A Bit About Gondar

6 Jan

So I’ve been living at site for just over two weeks now, and I’m getting a lot of questions about what it’s like. Hold your horses people, let me get to know the town first!

Ok, I stepped outside my house for two seconds. Here’s what I gather so far:

Skyline of Gondar

Skyline of Gondar

Gondar is a big city of about 350,000 (very rough guestimate) that is steeped in Ethiopian history. It was established as the capital of Ethiopia in the 1660s, though no longer is (what up Addis Ababa and Menelik II!). It was the seat of power for Emperor Falisides way back when, and he built a bunch a castles here. Thus, the city is known as “the Camelot of Africa.”

A close up of the castle

A close up of the castle

The city is built on a hill. The castles and the ancient city are located at the top of the hill (like every ancient city ever). There is a market area and a “piazza” roundabout (another volunteer) and the area is near my work. I live mid way down the hill, and further down is a teacher’s college (and another education volunteer) and the University of Gondar (another health/ICT volunteer).  So a total of four volunteers and one giant hill.

Part of the ancient city walls

Part of the ancient city walls near my office

In addition to the castles, there are seven ancient churches built by subsequent rulers. One such ruler was Tewedros II, who one Ethiopian told me was “the right man at the wrong time.” His major contribution is basically destroying Gondar’s economy in an attempt at modernizing the army (but yay for roads!), but then saving the city from the Italians in the 1800s. He was ultimately defeated by the British and actually committed suicide with the gun Queen Victoria had given him as a token of friendship years earlier. For his efforts he gets a statue in piazza.

Tewodros on a rainy afternoon in Piazza

Tewodros on a rainy afternoon in Piazza

Father down the hill is my house- about a 15 min walk to my work at the AIDS Resource Center. It’s a nice neighborhood with a primary school that has some sort of chant over the loudspeaker in the mornings with the kids… 80% cute, 20% creepy. A bit further down my road is a stadium that sounds like a good time on Sunday afternoons. My compound is nice and quiet (cue Kudjo the guard dog barking as we speak).

Not a bad view- the mountains, not the junkyard tires

Not a bad view- the mountains, not the junkyard tires

Traveling further down the hill, passing “expat row” where all the hospital doctors and medical student researchers live (in fancy apartments and where the “rich ferenji” stereotype comes from), and continuing on out of the city is the major volunteer tourist attraction- the Dashen Brewery.

Dashen Cellar on tap

Dashen Cellar on tap

All you Denver microbrew lovers, keep your pants on, it’s nothing special, but it’s one of the more solid beers of Ethiopia- think Blue Moon. I know, Peace Corps is so hard.

And that’s a little overview of my site for the next two years. As cool as all of these things are, and as excited I am about my work (more on that later), I think the number one reason I like living in Gondar is the 300% increase of Lord of the Rings jokes there are in my life now. Keep ‘em coming!

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