Sunday, October 20, 2013


An hour's flight east of Addis Ababa, and another hour by road, is Harar. A major trading junction between Ethiopia and Somalia for centuries, the people speak their own language, Hadarenya, and are majority Muslim in a predominantly Orthodox Christian country.

The Harari are friendly in a different way than the people in Uganda. Ugandans are enthusiastic and expansive. The Harari are laid back and a bit more reticent, though I am readily welcomed by strangers many times with handshakes.

The children are often excited at the "farango", the local word for foreigner ("ferengi" in Ethiopian Amharic). One little girl runs up and hugs my legs. Others call out, "farango! Photo, photo!" eager to pose and see the result on the camera. Even the adults are at complete ease with being shot. This is a vast difference from the Ugandan villagers who, considering it a social intrusion, get extremely angry if you take their photo. The men will point menacingly at you and shout, "You! Fuck off!"

Jugol, the hilly walled section and heart of ancient Harar, is the oldest part of the city and is as lively, lived-in and bustling today as it was in the middle ages. Lonely Planet says to be mindful of your wallet in the Jugol, especially in the market, and my guide, Sisay, tells me the same thing. But the people are welcoming and friendly and I never feel anything but safe.

The market is colourfully packed with lanes of orange and yellow sacks of spices and brown and pink-painted porcelain coffee pots. Incense fills the alleys outside tiny mosques squeezed into corners. The smell of charcoal stoves wafts from inside the walls of homes painted white, salmon, chocolate or aqua, the latter reserved for those who have completed the Hajj to Mecca. We walk up a cobbled street for tailors, all sitting at tables sewing with Singers in front of shops piled with bolts of cloth, and down another street for butchers, who carve meat from hung slabs peppered with flies.

Sisay is under instruction to show me the city as a photographer, not as a tourist. I don't want to see the museums. I want to see how the locals live. Sisay is one of them, and he shows me. In fact, he is a hobby photographer himself and understands the photographer's sensibility. He doesn't own a camera yet but he is saving for one with his work as a guide.

To show me the life of a local family, he invites me to his girlfriend's family's house for a traditional coffee ceremony. Of course, I jump at the offer. It turns out as one of my favourite experiences on the entire trip.

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I hired Sisay through Teddy Belay, a Harar guide who specialises in catering for photographers. Teddy also arranged the transport into Harar from the airport in Dire Dewa. Teddy can be contacted by email on Sisay can be contacted on +251 913 450 433. I recommend them both.

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