Stories of My Time in Magical Harar

I know it has been awhile and many of you have been waiting for a post.  Once I returned to Texas, I walked directly into chaos.  My semester is going to be nuts!  My next  post will be a recap of the coaching clinic.   As the first part of my recap, I want to talk about my time in Harar.  I will get to talking about the rest of the trip but this was probably my favorite part outside of coaching.  This is my birthday present to you (it was 2 weeks ago).  Let me say this, I would seriously consider moving to Ethiopia.  That is all.   During my time in East Africa, I spent New Year’s Eve and the New Year in Harar, a city in the eastern part of Ethiopia near the border of Djibouti and Somalia.  It was very different from any place I’ve been.  Harar is quite Ethiopian, but then again, it’s really its own place and culturally unique.  I had an amazing time for 2 nights there and will share a bit.  Don’t worry, I didn’t run into ISIS or Al Shabob.  Ethiopia is probably the safest country in the region.  Futher on I’m going to chit chat about Harar itself and some of the things I did there.  I will give a short piece about Habesha friendships, which are a trip for American men.


Main Gate into the Old City of Harar

Main Gate into the Old City of Harar

One thing that makes Harar such a magical place is its religious harmony.  In 2005 the city won a UNESCO peace prize for that specific reason.  The common bond of being Ethiopian transcends any potential tensions of Christians and Muslims in the country, and it’s most evident in Harar.  Ethiopia is largely Orthodox Christian with about 30% of the population being Muslim, mostly in the eastern part of the country.  Harar is historically a Muslim city, said to be 4th most holy city in Islam, founded before the 10th century.  Their records I saw (in Amharic) say the first Emir (ruler) was back in 969 CE and only gained significant Christians in the late 19th century once the empire was annexed into the Ethiopian Empire in 1887 by Emperor Menelik (back then ranked Negus -King- Menelik).  Expanding from the Shewa region, the northern part of Ethiopia has long been Christian for almost 2000 years, Chrisitanity was brought to Harar with the construction of its first church upon annexation.  Harar had a wall built around it that was finished in the 16th century.  Harar “Jugol” is only about 1 square mile in size but there are 82 mosques, 102 (Islamic) shrines, 1 orthodox church, and 1 catholic church.  Where in the world isn’t there a catholic church?  Better yet, where else is there a catholic church and a mosque so close.  They are more common than McDonalds (of which there are none in Ethiopia or international banks, fyi).  Outside of the “Old Town” as they call the walled city, is the rest of Harar, which is still small, and then rural settlements in the hills.  Leaders and people from the Middle East, the USA (especially Texas), Britain, and France could certainly learn a lesson or 2 by residing in Harar for a few weeks.  It’s also worth noting that Harar is the birth place of Emperor Haile Selassie (“Ras” Tafari Mekonnen) the last emperor of Ethiopia until 1974.  That’s actually why I went in the first place.


Yes, in fact I did feed a hyena, twice.  My buddy Kalabe that I met in Harar took me to the feeding grounds outside of the old city.  It’s a bit of a tourist attraction but you have be researching about Harar to find out about it.  There’s an old man who has been feeding them since the 60s and his son does as well now.  They all have names and the old man, Yusef, and his son Abbas treat them as if they were merely pets.  Harar has a very unique connection to hyenas since the city’s founding that Marcus Baynes-Rock does a great job describing on as he is an Australian anthropologist who studies them.  He semi-lived in Harar.  His Penn State dissertation is about the relationship of hyenas and people, and now has a book that is advertised to be much more digestible.

At the site there were about 6 or 7 hyenas present and maybe 12 people consisting of tour guides and tourists.  So I fed the hyena twice, the first time Abbas hung the meat over my head while I was on my knees and the hyena jumped on my back to get it.  That beast is heavy.  When it happened I thought it pushed in an act of disrespect haha.  Kalabe missed the photo.  On the next time later I fed it holding meat on a stick in my mouth.  That recording went much better as I had it recorded and then screenshotted the main part as you see in the photo.

Feeding my date

Feeding my date

The traditional Harari homes are very unique.  I unfortunately didn’t take any photos of the set up but I found some photos online.  They use no furniture like in many countries but it’s such an intimate and unique setting.  They typically have 5 platforms in the main room and the others have 3.  The bottom platforms are lined with pillows and the walls are decorated with tea cups and other traditional items. Each person typically will have a separate building which is the size of a small room with the master being biggest.  All the rooms are encapsulated in a walled enclosure accessible by a front gate.  In the middle of them all is an open aired space.  My friend Kalabe took me to the home of Harari friends, these 3 beautiful girls smoking shisha with their grandma.  I indulged myself in some shisha, question asking, explaining who I am, and mild flirting all through Kalabe.  None of the girls spoke English so he translated into Harari as their Amharic isn’t all that good.  I had him tell the grandmother that once I get wealthy one day I’m going to fly her to build me a Harari styled home and commented on the beauty of the girls (they were about 18, 23, 26 on eyeball).  She said if I got wealthy and flew her out that she’d build my house and give me one of her granddaughters to marry.  So yeah I have a reason to go back now hahaha.  They showed me the full Ethiopian coffee making ceremony which inspired me to later buy a set.  I have almost all of what I need, but almost none of the skill.  I plan to do it every Sunday morning I don’t have somewhere to be  I got 2 bags of coffee which should buy me enough time to figure out how I can import unroasted coffee beans (tell me if you know).   Oh, I’m serious about this.  I even bought lemongrass to put on the floor and incense.  Actually, this caused me to start a mini garden.  More on that later.

layout of Harari homes, I want this

layout of Harari homes, I want this

Casually hanging out in Harar consists of chewing “khat” pronounced chat (and in many parts of east Africa) and drinking coffee. Khat is a mild stimulant in which you chew the leaves and let them soak in your mouth for 5minutes or longer, usually with peanuts to help the flavor and chewing, and then swallow.  It generally takes large amounts to get an effect and people do this for an hour or two at a time either as a part of doing something else or in their leisure time.  It’s illegal in the USA which is why Americans have no idea what it is.  It is done this way in Nairobi too although Ethiopians say theirs is of higher quality because its native there, particularly Harar.  In Mombasa Kenya they use a slightly different plant and chew the bark of the stem with gum to help get juice and spit it out once the wad is intolerably large, usually because of having a lot of gum to chew, like 3+.  I only tolerated 2.  I imagine it’s a more natural version of chew, popular with US baseball players.  Kenyans in Mombasa literally can do this for 5 hours or more from one fist sized bag, I say that because I watched it happen.  I’m personally no fan as I never got chatty as the Ethiopian plant is supposed to cause plus it made my mouth dry and have a subpar taste.  I’m American, I want the effect now haha (cues laughing).  It’s an extremely common thing though in East Africa and is easily the same thing as sharing a case of brews with your buddies in the US.  The plant has a tie with Islamic culture as well and people who use the plant likely aren’t big drinkers.

So let me tell you why I gave you that background.  Over the course of the night after meeting the Harari girls, my friend Kalabe consistently kept mentioning the middle girl, Amena.  I think she was closest to my age and that’s why, or because she made the coffee and hung out the most.  She was very pretty but I wanted my options open haha as the younger one was really attractive.  Anyways, so the next day we had made plans to go back over there, I wanted to have coffee and shisha but Amena is a khat chewer and likes the good stuff.  So here I am in eastern Ethiopia buying gifts for a girl that I personally can’t communicate with, verbally at least.  Oh, Donald.  In my efforts to be concise, I will save that story for another post.  I had been typing it, and it turned out long.  Overview people!  It’s very amusing, you will only see it if you click the subscribe button.  It will be a commentary on all the socializing I did in Harar.   Ask my friends, Donald’s chasing women stories are always something to find amusement in.  Anyways, I spent the rest of the day chewing khat.  Meeting up with Amena didn’t exactly happen as planned, but I chewed with all types of cool people.  Kalabe took me to a friend’s home, where I hung out trying to decipher Amharic.  I was very successful…in my own low standards.  While they talked about a bunch of ra-ra, I successfully deciphered the sound loosely meaning “home”.  It’s pronounced “no-sy” which is precisely what I was!  I also met a Ethiopian born Rastafarian, which was a trip because I could’ve sworn he was from the Caribbean because of his  look and English skill.  From there we went to Kalabe’s house soon after and chewed with his friend, Sintayo.  I literally messed up her name for hours, she would be proud of me for remembering right now.  Thing is, in Amharic, to ask for the price of something, the phrase is “sihn ta nehw?”  FYI It’s not a Latinized language so there’s no correct Latin letter spelling.  Well that phrase sure sounded like her name, I kept messing it up.  I will talk more about these hangout in a later blog, but we hung out and had khat, shisha, and coffee.  It was a very blissful 3 hours of cultural exchange, learning Amharic that I’ve forgotten, teaching Kalabe Spanish, and just enjoying the moment.

Afterwards, because it was New Year’s Eve, for me, we wanted to celebrate.  So I tell my guesthouse owner that it was New Year’s Eve and I wanted to hang out late.  She said “how late?”  I said like 1am.  She laughed.  Almost a hard laugh in fact.  She told me she goes to bed at 10pm and that I should be back by then.  She didn’t laugh when she said that.  Barely smiled.  There was no pleading.  No compromise.  No nada.  It was already 7pm…I made that sound stern, but she was a nice lady, she just wasn’t having that hoopla.  Kalabe then takes me to this lady’s house outside the Old Town to have Ethiopian honeywine.  It was okay, but unfortunately, by the time we got there, my stomach decided it wanted to feel empty.  The honey wine wasn’t exactly weak either.  Here he invites his cousin, Nissarah (read Ni-sar-ah).  We have some deep convo, about our upbringings (in reference to parents) and how it motivates us to be better people and do xyz with ourselves.  It was really a touching moment and rather emotional.  After we have the honeywine we went to this cultural bar.  Kalabe was fairly tipsy, he’s my size but with none of the muscle, and was heckling the waiter to serve faster, at which I had to calm him, and give the waiter many thumbs up, fist pounds, and smiles.  The girls and guys dancing there for the show were great.  I ended up dancing, which was Amhara styled dancing I’m told, very shoulder-first, and very different than in the US, Latin America, and Caribbean.  Lil Bow Wow’s Harlem shake had to be inspired by Ethiopians, he might in fact be Habesha, I dunno man.  But I’d been studying it, and I think I did a decent job.  Also by mixing in my other dance pieces of club style, salsa, and just whatever else, tied with being a foreigner Rasta guy, and the looseness of 4 drinks(appropriate for me I’ve learned the hard way), put together a good show.  The dancer girls were impressed and I got to dance with finest one.  We ended up leaving to go to this reggae club Kalabe insisted we check out.  He’s really into the Rastafarian culture, and I got a lot of attention at the club.    We should’ve stayed at the cultural place though.  Worse, the reggae club proved to be weak and have 3 girls and 30 guys hahaha.  There is no footage of me dancing, and I wouldn’t share it if I had.  If my Ethiopian friends ever read this, no I won’t show you in person either lmaooo!  But let’s talk quickly, about Habesha friendships so you can understand the “weird” thing that happened later that evening.

Kalabe on far left

Kalabe on far right, that’s khat, not weed

This negro tried to feed me.  He was feeding his cousin who didn’t want to eat.  It caught me off guard because in the USA that’s a romantic gesture, but brushed it off as I could tell it’s because she probably should eat, shoot I paid for all that food, eat up.  But then.  He tried to feed me.  Like put food in my mouth.  Bruh that’s a no-no.  But not in Ethiopia it isn’t.  What I learned, is that America may be very hyper masculine.  Maybe because gay people are allowed to be freely gay in the US, many straight males go out of their way to prove they aren’t gay.  This leads to some things being cultural red flags.  Many of these cultural norms are now seriously being tested in the US, but the traditional masculine/feminine roles are still extremely prevalent.  The hypermasculine thing, as in going out of your way to be masculine, and spending all of high school and college proving my masculinity in hindsight could be seen as a bit exhausting.  Especially for men being raised by women.  Anyways, in Ethiopia, a largely Christian/Muslim country, gay men aren’t exactly a thing there (as well as any non-Abrahamic religion, especially athiests, other than indigenous countryside beliefs, people straight up ask if you’re Christian or Muslim).  Surely they exist but not openly.  Due to such, men feel no pressure to prove straightness and many things American men feel are gay, they do normally in Ethiopia (and some in Kenya).  They hold hands in the street.  They hold hands in the street.  Even connecting pinkys.  They are married, have kids, and probably have sex with their wives daily.  It’s just a thing.  I saw it in Kenya too.  They flirt with women, while holding their bros hand.  Well that was something my friend Ruth said, I didn’t see it, and it was about Indian men actually.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  In Ethiopia, feeding another person is not a romantic gesture, as it is in the US.  It’s literally just feeding another person.  So when Kalabe tried to feed me, and I jerked back, somewhat smacking his hand, he looked very offended.  I felt bad….but not too bad.  I had to explain, that just doesn’t really happen in America.  Awkward.  Definitely a learning moment, and something my lady-friends in Addis Ababa certainly laughed at me about when I went back to the capital.  *rolls eyes*

Just relaxing

Just relaxing, Christian styled home, not Harari fyi.  Harari people are culturally Muslim, everyone else is just a Harar resident lol

To conclude, I went back home to my guesthouse at like almost 10:30pm.  I sat outside by my lonesome, turned on Corinne Bailey Rae (y’all missing out if y’all don’t listen to her, I listen to her before bed) and reflected on the highlights of every month of 2015, and my Mexico-Belize trip last year.  I did this until some cat randomly appeared on the top of a wall staring at me around 12:30am, which was my prompting to go inside because that was a bit too creepy for me.  That’s how I rang in the New Year (actually I missed it, didn’t look at the clock until the cat appeared).  The next day the wonders of Harar were concluded by me and Kalabe going to shop for coffee making items and then saying farewell until next time to him.

Subscribe, much more content on the way about my social time in Harar (much to say), other things about Ethiopia, much about the coaching clinic in Kenya, and a bunch more in relation to training.  Semester is underway but I aim to churn out more posts.   Chow!

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