Aiellu captivated me from the beginning. Tall. Lithe. Agile. His donkeys obeyed voice commands when the others heeded only switches and whips.
He climbed Abuna Yosef with us, stopping briefly to yank up the root of a giant lobelia tree to use in the family fire at evening. He lead the way up the mountain with a staff in one hand and the root ball in the other.
He draped a pristine white shawl over his head in the traditional style and wore a fresh pair of European jeans that he may very well have purchased new. On the second morning of our acquaintance be showed up in a guinina, a traditional wool hat worn by shepherds in the Wollo region.
Aiellu means "strong" in Amharic.
Tezta prepared buna (coffee), shai (tea), kita, eggs, honey, potato soup, and spaghetti with tomato sauce for us during our stay at one of the camps. All cooks attended school in Lalibela to learn to make a couple Western dishes for Trekkers and to adapt a few Ethiopian dishes to fit Western tastes, e.g. adding tomato sauce to the kita. The cooks prepared these dishes over open fire, sitting in an alcove of the main tukul tending to the coals and an assortment of pots while the rest of us ate and conversed. The cooks, the women, brought warm water to wash our hands, kept our mugs full of hot beverages, and offered much more food than we could ever eat. Most were camera shy. Tezta surprised me.
Tezta means "remember" in Amharic.
Haftamo is 12 years old and in the 2nd grade. He joined us around the fire one night. Mostly he shepherds the family flock. Sometimes he gets to go to school.
Brian and I sat on goatskin benches around the fire, Haftamo sat on the floor, his knees drawn to his chest and the soles of his bare feet nearly touching the hot coals. Two of the men fed big sticks into the fire while Haftamo sustained the fire with a steady supply of dry bark. He answered my questions translated by our guide tentatively but with a smile. His dad was a camp guard and had sent Haftamo to camp knowing there would be visitors. He shared a giant plate of spaghetti once we had had our fill.
Haftamo translates roughly to "rich".
Guard. Barley farmer. Joker. Akalawolde. Akalawolde walked just in front of me for several miles, his AK-47 draped across his shoulders like a shepherds staff. He enjoyed playing guard, pointing out herbs alongside the trail and collecting a few barley seeds near his fields to demonstrate that he had sown his crop the previous day. Speaking no more than 10 words of English, he was the most gregarious of the camp support staff we walked alongside.
The night before, near bedtime and when he was still on duty, Akalawolde entered our tukul to demonstrate how to secure the door. A large rock lay just inside the threshold, and he insisted on showing Brian that he was to push that boulder against the door to lock us inside (an potential intruders out) of the tukul. He caught Brian returning from brushing his teeth and was unaware that I had already started undressing inside the tukul. Recognizing the potentially awkward situation, Brian slid in front of me, and we shuffled back and forth in unison, Brian shielding me from Akalawoldes gaze. Left, back, around the rock, down to push, back up and slightly to the right. Akalawoldes beamed as Brian got it. Brian and I choked back laughter, trying to make sure that Akalawolde didn't get it.
Our guide Misgan struggled to translate Akalawolde into English. His best attempt was "fat at birth", meaning Akalawolde was chubby at birth, and that was a good thing.
Sunday afternoons are for community gatherings at the church and, later, at the local bar. In Ethiopia, a "local bar" may be a sheet metal shack, an askew lean to built from young eucalyptus trunks, or a simple ring of stones collected from a nearby field. We visited one of these rings and found local women decanting from plastic pitchers and local men drinking from tomato paste cans. (Restaurants in nearby villages make use of tomato paste in their interpretations of common pasta dishes. Italy occupied Ethiopia in the mid-20th century, and a love of pasta and macchiatos is one of the legacies of that period.)
Our guide touted the local beer for days before that Sunday afternoon when we were offered a taste. I sipped. Aiellu drank heartily.
Misgan shepherded us through the villages of South Wollo province.
Women gather firewood in Ethiopia, then they crouch around the fires fueled by that wood cooking and heating water for bathing. Girls join in the gathering, assembling bundles of small juniper branches that dwarf their small frames. Many navigate the scrub forests and rocky paths with bare feet. Most were very camera shy.
This farmer stood in the field to tell our guide that the tef harvest was good. Villagers join together during harvest, tackling each field when ripe and sharing labor across all plots. This might have been his field. It might have been his neighbor's field. He was joyful regardless.
Ethiopian men walk with staffs. Seldom do they use them for balance. They prod cattle, goats, and donkeys. They drape them across their shoulders, resting each wrist on each end and let their hands hang loosely. They grasp one end and wedge the other beneath a heavy load so as to balance it. The walk many, many kilometers with this arrangement.
It was rare to encounter someone riding a horse or mule. Either animal is a sign of significant wealth. Donkeys are the more prized animal, brining up to 3x as much at "auction" as a horse.
Ethiopian boys love to have their pictures taken. This one ran to the road when he noticed the faranji with a camera. He stopped just short of us as his mother called to him. Girls, however, were far more likely to turn away from the camera.
We found ourselves on a nicely cobblestoned road on the outskirts of Bahir Dar one day. It turns out the road lead to a Japanese-funded school. This boy must have been too young for school, as he was one of the few not in uniform. He paused in the middle of the road and gazed confidently at us, asking us to take his picture. I love the two-sizes-too-big shoes.
We bought some incense--OK, lots of incense--from this woman in the market at Bahir Dar.
This woman was selling mangoes in the Oromo market outside the gates of Old Harar. Her gaze remained steady as I raised my camera.
This is the only photograph I paid for on the trip. These girls lurked near the Rimbaud museum in an alley in Harar. They were clearly curious about us, ducking in and out of the doorway. An adult woman worked just behind the wall, doing laundry or grinding grain.
Initially I wanted to photograph these girls unaware in their colorful alley. Eventually I simply asked if I could take their picture. They said yes. After they asked for a few Birr. I complied.