First an off track note: In Ethiopia the measure floors different than we do. So we are on the second floor of our hotel. But we climb 4 flights of stairs. We at lunch on the 3rd floor of a building today and we climbed 6 flights of stairs. I spend more time on stairs in this country than doing anything else!
Ok. now back on track…
Today is an Orthodox Holiday in Ethiopia. It is called Meskel which commemorates the finding of the true cross by Queen Helena in the 4th century. The Queen had a revelation that if she made a bonfire the smoke would show where the true cross was buried. She ordered the people of Jerusalem to bring wood and make a huge pile and after adding frankincense the smoke burned and fell to the ground in the exact place the true cross was buried.
So every September 26, the Ethiopian build a HUGE pyre and the people of the city come to the center to watch the ceremony. There are many church groups that sing and dance around the pyre. There are some “floats” and speeches and chanting. At a certain point everyone in the crowd lights a candle. There are thousands of people in the city center and the lights are beautiful. Finally the very important priests light the pyre and everyone cheers and hollers and “lalalalalala’s”.
The women wear a white scarf on their heads and the men wear whatever. After the fire has burned out, the people start to leave and form groups of about 25 people and dance and sing together. The walk down the streets hand in hand singing. The streets for miles are filled with people celebrating. It is so amazing! There are also many smaller pyres in smaller neighborhoods throughout the country.
It is interesting being a white woman in a huge Ethiopian crowd. Lots of stares. Lots of children wanting to practice speaking English. It is actually just interesting being in a large crowd here. It was very safe, the police/military were everywhere and we were “frisked” before we could enter. I will admit, after the events in Nairobi last week, it did occur to me this could be a prime terrorist target. Again, I am always shocked with the level of affection between men. The hold hands, stand with their arms around each other, lean their heads against each other and Jill and I both saw 2 separate men “petting” their male friends face. It certainly is not bad, it is just so interesting! We have so much to learn from this affectionate and loving culture.
There were beggars working their way through the crowd, many who could not walk and dragged themselves. Some were blind, others missing limbs. I saw two people with a massive swollen leg that was raw and bleeding. It is so hard to see people living this way. We saw a number of women sleeping on the streets with children on their laps. It breaks your heart!
It was one of those nights where we said over and over again: “This would never happen in America!”
Here are some pictures of the evening… enjoy