Our first stop in Ethiopia is Harar: “Hrrrrrr” (as we hear it called, with a strong roll on the r’s). The old Jugol walled city, the heart of Ethiopia’s Muslim community, with over 90 mosques and considered by some to be the fourth holiest city in the world.
We are told that Harar is very different from the rest of Ethiopia and brings one back in time. Indeed, it is a strange and wacky place, from the incessant qhat-chewing of the local population, to the Hyena Man mouth-feeding wild hyenas at night outside the city walls. We enter the old city gates, wander through alleys full of colourfully painted houses, through the market where meat and vegetables buzz with millions of flies. We climb up Mekina Girgir (Machine Road), full of male street tailors sewing Muslim garments from hideously patterned China-made fabrics, and through a small back street to find the so-called “Rimbaud House” where the author never in fact lived. Beggars, children, and vendors line the streets, and walking home we see makeshift homes made from discarded materials lining the roads outside of the city walls.
Arriving back at our hotel, we find the stench of sewage emanating from our bathroom drains. Dogs and hyenas later keep us awake, barking in the field behind throughout the night. Although a fantastical experience, the stench and strangeness is enough to send us on the road after a couple of nights.