|scenery on the way to Gorgora|
|on way to Gorgora|
Today our coach takes us down to the Gorgora peninsular on the North
to pick up a boat to take us across the lake to Bahir Dar. It will then double
back to the hotel and pick up all our bags for the four hour journey by road.
During the day we shall see three of the monastic churches for which the lake
is famous, dating back to at least the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
What they lack in architectural interest compared with the Lalibela rock-hewn
churches, for example, is more than made up for by the splendid ecclesiastical
art. shore of Lake Tana
|Debre Sina Mariam church|
It is an hour long drive to Gorgora but endlessly fascinating: here is a very different and largely arable landscape; and quite green
|Inside Debre Sina Mariam|
and lush. We see sorghum, maize stacked to dry, prickly cacti used as fence boundaries; children walking to school along the road at 7.30am, the boys in pink uniform; ladies making the injera bread for the day in the dust by the side of the busy road; cattle shackled together in the village to prevent them wandering presumably; a field of what looked like asparagus pea, the first I have seen here; children always waving and chanting "money money" as we drive past; rough platforms built in the middle of the arable crops where children stand swinging a stone around their heads on the end of a rope to keep the birds away; and there are very many birds, including the Northern Carmine Bee-Eater, a beautiful red bird flying overhead, White Egrets, Red billed Fire Finch, Hooded Vultures, Plantain Eaters, Laughing Dove and many more. Our guide has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the bird population here.
So the lake eventually comes into view ahead of us, shimmering in the heat haze.
Before boarding the boat we visit the typical round
its many wall paintings - a little more faded than in some other churches but
still amazing. We wait for someone to come to unlock the church for us. A monk
arrives in the traditional saffron yellow robes. church
of Debre Sina Mariam
|inside Debre Sina Mariam|
As we leave the church compound an old lady shakes all our hands with a lovely warm smile and goodbye. This is the very first place where we have not been harangued by children. They are all busy with the butchering of the cow for another "swarming" or killing, which we have to walk past, this time especially for the festival on this day of Mary's Flight into
As we have seen before, the carcase is being divided up, and a woman is
fetching basins of water from the lake to help in the cleaning process. It all
seems rather grisly to our sanitised view of butchering, but I am willing to
bet this cow had a very much happier and healthier life than many that end up
plastic-wrapped on our supermarket shelves, and the end would have been swift. Egypt
Our boat is called Nigat, meaning "Dawn," and will be our transport across
Tana for the next few hours. This is a huge lake, the farthest
shores not easily visible to us as we make our way across, and it is very muddy
silted looking water, nothing like the shimmering blue of the beautiful Italian
lakes for example. But the interest of what we will visit makes up for that and
I find it a relaxing trip, giving the opportunity to read, meditate and
consolidate all our experiences up to this moment.
|Tankwa stored in the boat house at Gorgora|
|Boy in his Tankwa|
We are served coffee on the boat, brewed in the traditional way on the lower deck, with hot charcoal, incense, everything as it would be made on dry land. Health and safety? The cups are all washed up between times with water scooped from the lake!
Our next stop is the
- and the Narga Selassie Monastery.
The church is near to the landing place, within its stone compound, which
reminds me of the Gondar Royal Enclosure - not surprising - I learn that it was
built for the Empress Mentewab. island of Dek
|Entrance to Narga Selassie Monastery|
As we landed lads rushed towards us across the water in their papyrus canoes to sell us their neat little papyrus canoe replicas. These are all handmade and different in size, shape and detail. They also try to sell us two very alive fish which they have just caught, although what we would do with them I am not sure!
|Narga Selassie paintings- St George and the |
|inside Narga Selassie church - note yellow |
candles and drum
|church at Narga Selassie Monastery|
Monasteries are very attractive for people in
as a way to find support into old age without the availability of pensions. 10,000 people live on this
island of Dek and very many more come once a year to the main religious festival - it
must be quite a sight with all the boats, I think. Ethiopia
The pictures here in the church of are incredible, the colours vivid.
The sun now is very hot on the lake, the metal boat deck far too hot for bare feet. Even the wooden seats in the sun burn the skin through my trousers. Soon we land again, this time to walk to the Azewa Mariam Monastery, We have to run the gauntlet of the dozens and dozens of stalls lining the rough footpath on the way. "Faranje, to look is free", they call out. But they pester to compete with each other to sell something, and I feel I would be happier to look and buy without so much harassment because there is some beautiful jewellery for example.
|the Student accommodation at Azewa Mariam|
|Azewa Mariam church|
Once at the monastery we see inside the school for priests and deacons. Because it is the festival day remembering the Flight into
the lads have the day off, so they are relaxing and drinking their home brewed
tala. But they treat us to a reading, chanting from the story of the Flight,
out of a Holy Book resting on a bamboo lectern which they have made for
themselves. In fact the students have to make all their own huts for their
accommodation as well as any furniture needed. They take some training here
before going on to ordinary schools, ultimately destined to be priests. Many
are already deacons. The church roof is untypically thatched making it more
attractive than some of the others. Inside the church the paintings are again
incredible, all very colourful but quite Chaucerian here in their crudity. Egypt
|Last Supper at Azewa Mariam|
There is a striking picture which we have seen elsewhere as well - and very symbolic - of a tree full of fruit. Down at its base are two rats, one white and one black, eating the tree. A python opening his mouth represents the grave waiting for us - to the left is a man with a gun, aimed at someone picking the fruit who is not paying attention to the next life, and ignoring when this life will come to an end. In secular life, we are told, time goes faster.
|Azewa Mariam - George and the Dragon|
and see the Tree in bottom left hand corner
I have not fully remembered all the symbolism of this I fear, for example the significance of the white and black rats. If any one can fill in the detail please let me know. There are two interesting links I have found, where much more information can be found on Ethiopian iconography and with some tremendous photos. Here and here.
|at Azewa Mariam church|
Back in the boat we have 40 minutes to Bahir Dar. We pass Kibran Gabriel monastery, on its island, open only to male visitors. As we approach Bahir Dar we see where the Blue Nile starts its journey to join the White Nile at
and so to the Mediterranean Soon we
are at the landing stage at Bahir Dar - our coach is waiting for us and it is
just a few minutes to the hotel. We will have time to unpack and rest, before
meeting for evening prayers and a reflection on the day's experiences. Khartoum