems to be quickly geared towards what they can get out of me. I doubt this culture is inherent to the society, but rather develops through positive feedback. These behavoirs could also evolve with positive or negative feedback. Closer to the UNESCO sites, there are tourist police who enforce the "Don't Bother Visitor" policy with strict punishments. Further away from the churches, though, all police presence controlled behavior vanishes.
Today I was walking along the main street during the midday sun. People of all walks of life were out: adults, children, teen-agers. A few kids about the age of three started trailing me and begging for pens and money. After I refused, one of them began playing with the string on my backpack and generally annoying me. When they began to play with my backpack, I turned around to scold them and they ran ahead of me laughing. They stayed a good distance ahead of me, and right as I turned by back and walked into the gates of my hotel, they threw rocks at me. Luckily none of them hit me, but I dropped my back and ran after them. I chased them as fast as I could (damn a three year old can run fast!) and then followed them into a nearby collection of houses. The teenage girls there hid the kids in the house and closed the door. One of the girls looked very scared, as if I was going to attack her. I made some gestures that the kids threw rocks at me, but it was futile. I can't really speak the local language so I turned around and got the owner of my hotel and he went over there and talked to them. I'm not sure how he can resolve an encounter like this. I suggested to him to forget it, as it isn't really his responsiblity for the behavoir that surrounds his hotel.
After seeing subsequent people's faces after I told them the story, it seemed to surprise people that kids would do that to me. I suppose even by three years old you can learn to play with/beg and even attack people who look different than you. I think this issue of prejudice or racism is a lot larger than just this village, and thus I feel doubtful that I, alone, can change the momentum.
If another kid throws rocks at me, I'm going to chase him down again. It was fun running as hard as I could. Maybe the next time, I'll grab his arms and look him in the eye and try to talk to him. Or maybe I'll experiment with whatever comes to my mind at the time.
One thing is for sure, I am ethically opposed to inflicting harm or encouraging more violence or enacting any revenge. I only think this will cause more problems. Although I have seen my fair share of physical scolding in the past places I've visited recently.
As I near the end of a long journey, I try to remind myself that I'm the one who brought myself here. I also try to learn something from these experiences as wacky as they seem at the time. I think I can learn from almost anything. The temptation to bail to my peaceful home in central New York comes strong at times, especially now! For now, I'm committed to sticking it out. I've only got twelve days left in Africa.
I just hope nothing baseball sized hits me in the head over the next few days. Smaller hits I can withstand. I don't want to become disabled to learn these lessons. More soon.