Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ethiopia: Camels and Osama in Babile, Harar, Day 7, Thursday

The camel market! Visions of colorful blankets and tassels and cushions adorning the animals; people calling out to each other; hustling and bustling in a bazaar-like atmosphere. Maybe that's at the Monday camel market, but this was Thursday.

Photo credit: zz77


Thursday at the Babile Camel Market (about an hour from Harar) is a hot and dusty field enclosed by a not unattractive cement-block wall overlooking a beautiful vista of mountain paths and unusual rock formations. Men hang about chatting. Camels - and there are plenty! - stand around, sometimes lie around - in groups. A few women.

There is, of course, always the would-be guide hopeful of some (in this neck of the woods) baksheesh in return for his so-called services. One such urged me to follow him to a particular location in this vast field, while I, like a recalcitrant donkey, persisted in going my own way, thank you very much.

Photo credit: Carole Rich

On several occasions I found myself in the center of a circle of men, which felt a little odd. They shot me questions (the usual) and I responded. (Once a woman approached me to try out her French. We did exchange a brief conversation in same, taxing our limited vocabularies.)

Some folks encouraged me to buy a camel (50,000 birr) because, after all, I was rich. I demonstrated to each joker that I could not fit a camel into my bag ... (isn't there a Biblical verse along these lines?)

Another guy suggested I buy him a cup of tea, to which I responded that everyone would like the same, and I estimated up to 100 people here, and besides, he and his compadres had now been interviewing me for 15 minutes, so he should be buying ME a cup of tea.

In each circle where I found myself, at turns, the individual with the best English translated his companions' and my questions and comments. In one circle, the translator pointed to a man outside the circle, "He says he is Osama bin Laden." I looked over at the guy and said, "Hey, we've been looking for you! There's a reward! Come with me!" Later, the guy said he was a soldier for bin Laden. Who know; maybe so.

Photo credit: motionpictureart

Another individual, a Somali, said he was on the refugee list to go to America; his brother was already in Dallas. I think he expected his name to come up in two years.

Eventually, I moseyed out, ready to get back into Harar. A couple of boys attached themselves to me en route, again as would-be guides, later asking me for baksheesh as I got on the return minibus. No.

The minibus ride back was fun - lots of back-and-forth among the passengers and with me. I regurgitated, upon request, my vast Amharic and Oromiffa vocabularies, plus my one word in Somali, learned just
that day -- "nebbit" (hello).

We were stopped for a military search just outside Harar, with all of us being patted down and our bags peered into. The driver said they looked for contraband guns; another person later said contraband
electronics from Djibouti. Probably both.

Back in Harar, I sought out a woman vendor who'd gifted me two bananas in the morning. She and I had exchanged friendly shouts of "faranjo!" and "habesha!" along with smiling, Ethiopian chin-and-brow lifts. I
bought a kilo of mangoes, then distributed most of them among the hotel guards and other hotel staff at the entrance, then ate the rest for my lunch. Juicy.

In the afternoon, I put in some time in the internet, then picked up tiny potato-and-hot pepper sambozas for dinner, along with a small round of traditional country bread for breakfast in the bus tomorrow.

I wish I could stay longer in Harar. Sean McLachlan, the online travel writer, told me of the pleasure of walking in the walled city (Jugal) by moonlight. In the narrow, curving, cobblestoned streets, a hyena might brush against your thigh as it made its silent night-time rounds.

Sean was also in the practice of spending an entire day hanging out with a tailor in his streetside shop. I saw Sean doing exactly that one day. Borrowing Sean's idea, I would spend an entire afternoon and evening with a woman vendor, pulling up my own stool to sit under her umbrella. Maybe I'd even shout out "faranjo!" when I saw one pass. Or maybe I'd shout out "habesha!" to all Ethiopians who walked by.

But not enough time for either of these things.

As it was, I showered with my bathroom light turned off so I could look up at Harar's full moon through the high window.

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