Harar: At the crossroads of civilizations

There was a communication lapse regarding my drive to Harar, from Addis Ababa, and I was stranded in a God-forsaken area near the coffin market for a couple of hours. It seemed I would not get to Harar in time for the famous hyena feeding. I made it back to my hotel, the fabulous, clean, friendly and reasonably priced Caravan Hotel, and resigned myself to remaining in Addis for the remainder of my trip.
But there are good, responsible, people everywhere on Earth, and Ethiopia is certainly no exception. The owner of ETT, Bisrat, took ownership of the problem – and sent a driver to my hotel to take me, immediately, to the airport; he had bought a business-class ticket, at his own expense, to get me to Harar as promised. To be honest, Harar wasn’t intended to be a highlight of my trip; it was more of an afterthought. But I was touched by this gesture of honesty and goodwill. Incidentally, “Bisrat” means “good news.” In Hebrew, it would be “besura,” and in Arabic “Bushra” (I’m warming up for my Ethiopian language posts).
Actually, Harar has no airport of its own. We landed in Dire Dawa, about 45 minutes away from Harar. The driver, Mohammad, was waiting for me at the airport, and the drive was a pleasant one. Though his English wasn’t the best, he managed to explain everything to me, stopped when requested and drove safely (unlike so many other drivers in Ethiopia). Here’s something I never thought I’d witness in real life:
I thought this sort of thing was only done in the movies! We passed through Harar’s markets, and saw much chat being sold. Harar is famous for its chat, and it exports the leaves to Djibouti, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.
When we arrived at the guesthouse where I’d be staying, I met my local guide, Hailu. Every one of my local guides had been excellent, but Hailu was the only one to specifically state that he had no ambition to emigrate to the US or Europe; he feels it’s his duty to remain in Ethiopia and work to improve it. He certainly made my brief visit to Harar as special, and enjoyable, as it could possibly have been. He’s also a fellow cat-lover. Here’s his cat about to get fed:
Speaking of getting fed, the time was approaching for the hyena-feeding, so off we went to the outskirts of town. Here’s one of the stars of this event:
And here’s Yousef, one of the hyena men, at work:
Some crazy guy allowed a hyena to perch atop his shoulders to be fed!
Oh wait… that’s me. Never mind. Hey eldest daughter, do you recognized that shirt? It was a lot of fun, and I was the only tourist at the time.
Harar is the 4th holy city of Islam, and most of its inhabitants are Muslim. However, Christians live here as well – with no problems as far as I could tell. Traditional dress is not hard to find in Harar, and it reflects a strong Yemenite, and Somali, influence:
Men can be seen passing their days chewing chat:
Here’s a banana vendor:
Camel meat is eaten in Harar, and it can be seen sold at the market:
Here’s a view of the chat market:
Harar was founded in medieval times, and the narrow, winding, streets of the old city reflect this:
They remind me somewhat of Cusco, Peru.
The last emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, was born near Harar. Here’s a view of the mountains where he was born:
Notice the “W” shape? It has become symbolic of the emperor himself, and one can see houses with a “W” painted on them. This means the owners are loyalists, and supporters of the late emperor.
As mentioned, Harar is a holy city for Muslims, so it is home to many magnificent Islamic manuscripts, some of which I saw in museums:
My guide, Hailu, showed me around the vast Harar marketplace, including the second-hand market, where just about anything can be found:
The old city of Harar is a walled city, and like other walled cities, it has a number of gates. It also has gates specifically for the hyenas:
As we drove around the old city, I noticed people living in caves:
I was going to write about the drive back to Addis, from Harar, in this post. But it can wait for tomorrow, or the next day.
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4 Responses to Harar: At the crossroads of civilizations

  1. Harar Krishna! says:

    Hello JAY. Its been a while since I’ve read your blog, but speaking of “harar” what do you think of this?

    • jewamongyou says:

      It’s a pretty good article. There’s nothing wrong with extracting the good parts of even the most wacky cults and religions. I think that, as our lives become more and more hectic, it gets more important to set aside quiet time. To empty our minds and regenerate.

  2. Henry Craft says:

    All fascinating. Can you explain pls why Harare is sacred to Muslims?

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