July 4th -7th, 2015
Celebrating our one year in-country, 4th of July, and Ramadan in Harar!
Harar is the fourth holiest city of Islam in the world after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Therefore, traveling to Harar during Ramadan was bound to be a unique experience in itself. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar year, during which strict fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset. During this time Muslims are supposed to avoid eating, drinking, smoking, sexual activity, unkind or impure thoughts, and immoral behavior. They still go to school, work and carry on normal activities but avoid strenuous physical labor. During this time, many muslims read the entire Quran, attend mosque more frequently, or say special prayers. It is believed that during this month the prophet, Muhammad received the initial revelations of what later became the Quran. Muslims use this time to refocus their lives and truly devote themselves to Allah (God).
On our first night in Harar, after a 10 hour bus ride, and checking into the Rewda Guesthouse, we found a place that looked nice to eat. We went in and sat down close to sunset, when we thought we would be able to order some more cultural dishes, since others would also be able to break fast. As we browsed the menu, the sun was setting and the restaurant suddenly became packed as others came rushing in to get their first meals after their fasting day. One of my friends asked the man next to us what was in the soup he was eating(many people were also eating the same soup) but instead, he asked if she wanted to try it. She hesitated but took the soup. He then quickly hopped up out of his seat and left his table. A bit confused, my friend continued to take a few bites and realized she like the soup and would probably order some. She then sat the soup back at his table. However, he quickly returned with a new bowl for himself and said that she could keep the bowl he had given her. After she had finished about half her bowl, I came to the realization and said to my friends, “Do you realize that he has not eaten all day and he just gave you his soup!” That is new level of generosity. That is how we were greeted into Harar our very first night.
Harar is a historic walled city in the eastern part of Ethiopia. The walls were built between the 13th and 16th centuries. There are said to be 99 mosques in the old city for the 99 names of Allah that we know. There are 100 names for Allah, humans only know 99 and the camels know the 100th name. Of the 99, 10 date back to the 10th century. The only church in the old city is in the main square to symbolize friendship. It was built as a mosque but converted into a church by Menelik the II.
The walled city has five original 16th century main gates and then the Harar gate that is car friendly, leading into the old city. There are also several smaller gates along the walls to allow hyenas to enter the city in the middle of the night and scavenge, cleaning the city streets during the night. You can see the remnants of bones picked clean from the hyena’s parties during the night.
One of the most amazing parts of Harar is the architecture and layout of the city. The city has been compared to Mirrakesh, Morocco in regards to layout and design. The homes are truly unique and the city is a maze with narrow alleyways. I thought when we first arrived I would never be able to find the guesthouse once our guide showed us the first time using a shortcut. However, after a few attempts through the labyrinth, we were able to master the maze! The houses are immaculate inside and out. The use of color and decorations are amazing. They repaint every year during Ramadan to cheer themselves up, and I think it works! The insides of the traditional Harari home has a five layer seating area that is used for everything from socializing, eating, to sleeping.
Street food was prepared in bulk toward dusk in order to provide quick ways to break fast when the sun set. This included sambusas (fried pastries filled with lentils, meat, rice), french fries, fried sweets, and breads. We made a few meals off of street sambusas. Gotta love ’em! We also had a great time at the mango market one afternoon. An entire market devoted to mangos! We bought about two kilograms worth and sat and devoured them until our faces were stained yellow. Yum!
Stay tuned for two upcoming blog posts in the upcoming weeks from this trip to Harar…
–Camels, Hyenas, and Goats Oh My! -Photos from the camel market just outside of Harar and our hyena man fun
-Children of Harar, the many faces of Harari children
Until next time,
The last several photos of the Rewda/Rowda Guesthouse. I would highly recommend it if you are looking for a beautiful place to stay with a more cultural feel inside the old city wall. There isn’t a whole lot of privacy but you can easily make new friends!
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