I just returned from a quick weekend trip to the old city of Harar on the East side of Ethiopia. Close to the Somalia border, Harar is the 4th Holiest City in Islam and the root of much of Islamic culture in Ethiopia. Having lived in a highly Orthodox area for the past year, it was a nice break and a trip down memory lane to my time in Jordan. The old city of Harar had a much more middle eastern feel and some more recognizable market spices.
Harar is the site where a part of the Umma (original muslim community in Arabia) immigrated for refuge from the Mecca – Medina conflict in the late 600s. The ruler of Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) opened his doors to the Muslims and started the tradition of religious tolerance in Ethiopia. Islam is the second largest religion here after the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church.
Picking up a guide for a tour of the old city we walked through ancient city walls and toured some of the local homes and more famous residents of the town. Haile Selassie used to have a “palace” here (Ras Tefari’s house), and the interior decor of the homes was famously “Harari.” Tasting street food along the way (I am in Peace Corps after all), we finished the afternoon with some Hakim Stout – the local brew.
The main attraction in Harar though are the famous “hyena men.” These local guys sit outside the city walls every night around sunset to feed wild hyenas fatty camel meat. These hyenas have basically been domesticated over years of guaranteed food, and consistent feeding has made them huge! I did not realize just how big these animals would be. I thought big dogs, the reality was more like small bears. But, I screwed up my courage and we all volunteered to feed them ourselves, with help from the hyena man.
This is one of my first trips outside my immediate region, and it was great to see a very different part of Ethiopia with different culture, food, and infrastructure. After Harar I headed down to the Southern Nations to do a training in a city called Butajira for the new group of education volunteers. So over a few days I was able to see the Harar region and a part of the south, expanding my understanding of Ethiopia as a whole.