By Laura Binkley, student
Ohio State College of Public Health and
School of Environment and Natural Resources
During a quick visit to Bahar Dar, we were able to venture into Lake Tana. Lake Tana is the widest lake in Ethiopia and one of the largest lakes in all of Africa. Emptying into the Nile River, it contains several islands. Many of these islands possess ancient monasteries that have been well preserved by the monks. We decided to take a boat tour that would take us out to one of the islands.
Traveling across the lake provided us with fascinating views of the landscape and a strong sense of calm after an intense week of data collection. As we moved through the lake we passed giant pelicans, townspeople cleaning their clothes in the lake, and fisherman fishing in hand-made papyrus boats that seemed impossible to balance in. On our way to the island we crossed paths with the Nile River itself which was a pretty incredible experience.
When we stepped off of the boat onto the island we were surrounded by green. A vast field included papyrus plants and a variety of trees and plants from coffee to mango and banana. We walked down a small mud path towards the monastery where we were greeted by villagers selling fresh fruits and tiny handmade papyrus boat souvenirs among other things.
Once we arrived at the monastery we paid our fee to enter and were then led by an elderly monk to a small stand that he called a museum. He explained that the monastery had been around since the 12th century and then proceeded to show us the contents of the museum which consisted of ancient books, an emperor’s robe, elaborate crosses, and other priceless valuables of the church.
Once our tour of the museum stand was complete the monk lead us to the monastery itself. The monasteries on all of the islands are circular in shape with three main parts. We started at the outer part which consisted of a small wall left open to the outside that surrounded the monastery. Here was where we were to take off our shoes before entering the sacred place.
We were then lead inside to the second part. This section was dark except for the little light that illuminated the walls which were covered in beautiful Christian art pieces. There were also ancient worship drums that were made of clay and covered in hide. We were not allowed to enter the third section where a sacred arc in honor of Mary was hidden. I can only imagine how fascinating it must look.
Once we had a chance to look around for a bit we grabbed our shoes and exited the monastery. We thanked the monk and then headed back down the trail to the boat that had been waiting for us. The boat then headed back towards the mainland again. It was all a very surreal experience that can only be found here in Ethiopia.
By Ally Sterman
Student, Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine
After a week of traveling around the Gondar region, our travels brought us to a city named Bahar Dar. Here is where the Nile River begins, Lake Tana (the largest lake in Ethiopia) is located, and the Blue Nile Falls are located. Our partners wanted to show us what a traditional Ethiopian dance club looked like, so after dinner we headed out on what would be one of the most memorable nights of my life.
We arrived at the club and there was a small stage with four musicians. They were playing a few traditional Ethiopian instruments and a few modern ones like the electric keyboard. The more traditional instruments included a kraar, which is five- or six-stringed bowl-shaped lyre. There was also a masenqo which is a one-stringed lyre. The instruments supported the vocalists who came out and sang a variety of songs.
However, the highlight of the evening was the dancing. One set of dancers were two brothers who we had seen dance before in Gondar. During one of their songs they grabbed Laura (another student working on the rabies project) and took her up on stage to dance. After another few songs, a different dancer came out. We had the chance to watch him for a short period of time before he danced over to where we sitting. He again grabbed Laura and tied her to him, and then grabbed my hand. The two of us were pulled on stage to dance in front of everyone. Another gentlemen from Israel was also grabbed and brought on stage. Laura and I soon found ourselves being tied together to have a dance-off (pictured left). This style of dancing is not quite what my years of dance had prepared me for but I tried anyways. After a few minutes it was over and we headed back to join the rest of the group. Our partners were proud of us going up there, though it was clear our dancing skills left something to be desired and more practice is definitely necessary. This was one of my most embarrassing experiences yet here in Ethiopia, but also my most memorable.