Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.
emo_snal

Strolling About Mek'ele

Friday, November 28th, Mek'ele - For all of it's pretensions to modernistic fanciness, the Planet Hotel had a really crap breakfast set up. Tables weren't being bussed and the hot food in the buffet was becoming cold. After this inglorious beginning we decided to walk into town. It was about a quarter mile into the town center, not that we were coming from out of town, we went straight in along one of the main drags. It was a nice sunny day, just cool enough that I mistakenly thought I might want to have my jacket with me and had to carry it around all day. As I'd observed the day before, the street was broad and only carried light vehicular traffic -- donkey drawn carts were as common as actual automobiles and little three wheeled "bujuj"s were by far the most numerous vehicle.

   We headed down to the palace/museum of the emperor Yohannes IV (reigned 1871-1889). It had been closed for renovations when Doug had been here previously (a year ago?). It looked very quiet, and the gate was wide open, leading up a drive to a stately castle-like edifice, but as we walked through, a young soldier in dress uniform appeared from the guard house and explained in broken English that it was still closed for renovations. He was unable to communicate a time frame, whether this was due to a lack of communication ability or an actual lack of a time-frame, your guess is as good as mine.
   We then wandered around town aiming to get back to our hotel by a different route -- but this was hampered by the gross trash filled river that cuts through the middle of town and only has a few bridges, so our route turned out to be about six kilometers. It was a pleasant walk though, it's a nice town, the weather was warm, there wasn't unpleasant amounts of vehicle traffic, there weren't dangerous looking unsavory characters like in Arusha, in fact, no one at all bothered to beg us for money or otherwise annoy us. Doug was on a mission to find a particular shop whose owner he had previously befriended but it appeared to no longer be where he thought it should be. We stopped at a streetside cafe for tea, and Doug struck up a conversation with two men there who happened to be teachers. The were underpaid (something less than $50 a month) and slightly downtrodden but smiled wanly and gave the impression that they loved what they did and would keep on teaching despite the hardships. We paid for their tea, sometihng like 12 cents a cup.
   Also during this walk I noticed the traditional clay Ethiopian coffee pitchers (jebenas) being sold in a shop. I'd wanted to get one but was afraid to pay too much for one in a place frequented by tourists, but here they were in a local shop, so I bought one for around $4.



   From everywhere in the town you can see a monument on a hill that looks like a ball held aloft on a giant pedestal. This monument was very near our hotel so it was a good point of reference for us in our wandering. When we finally got back across the river we found ourselves at an intersection where the enclosure that encompassed the hill and monument seemed to be between us and our hotel. Doug tried to ask a nearby girl for directions, though she really didn't know any English. She pointed further up the hill, which I didn't quite feel was right, but we went with it. I remember specifically we were standing at an intersection of broad cobbled roads, there were no vehicles in sight, but someone drove a herd of oxen by, it seemed thoroughly medieval.
   Presently we came to an opening in the enclosure, with a little guardhouse and what appeared to be an admissions booth. One or two young people who looked like possibly university students walked in. Without discussing it, Doug and I approached the entrance, paid a few dollars each for admission, and once on the other side looked at eachother and asked "do you know what we just entered?" "nope!" This is why Doug and I get along!
   We soon found ourselves mounting some steep steps that brought us to the base of the monument. On either side of the giant pedestal were statues of a line of people, on one side mostly looking like refugees and on the other looking like combatants.



   This was a monument to the struggle against the Derg. The Derg was the communist regime that overthrew the monarchy of Emperor Haile Salassie in 1974 and ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist until 1991. The resistant struggle against them began in the Tigray region, of which Mek'ele is the capitol, though Mek'ele itself was one of the last Derg strongholds to be captured in the region. I like the statues of the resistant fighters because they're not the beefy heroic figures you often see in other country's war monuments but they look skinny and fatigued, and the leader of the column in the above statue looks bent over with the burden of responsibility clutching his radio for any news.
   While I was walking about taking pictures of the monument, Doug struck up a conversation with the one of three other people who were present there. When I rejoined them I was introduced to the two men as well, they were brothers. The woman appeared to be the wife or girlfriend of the other brother but she was never introduced to us and though she seemed to understand English, she never spoke to us. She didn't seem shy though, it just seemed to be.. a thing.
   The two men had fled this area for Sudan during the war, and had spent most of the time since then in Sudan. Ethiopians don't seem weird about their women so I wondered if this thing with the woman not being introduced or speaking was a Sudanese thing. They had stories about hiding in ditches during Derg bombing raids against their village when they were little. The one guy told us he had been at grad school in America for mechanical engineering but then he had to return to Ethiopia for some reason and couldn't get a visa after that to return to the States and complete his studies, despite being accepted, having a scholarship, and already being part way through his studies.
   The two guys were very friendly (and the woman seemed to be too, she'd at least smile at things we said), and invited us to come along with them to the museum which was just down the hill on the other side.



   The other side of the hill offered a great view down the boulevard on which our hotel sat. In the above picture it's either that big concrete-and-glass monstrosity or perhaps one just like it behind the bigger monstrosity under construction. To the left there's plans to build a big stadium, and generally to turn the area around this boulevard into the center of big modern development. Directly down the boulevard out of town you can see the huge concrete factory that has apparently been there for years and years.
   After descending some more steps (the actual ones in the photograph up above) there was a flat area where a very small plane sat under a ragged tarp -- this was the aircraft that brought most of the important figures from the Tigrayan Liberation Front back from peace negotiations in 1991, and nearly crashed when a fuel line clogged in flight. Nearby there was a building we entered that had many photographs and displays about the entire struggle, as well as examples of numerous weapons used. It was very interesting, and our Sudanese-Ethiopian friends were perfectly happy to accompany us and offer their own commentary.

   Presently four o clock was approaching, which was the time at which we were supposed to meet our friend Daniel at our hotel to join his family roadtrip, so we said goodbye to our friends and hurried on our way. Fortunately there was another guard house on the side of the hill facing our hotel, so we weren't too far from it. There were two soldiers in green fatigues in the guard house, and I noticed that one of them, a woman, had her feet up on a desk, exposing brightly coloured striped socks between the top of her combat boots and her drab fatigues.

   Minutes later we were arriving at the hotel just as Daniel was, but that's the start of Epic Roadtrip Ethiopia and I'll save that for another day (:

Tags: east africa 2014, ethiopia, ethiopia 2014, travel, travelogues
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