My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The road to Yemrehane Monastery Ethiopia

Carrying firewood
The morning finds us driving through stunning mountainous scenery on our way to the Yemrehane Monastery, in a beautiful isolated location.
Words, even photos, cannot adequately do justice to the views, the huge skies, the sheer unspoilt vastness of this amazing landscape. Not to mention the fascination of a different culture being played out in front of our eyes through the coach windows. 
sorghum growing in foreground
As we travel our fabulous guide Johannes tells us about Ethiopian culture. We learn that the historic culture required the boys to be tough and the females to do all the work!! But education, he says, has changed all that. And he admits that education was, for him, a yeast which has enabled him to rise to what he is today, an extremely knowledgeable and personable tour guide. Education has also achieved much to reduce the dreadful abuse and suffering of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), much discussed these days, but it is still going on, particularly in more remote rural regions of Ethiopia. He tells us that the 2009 German film Desert Flower served as useful publicity against the practice. It is based on the autobiography of Waris Dirie, the Somali born nomadic pastoralist who became a model and activist against female circumcision. Now the "harmful aspects of cultures" is taught through the school textbooks there. HIV/AIDS is also still a serious problem, more so in the country than in the cities, but again education is beginning to show results.
everywhere children follow us - friendly and smiling
but they always want pens and money!
We see young boys in charge of small flocks and herds of goats, sheep and cattle. These animals are moved around during the day to seek best grazing, and at night they are kept for safety in barns where they are fed hay and straw. The dung produced in the barns is a valuable currency in its own right, bartered for food.
We pass fields of Sorghum from which the local "firewater" is made.
We are driving along a tarmac road, very good in stretches, sometimes in the process of being laid. Johannes tells us this is being built by the Chinese and that this for various reasons brings resentment from the local populace.
Our driver spots a crane on a rock by a river as we drive across, but he has flown away by the time we stop.  
harvesting the tef

our group "enjoying" the local brew! 
We also stop where we see farmers cutting tef which is the grain used in making the traditional injera bread - a large pancake-shaped "bread", highly nutritious and used as the basis of many meals. Portions of various dishes are piled around its edges and the diners will communally break off portions of the injera to scoop up the food. I loved it - when well made - and it is great for a gluten free diet - but not to everyone's taste. We are invited over to watch the harvesters and take photos and are offered the local alcoholic brew, frothily overflowing out of a big plastic jug, and poured into filthy plastic beakers for us. I bravely tasted it but thought it was pretty disgusting personally! We offer the headman 100 Birr which he graciously declines - he tell us via the guide that he feels privileged to be allowed to show us his crop and his means of livelihood, but on being pressed he is pleased to accept the money to spend "on his family."
To get to the tef field we walk carefully around fields of the Ethiopian sunflower - it is much smaller than the European variety, and very prickly, but still an important source of oil and seeds. The crop looks scant, the earth parched, but the tef seems to be thriving better. This area has to contend with serious soil erosion in the rainy season when the water turns brown with the silt, much of which ends up in Egypt and the Mediterranean.
see the woman collecting water from a
scant river supply
Even at the end of the latest rainy season some of the rivers seem pitifully low.

It's a one and a half hour drive followed by a long walk and climb - 195 steps in all - up to the Yemrehane Monastery - but a visit not to be missed...

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