Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Harar; good for drawing

At the very end of our trip to Ethiopia, Andre and I took the bus out to the "ancient walled city" Harar, and spent about a week in the "fourth holiest city of Islam". Don't let the title throw you off though, Harar is one of the funnest places I've ever been to. All through our trip people had been telling us, "you have got to go to Harar, it is unlike any other place ", and they always said it just like that, "unlike any other place". The people of Harar have a reputation as the most outspoken and forward people in Ethiopia. The city, aside from the 82 mosques and 102 shrines, is known for being the world capitol of the chat trade. The finest chat, not to mention coffee and cattle, wait a minute, those are three C words, is said to grow in the area surrounding Harar, and the chat markets are active around the clock. From Harar chat is exported around the world, and the chewing of chat is the very basis of society in the region. Most tourists find chewing chat loathesome, it has a bitter flavor, and you have to sit around and chew it for hours in order to achieve a state called "merquana".Andre and I however found chat pefectly agreeable, and there was nothing we would rather do than hang out all day in the shade with the locals chewing, and talking. While you chew it is customary to drink sweet tea, or coca cola, and chew peanuts as well, oh, and water, you have to drink a bunch of water. The best part about chat is that its great for concentration, and since you find yourself sitting around getting friendly with the locals anyway, you might as well get some drawings done. Most people are more than happy to have their portrait drawn, and often enough you end up drawing the whole group of people youre with. Also, if you've never heard any before, Ethiopian music is great, and you hear it all the time, and since all I really bring with me on my trips is a sketchbook and a dictionary anyway, I found I spent most of my time really enjoying myself.Thanks to Andre I have all these shots of me in action, in Harar, Arba Minch, and Omorate in the south. Getting back to Harar, I'm evidently not the only foreigner who has found the place artistically accomodating, and while there we got to meet Carlos, a Spanish artist originally from Barcelona who has been living in Harar for years. Carlos is married to a Harari woman, and speaks fluently in both Amharic and Harari, likewise his wife speaks fluent Spanish, and they were both very friendly people. I showed Carlos some of the drawings I had been working on, and he took me on a tour of his studio on the second floor of his house overlooking the courtyard. Coincidentally, we had both done a watercolor of the same street from the same vantage point, and it was fun to compare our paintings.