Saturday, February 24, 2007

Accident on the road

Accident on the road
Our journey north has become somewhat interrupted, as today (Friday), we have gotten in a car accident. I was sitting silently, head covered by my sweater, headphones on, when I heard our horn blaring and felt the car swerving. I opened my enclosure, only to see an old man dashing in front of our car, and our vehicle swerving to the right. We then hit the side of the road, which encountered a ditch and turned. The car rolled itself into the ditch. Fortunately none of us were physically damaged, but Denny, Phillips father was quite emotionally shocked. I acted with cold blood, exiting the car, and securing our items.
We were fortunate, in that quickly behind us arrived medicin sans frontiers. The woman in the car was actually a water specialist (a fact only learned later), but at the time, it was just comforting to know we were with people missioned to help.
I feel a little sore on my side, but this is a great excuse to see if there are any good masseuse. It might be beyond their skill, however, for I think I have bruised my ribs.
It was the strangest of events, hearing the recounting of the whole incident by the rest of the car. This man was on the side of the road. Emmanuel blared the horn, but this old man began to walk out. Emmanuel blared again and started to swerve. The old man ran back to where he came from, and then back across. What does one do? We did our best, and avoided him, but found ourselves in a ditch. It seems that there have been many accidents within 200 meters of this accident site.
Remembering back, all I can recall from the beginning, was this fleeting image of an old man with a walking stick, blanket flailing, flying like a madman away from our vehicle. He was not there when we finally exited the car through the broken windows. We were lucky. I am now relaxing in front of beautiful copper tone lake tarna, infamous source of the blue nile.

The more that came!

The more that came!
Our third day in wukro, we headed for abreha Astebah. This is one of the great rock hewn churches. It’s plan is mimicked by many others in the region. The church was covered with beautiful paintings on the inside.

Abreha Astebah
Emmanuel, our expert guide arrived by plane on our third day in wukoro.
Driving back to wukro, we stopped at the ruins of a nameless axum church from the 4th century. As we walked around this basic frame, I began to get a taste for what the rest of this journey would be like. With just the outline of the walls remaining, he deciphered for me the probable structure of the building and its liturgical functioning. This has all been very reminiscent of an earlier journey I took through southern france examining the architecture of monasteries. There is an old phrase in the church that says lex orandi, lex credendi, which loosely means, as the church prays, the church believes. This maxim is preserved much more in practice in the eastern churches.

Miriam behera
It took us a long time to find the route to Miriam Behera. We asked a number of people, carried 3 separate guides in our car for short periods of time, turned around twice and forded a dry river.

This church is seldom visited by tourists, so the first thing they asked for was a letter of recommendation. We, of course, didn’t have one, so emmanuel took the lead in negotiating for us. When it was all said and done, we were given entrance to the church. We couldn’t have had better luck, however. The church was being renovated, so the tabot (the representation of the ark of the covenant) was out of the church and we were able to visit the entire church. This church, also hewn into the rock, was less exact than the other churches. Emmanuel dated it earliest at the 16th century, which, he explained, is practially just yesterday. There were excellent paintings covering the columns. In the process of “restoration”, a term I would use very loosely throughout Ethiopia, they had whitewashed the walls, and in the process, spotted and damaged these ancient paintings. There is, of course, a completle different frame of mind for those restoring the churches. These are living sites of worship, and so the concern for preserving the historical is not as present. Furthermore, there are certain ideas of what a church “should” look like and how it “should” be restoried. This often involves a lot of concrete and white paint. It could even involve complete demolition and the builidnig of something complelty new, which seemed all to common during the reign of Haille Selassie.
Even the altar, a product of the 17th or 18th century, was not spared. There was a section cut directly through the middle to create a more common altar, and in the process baby jesus was hewn right out of mary’s hands.

We spent over 3 hours in the church, measuring, photographing and exploring. More exciting for me was to see the interest that the Ethiopians there took in our little project as we raced around the room. Emmanuel and Phillips passion seemed contagious, as members of the church, joined us in trying to decipher ancient Ge’ez and search for the remenants of paintings no longer evident.

Finished with Miriam Behera, we traveled to a church much closer to wukro and much more familiar to emmanuel and phillip. Indeed, the priest greeted them as an old friend when he saw them. Degum is an ancient church of the 11th or 12 century. We were unable to step into the former part of the church, as the altar has been moved from its original place to what would have been the center of the nave. The priest was willing, however, to pull the curtain aside. Emmanuel at that point, clarified the liturgical function of the church.

Mikael barka
On our 4th day in Wukro, a Sunday, we took a chance and visited some more rock hewn churches. Typically a church is closed for an entire day after mass is held there. The tigray region is a particularly conservative region when it comes to such matters in religion so we feared the worst. To our fortune, however, the churches were open.
We were greeted at the first church by the guardian monk of mikael barka. He was unmoving in showing us what lies behind the curtains of the church, but he was otherwise a pleasant man. We once again played detective, as we found traces and remnants of more fuller paintings on the walls. I even did a split manouever between two pillars to catch a better picture of the potential dormition of mary.

Wukro christos
Wulkro christos was the last church we visited in wukro. When it’s floor was being restored, emmanuel and phillip flew up here and spent time examining all the different holes in the floor. These represented where things were changed or moved over the past 500 years. The church had, unfortunatley, suffered from a fire at some earlier point by a muslim warlord, but the sandstone carvings in wall and ceiling were exquisite. This church was by far the most vast of all the churches we visited.

Coming soon: On the road to axum, stylites and tombs, 16th century gonder, mishap on the road, and life in bird paradise.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Trip north- blog

Day 2- Wokoro
I have spent the past two days driving north with pere phillipe, a French spiritan, and his parents. It was quite an amazing drive. On day 1 we ascended by car up to 3000 meters. There we stopped to have a look at the view. First we were approached by a man who wanted to sell us wool caps with baboon hair pointing out the top.
Hold out and let me explain that last part.
We walked on and all the sudden I noticed some monkeys climbing the ledge. They appeared quite small. Then, at the ledge, we were overtaken by quite an amazing site. It was a baboon with flong volumiounous hair that was about 4 inches long. He would be the Fabio of baboons. As he hurtled up the cliff face, the hair bounced gracefully up and down. The beauty of his hair and the ferocity of his stature were quite striking comparisons.

I later bought one of these hats for 30 bir. I thougjt I was finished, but then the man offered to trade me a hat for one of my t shirts. I happly obliged.

The Italians occupied Ethiopia for about six years during mussoloni’s reign. While they did not have the same cultural effect as colonizers in other countries, they certainly had their own influence on the transport infrastructure. Across the country the transport still heavily relies on the bridges that were built by the Italians. Leaving the baboons, we quickly crossed through the Mussolini tunnel, which still bears his name at the north end of it.

Crossing the mountains, I felt as if I was transported into a different world. All the sudden we were surrounded by green. It seems that moisture rises from the red sea and these clouds are halted by the mountains. It is truly stunning. Across the landscape I saw green fields spotting the terrain.

As we headed north, the thatch huts were slowly replaced by stone houses. We are now in Wukoro, staying at the white fathers residence. They are running an agriculture school as well as a secondary and primary school. Fr. Angelo, a basque Spanish priest, was explaining to me how they also care for over 1000 orphans. Most of these children lost their parents during the Eritrean/Ethiopian war during the 90’s.

The landscape here is quite barren. Stones seem to scatter the land. Amongst the mountains in this region are very many rock hewn churches, some of which that date back to the 10th century. The three that we have seen so far have truly been spectacular.

Day 7 Gonder
I have certainly been less faithful to the blog than I intended. Waking up early, spending a whole day on my feet hiking in the sun to reach ancient churches and having large spicy meals leaves one a little tired at the end of the day. Even if I stay up reading, I have a tough time sitting down to write.

Here are some random observations I have had over the past week.
It seems whenever we reach the highland countries, it all the sudden becomes cool to have a cane. Young men with large blankets wrapped around their chests and otherwise normal, if somewhat dirty clothes, sport the cane like some people in the US sport cell phones. Really more

I have added one more skill to my skills list, which is I have learned how to shave with a pocket knife. I didn’t bring a razor of any sort with me on this trip, as I now have a beard and can usually go a few days on the neck without a problem. Traveling with a car full of French people, encouraged me, however, to give shaving a go to look just a hair more presentable. In the absence of an actual razor, I pulled out my mini leatherman and shaved my neck.

While I can entertain children for a short time with hand play antics, animal faces and animal sounds, they will still get ask me for money or pens and still get angry when I refuse. They sometimes even throw rocks.

I do not want to generalize any group of people, but I really am curious what has made Ethiopia so different in terms of begging than every other country I have gone to. It seems everywhere we go, we are asked for a pen or money. Even as we drive along, people stick out their hands asking for money. At least for the personal encounters, perhaps I am merely more senisitive to it because of the language barrier. In other countries, I can easily break the “tension” of such moments because of my facility with the language. Traveling to the north, we traveled out of amharinga speaking land and into tigrinia speaking land. I couldn’t even use the few Amharic words I had learned to defer the regular seeker of bills and coins. Also, it was pointed out to me by a Zambian white father priest, that the life is indeed much harsher here than many other areas in east Africa. The land is rugged and dry. The fields are only harvested for wheat in the north at least, once a year. In Uganda there seemed to be such an abundance of food that it was hard to believe that people had problems

Anyways, here is an account of the trip thus far.


On Thursday we visited three churches. The first was mikael imba, which means Michael on the hill. It was located on the top of a little hill, with steep walls. A mushroom of sorts. We were told earlier by a young boy that the priest was not there and no one had the keys. Sensing better, we drove on. We were met by an old nun. No priest was there, but she had the keys. Walking around as she tried to reach the priest, we walked to a place where the ancient church used to be. It was circular and freestanding. Having completed mikael imba, they tore this structure down. We also saw the cistern where the water was collected.
Deny tried to take a phote of some flowers, but phillip called him back, telling him it was forbidden to go behind the eastern corner of the church.

We entered the church after finally negotiating the price down to 20 bir. Everisto, a white father priest from zambia did the negotioationg for us. The exterior of the church itself is quite impressive. It is a 3/4ths church, meaning that 3/4ths of the church is exposed. The other part is carved into, but not out of the mountain.
The exterior door had been recently repainted and an arch from an interior chancellory that had fallen was added to the exterior door. All the same, the wood carving on the door was very finely carved. It formed intricate geometric crosses.
The narthex immediately displayed the lined sandstone that makes up this mountain.
Inside, it was hard to believe that the entire immense structure had been hewn out of the rock.
There were no paintings on the interior walls.
Phillip pointed out to us the structure of the church. This church in particular had 3 tabots, so both the sacrestums had altars and a holy of holies. Wherever there is a tabot there is a holy of holies. The tabot is a replica of the ark of the covenant.

I was quite impressed right from the start with this rock hewn church. It was hard to imagine that all of this had been carved directly out of the rock

Mikael debra salam
The second church we visited was mikael debra salam. It took us a good amount of time to get to the location, and upon nearing the mountain, we found the peasants in the area had blocked the road. Apparently they were unhappy that the government cut through their fields. We were quickly surrounded by 8 children who wanted to accompany us up the mountain. This is a ploy for them to get money. If they carry your bag, hold your hand or even just walk quietly beside you, they will later ask for money for the service rendered. We also heard from the priest at the top of the mountain that they sometimes steal things from visiting tourists. More on the urchins later….
Finally arriving at the upper side of the mountain, we entered the church grounds. I could still see the vestiges of ancient hermit structures carved into the mountain above the church.
We negotiated the price to 20 bir on the condition that we could actually enter the church. There had been a cement structure built around the church to protect it from the elements. The church is located next to a holy spring of some sorts.
After fully examining the exterior paintings, we made our way to enter the church. At this point, we, and the accompanying priest, were impeded by one of the young monks (14 yrs old). He was a terribly suspicious fellow, and was afraid to even allow us to put our feet into the church. There was a curtain covering the main part of the church, and he was even unwilling to part that for us. We finally were able to get the curtain open, but we had to view everything from the footstep of the church.

There are a few ways that an Ethiopian church is set up. They can be rectangular, cross shaped and round churches. The round churches are a development of the 16th century and the rectangular and cross shape date back to axumite times (6th century). There are often two entrances for each gender. The churches are always set up east to west, with the sanctuary always being in the east. This is to signify Christ as the coming son. This is a model that used to be followed in the latin west and is often exhibited in pre-reformation churches. Ethiopian church services often start at 6am on Sundays. Why? Once again, they are practicing a symbolism that has long been in the church, Christ as the sun. there Eucharistic celebrations are thus done in parallel with the sunrise.
Within the most eastern part of the church is the sacristy and the holy of holies. The holy of holies is where the most important consecrations are done, where the altar is located and on this altar, where the tabot is at. The tabot is a representation of the ark of the covenant, or more specifically, the tablets of the ark of the covenant. This is a very revered item, unique to the Ethiopian tradition. The ark and the entire history behind it plays a strong role in the identity of semitic speaking Ethiopians. The belief is that the queen of sheba, who was from the region of axum, visited king Solomon and bore him a son named menelik. When menelik was old enough, he went to visit his farther in Jerusalem. The elders in Jerusalem had asked Solomon to send menelik away, for they feared the favor he bestowed on him, so he agreed, but on the condition that they sent their eldest sons with him. The son of the chief priest had a dream that he should take with him the ark, and so he did, unbeknownst to menelik or Solomon. When menelik found out, he said that it must be god’s will if they were able to take it away as such. Ethiopians still claim today to have the ark of the covenant in axum, but only one monk is allowed to see it. There has been a long standing tradition of the solomonic dynasty and even Emperor haile selassie claimed that solomonic blood ran through his own.
Regardless of the verity of the story, it plays a prominent role in ttraditional Ethiopian identity and liturgy. The tabot is venerated much like the tabernacle is within the latin catholic church. When the tabot is in a church, there is no possibility for an unordained to approach and enter the holy of holies. This in part put fear into the young monk who would not allow us to enter.

On our route down, Phillips mother, christain, twisted her ankle.

All the way down, surrounded by young children, I taught them the English equivalents to the natural world around us.
When we returned to the car, now surrounded with 20 children, they all started asking for money. Even the young monk who refused us entry into the church expected 2 bir for himself. I had joked with them telling them that I was the school teacher here, so they should be giving me bir for school feees. The joke was not well received. While Christian did give a pen and a bir to the young man who helped her up and down the mountain, we were not about to pay the demanding lot for merley the grace of their presence. As we drove away, some of the kids started throwing stones. We nearly had a riot on our hands, if you can believe it. It was not pretty, and certainly not the best way to visit churches.

Our third church that day was unfortunately locked. We had climbed in the rain up a mountain to get there. With the help of a local farmer, we opened some of the windows to view in the church. I was not about to break into a church, but the thought did cross my mind. This church would have been one of the earliest rock hewns, dating to the 10th century BC.

More to come…

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Amazing time in the north! The churches are surreal, carved directly into the mountain. i've also had a chance to improve my french. I had a longer blog for you all, but the flash doesn't work here... until later.

Monday, February 12, 2007

heading north!
tomorrow morning i leave for a two week adventure into the north. I will visit churches, monasteries and really old things. so, to my reading republic, i will have no blogs till i get back.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ethiopia: Week 1

Week 1 in Ethiopia.

It is hard to believe that I have now spent 1 week in Ethiopia. I arrived last Friday. By Monday I was getting some headway with the city, buying language books, visiting the Jesuit novices, and making my way to CNEWA, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, where I am volunteering part time. On Monday evening, I met abuna meussié, an Ethiopian capuchin bishop, who has a great interest in inculturation. He told me about a symposium that is just touching on this topic as it addresses the role of religious life within the Ethiopian context. For this past week, I have been completely absorbed by this symposium, learning all about Ethiopian spirituality, monastic life and the particular situation of catholic religious here and a way forward. It was fascinating. I feel like I have been able to condense one month of experiences into one week. We finished the week with a pilgrimage to the birthplace of a famous Ethiopian monk. This monk, Abuna, Takla Haymanot, stood for 22 years praying in one spot. After that time, somehow one of his legs fell off. So he stood 7 more years on one leg praying. Then he died. This is the legend concerning this priest. I really feel as if I was able to start off my research here on the right foot, somewhat like Abuna takla…. Sorry, terrible joke. My experience so far has really enlightened me to the situation that is going on right here on the ground, both in the Catholic Church and in the orthodox church.

For the catholic church, Ethiopia is still very much a missionary church. This is, in part, the dilemma of the catholic church here. The catholic church fully recognizes the Ethiopian orthodox church. The majority of the converts, however, are coming from the orthodox church. The whole country, according to the Vatican, is supposed to be operating under the Ethiopian rite. Only 3 diocese conform to this. Certainly if one measures the faith by numbers, it would appear that it is best for the church to celebrate mass in the Latin rite. In becoming Catholic, they, as one priest critically put it, become half Italian. This serves to alienate those who become Catholics from Ethiopians, severing them from their own Christian tradition, their own culture.

One older nun recounted to me what it felt like after she had converted some 40 years ago. The catholic missionaries had not regarded her as a real Christian when she was an orthodox and the orthodox, upon finding out that she was a catholic, also regarded her as a traitor. She felt called, however, to live the religious life of the catholic church, with its special charism of working with the poor. She has since left the Franciscan sisters and started her own congregation, living amongst the poor, fighting abject poverty. She told me about how at this point in her life, she is rediscovering her religious identity within the context of being both a catholic and an Ethiopian.


Today I volunteered at the Mother Theresa House in Siddest Kilo. I was invited the night before by two med students from George Washington university. Oddly enough, they are currently in school with Andrew Goldberg, who I had wrestled with back in high school. I had already planned on making my way out there to visit the Jesuits, but I didn’t have any intention of actually dealing with patients. It was, however, one of the opportunities I have been anticipating.

Some weeks ago, after church, a woman sat on the steps, with her swollen foot sitting out on the steps. The wound was about the size of a pancake and the muscles was exposed. There were flies on it. I had a hard time looking at it. I had a hard time even standing near her as my roommate and I waited for the priest to finish up confessions so that he could drive her to the hospital. My stomach retreated to my feet and I, squeamishly, stood at watch, a safe distance away, for the priest.

Today, I confronted just as many terrible wounds, but this time with nothing but compassion and concern. I cleaned wounds with high powered sprays from syringes. I dabbed bleeding abrasions with gauze, rubbing on antibiotic creams. I dressed wounds with bandages. Not once did my stomach turn, not once did I turn in discomfort. I cannot explain how I reacted so differently to these two situations. Perhaps, it was simply the fact that here, I could do something to be of help. Here, I set aside any emotions or distaste, for there it is of no help, and I just cheerfully trudged forward.

I was so happy to be taken in under the wing of these med students and actually taught a practical skill. I have continually expressed a desire throughout this trip to take a course in basic first aid so I could be of assistance in just such a way. I hope to continue to volunteer with the missionaries of charity, helping where I may.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Some first impressions of Ethiopia


Some first impressions of Ethiopia
Cold and wet….. I guess it is the little wet season, which certainly didn’t seem so little as the rain came down in torrents for about two hours today. Who knew that besides kili, I would still be wishing I had trucked around my wool socks. I seemed to have lost my hat as well. Perhaps it is still in the pocket of my rental jacket. It seems that I do a good job of simplifying my life on accident by losing things.

Good local wine. It is sweeter than my preferred cab, but is certainly welcome after being mostly dry of wine for the past 5 months.

Excellent food. While it can be spicy, there are enough varieties where hot is not all you are stuck with.

Amharic is very difficult…. It is a semiotic language with 27 different letters and 7 different forms of each letter to make a total of 189 characters.

It’s really cold here.

The capuchins who I live have a decidedly Italian influence. Why do I say this? They eat Italian chocolate cakes for breakfast.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Alive in Ethiopia

Warning: I just caught up on some information gaps, so there are two long posts below. i am alive and safe in ethiopia. here is my new cell# +251912127651

Today I attended my first amheric masss. This was done in the ethopian rite. As a daily mass it lasted for 1 hour.

As the chants rolled high and in a semi-arabic fashion trilled and flipped my soul elated. Having been attending only meagerly Africanized masses over the past 6 months, it was somewhat spectacular to be surrounded by a completely different and historical authentic “African” mass. Granted, the “African” mass of here is completely different than the “African” mass of the countries I have visited. All the same, for me it was tremendous. I felt as if I had stepped into a whole other world.

Is Ethiopia a success of inculturation. I am not sure. While it has its own freedom from the western tradtion, by the same force that makes it unique it is also chained. If there is one thing that I have learned, culture is dynamic and changing. One cannot conceive of inculturation as merely a hanging on to the past. Nor is it an adoption of merely local trends. It is a reflection by people concerning their faith in their context, culturally, socially, economically. This is best confirmed, as Joe Healey’s discussion with me reminded me, in the life of youth in urban culture. The world of IT has broadened this coming generations conception of what is and what should be. Where is the Catholic church in this process. Already defined by its own limitations, does our catholic church impose these boundaries on its practicants. The somewhat vauge ecclesiology of Vatican II leaves certainly a lasting impression that the church is the people of God. How is it that people can be conscientisized into realizing that this indeed is their role. They are the Christian church and they have the ability of self direction.

Talking with a seminarian here, he relayed to me that this desire of the youth is present here in Ethiopia. Unlike so many other African countries, the imposing force of orthopraxy origionates origionally from inside the country and culture itself.
This is happening particularly in the southern part of Ethiopia. He explained to me that the church has directed this desire for dynamic church services into charismatic churches. He also expressed that often these youth still end up leaving the church for protestant sects deeming that the priest and the eucharist are not necessary.

Should these examples lead us to say that a contexualization of the faith for the youth should not happen???

Contextualization is a term that was introduced to me by Joe Healey. While I feel it might be weaker theologically, it doesn’t fall into the same trap of traditional ideas of culture as inculturation does.

Attending this first Ethiopian mass was exciting for me. It was like a breath of fresh air. I can recognize in some sense though, that this renewal from the service is in part due to my position as a foreigner. This service was almost exotic. Would Ethiopians, who themselves are from over 30 different cultural groups, feel the same way? Ultimately, the same questions must continue to be asked here. Inculturation is never a finished project as one interviewee reminded me, but it is always a dynamic process. This is a process necessary for the US, for Europe, for Asia, for every congregation of the world.

So what is my role? Perhaps my own broad experience of this topic can help illuminate the question and the necessity of asking it. It can help provide the theological and social impetus for the discussion. It can help provide a sense for what inculturation is and what it is not.

Obesrvations from the day:

ethiopia is a much different country than any other i've already visited. the gov has a strong grip here. they own the cell phone network and after some strifes in 2005 they banned text messaging.

At the restraunt we went to, they had two different options on the Menu. The fasting food and the non-fasting food. I have entered chritiandom.

To disengage from beggars, you say zarestaing, which is used to say thank you, but literally means, God will give you.

White people here are called Ferenji (almost Ferengi, which would have set historical precedent to the seperation of species in startrek). Ferenji is a derivative of the word French, which of course was used to lable the French people. They couldn’t tell the difference however between French people and anyone else. This is a similar incident to the origins of the Swahili word Mzungu, which is derived from a word that means English speaker.

Écarta means I am sorry.

I also learned there is no way I can really learn Amheric here, since it has a complteley different alphabet.

Weeuhyet- the word for taxi is the same as the word for conversation. It certainly means there is a historical precedent for “matatu theology”

Ethiopians use Explosive k’s and T’s. nothing too important about this linguistic fact, I just think the word explosive T is pretty cool.

leading up to departure

Day 1 in ethiopia.

I have now moved countries. Already arriving at the guest house I have gotten a much different feeling that my last location in Dar. In dar, I was living with the Jesuit community. These were wonderful men who were very encouraging and hospitable. We’ll see how Ethiopia treats me.

I feel as if these past few weeks I have inadequately recorded my experiences. I have been living out of a rucksack hanging out with really wonderful people. This started the moment I left Mwanza. From my 18 hour journey to Arusha began the roller coast ride that finally ended here in Addis Abbas. I can’t say that it was terribly uncomfortable moving around from port to port. In part this is because the people I have been with have been so great. Right away in Arusha at the novice house I had a sense of fitting in with both the senior priests and with the novices. Down in morogoro I had a real chance to have fellowship with my former school mate Daniel Hendrickson and his friend Stephanie. I also met a Jesuit there from OR named Bart. Climbing Kili I was once again surrounded by great people.

I made my way from moshi to Dar last week Saturday. The moment I arrived I was filled with a sense of hospitality. Although my typical evangelical Oregonian line about Portland being the brew capital of the world ruffled some feathers with a german Jesuit, I was wholly welcome there. Kizito, the Jesuit guest master who received me at the bus station, is an outrageous Ugandan. Edmund is a mildmannered Tanzanian. Gabriel and Charles were both novices who I met earlier in Arusha. Then there is Fr. Don from from Penn. Fr. Don has longer hair, wears high waters with converse shoes, and would fit right in at Eugene. He was so affirming of me as an Oregonian. Everytime some unexpected circumstance was solved in an unexpected way by me, he said, well of course you would, your and Oregonian. Having been telling so many people how great Oregon is, it was wonderful to meet a man who in fact evangelized me in my Oregonianness!
I also had a wonderful time meeting the Scoobie Doo Gang, the JVI’s. Kate, Billy and Susan make a wonderful and fun community of people.


Last week I went to Zanzibar. I was dropped off by Kizito, a Jesuit from Uganda, at around 7 AM. I was to board at 7:30 and be off by 8AM. Waiting in line I got to talking to an Arabic Tanzanian man who was born on Pemba island. I also met a colimbian fellow. In the midst of all this conversation, time passed and the line moved nowhere. It seems there was a problem with the boat. Not knowing what to do, I just waited longer. Optimistic man that I am, I just figured it would be fixed in no time and we would be on our way. African transportation leads one to a different experience however. While walking around, I heard two American accents. I asked these two men where they were from. They said Oregon! Can you believe it. They explained to me that they were only going to Zanzibar for a day and that their driver was going to see if the ferry was working. I asked them what city they were from and they said seaside. My family and I vacation in seaside every year. My mind, which always seeks to make relationships between events reminded me that I had met a Fr. Nicholas in Seaside who is in fact from Tanzania. I told these gentleman about this Tanzanian priest, and they exclaimed to me that Fr. Nick is their driver here! The world is small! Their parish is twinned with Fr. Nick’s parish in the Moshi region and they had raised money to help build a youth center. In 3 months they had raised 50,000 dollars. Michael owns subways up and down the coast, as well as the elephant ear shop in downtown Seaside. Dave owns a holiday inn express in Seaside.
It turns out that the ferry wouldn’t be running, so we refunded our tickets and started looking into other boat means, when Michael and Dave were approached by a fellow trying to get us to take a plane. Having had enough experience of Africa, we were a little suspicious, but upon looking into it, the company seemed legitimate, so we picked up our feet and left for the airport.

I spent the next few hours with these three gentlemen exploring the food and architecture of Stone town.

That night I checked into the karibu inn and was lucky enough to get a cheap dormitory all to myself. I hit up the town and found a regular “impromtu” fish market that gets set up every night. You select your fish and they fry it up for you. I had lobster, king fish, squid, and octopus. I also met another Oregonian from Eugene!

A Danish fellow (Skull!) came and sat next to me and after chatting for sometime, we headed to a local bar with a finnish girl. You always get an odd assortement at Zanzibar bars. The island is 99% muslim, so any local in the bar is bound to be one of those who “departs from the norm”. One such fellow came up to me, shook my hand, and said Superpower. I misunderstood and thought that he had somehow traced my nationality and sputteringly tried to defuse a potentially tense situation. It turns out, however, that his name is, in fact, Alisparrow superpower. He is a nutty man, short in stature and Rastafarian in his heart. He no longer has the rastafari hair as he had a colony of bugs in it. There I came across a half breed Canadian/Oregonian. Somehow in 1 day I ran into more Oregonians than I have seen in my whole trip. What an experience going to a tourist spot!

At 8 am I grabbed a hotel taxi to cross the island and hit up the beach. It might be easy to say that one doesn’t need to go to the beach, as there are plenty of those in the US, but that person would have a hard time turning away from the white sand and pristine Indian ocean. Wow. It was gorgeous. With limited time, I just decided to get off at the first beach I came across, which just so happened to be Jambiani beach town. I had met a great gay couple (Dave and Chris) in the bus who also chose this town because it was quieter than the other cities. I just heard from the driver, with whom I had been enganging in what has been called Matatu theology, and he said if you want to go snorkeling, this is the spot. The first two hotels got filled up by our little bus, so I started to ask the locals if I could stay in their houses. Apparently it’s illegal and my driver coaxed me back into the car, promising cheaper pickings ahead. With only two of us left in the car besides the driver, I saddled up next to the giant sun glass decked british traveler in the vehicle. Her name is Marissy and she works in music production for the rough guide. That is a job of which I am certainly jealous. Marissy told the hotel guy she would only pay 15$. He finally came close to acceding and assuming that we were traveling together, he also gave me a similar rate. After some excellent seafood, with the great gay couple who seem to travel for one year out ever five, Marissy and I got in a local Dow and while she enjoyed a conversation with the captain about local music, I went snorkeling for two hours. Wow! I saw fish of every color. I saw bright blue fish, yellow striped fish with pointy “lips”, green fish that sparkeled, long fish that looked like sausages and even a sting ray! Just going out in the sail boat, however, was an experience that was rejeuvenating. For dinner we got back together with Dave and Chris and enjoyed a night of good conversation on the beach side. I could have spent weeks exploring that island. Alas, the next morning I had to catch a bus back to stone town for one more tourist attraction before boating back to dar.

Catching the morning spice tour I learned all about the spices and fruits grown in Zanzibar. One fruit, which is reputed to smell like hell and taste like heaven, had the consistency of pizza dough and would have gone great with a bottle of wine and some crackers.

The day after making my way back to Dar I was able to purchase plane tickets for the following day and arrange an interview with Joe Healey, proverb collector and author of various books including “towards an African Narrative Theology.”
Ethiopia requires that you have a ticket for an onward destination to get a tourist visa. My plans, ever fluid, were somewhat in a turmoil since my sister wants to meet me in Tunisia, but there are no direct flights there. What did I do? Hedge my bets on either my sister changing my mind or a better airline in another country and I purchased a ticket that leave the day after easter for Egypt! Regardless of whether grace meets me there or not, I get to see the pyramids!! As Daniel reminded me in Morogoro, this is where the boy the Alchemist goes to find his personal treasure. Maybe mine will be there too!

On the way to meet Joe I got in a great conversation with a muslim man on the Dala Dala about the nature of humanity, language, culture and religion. These are not easy topics for me to cover in Swahili, but we had a great time all the same. Joe and I spent a few hours chatting about the state of the catholic church and he gave me some well needed reminders about the dangerous use of language. Finally getting back to the Jesuits, I enjoyed a good dinner with the JVI’s and prepared for my next day departure.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Flying out

So I leave today for ethiopia.
It has been a good run here in TZ, but i am getting the sense that it is time to move on.
my new mailing address will be
Mike Le Chevallier
PO Box # 27336
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Before leaving I celebrated my 6 months anniversary of leaving for Africa with a trip to Zanzibar. There I had a chance to enjoy the ancient architecture of stone town, go ride in a sailboat and go snorkeling, enjoy fine food, learn about spices, and local fruits. waiting for the broken ferry on the way over i met two guys from seaside and a priest i knew from there. Small world! I ended up flying into zanzibar, due to the fast ferry being broken down. From there, our oregon contingent enjoyed fine seafood, explored stone town and did some spice shopping. We said our goodbyes and made plans to run into each other in seaside in the future.
That evening, i went out to the fish market and selected fish to be grilled and eaten at my pleasure. I met another Oregonian there!
Well, i cut this reminising short as I am hungry and need to pack. maybe there will be more later.

Thursday, February 01, 2007



It has been almost a week since I climbed Kilimanjaro and I know that I have inadequately relayed my experience.

Here is the journal I was keeping when climbing

Pre-trip preparation

We started the day with great anticipation. To be honest, I was slightly afraid. The day before I had felt slightly feverish and achy. I kept thinking to myself what am I getting myself into. My body has been mined by worms, amoeba, bad sleep and malaria since I arrived here. I had not done any training, as a hiking trail is not common in Africa. What would the trip hold in store for me? Somewhat ill prepared and sick, I handed over the money. What pushed me to it? I had decided to climb it almost on a whim. Taking a bus from Arusha to Morogoro, the early morning air was quite clear and passing Moshi, the mountain stood out in all her splendor and glory. I spent the next few hours deciding if I could fit such a trip in my budget. A good SJ friend Daniel encouraged me to go forward with the trip. Now, the day before the climb, I felt the unreasonable and eerie feeling that I could somehow meet my end on this mountain. That night before, I put myself on my knees and prayed. It’s true that somehow sentiments of ones own death pushes one to unexpected places in prayer. I asked for the strength to do this trip and the health to abide my fears. I also prayed for the special intercession of Mary. Somewhat disorientated, I realize in shock that the first day of my climb would be on a Sunday. I said, in shock, I won’t be able to attend mass. Fr. Balige offered to say a mass in the morning for me. I, using tongue and cheek to hide my own fears, asked Balige if he would also do last rites.

Sunday morning, I prepared myself to go. At mass, the first reading was from Nehemiah. It is the story of the reintroduction of the Law to the Jewish people. Upon hearing God’s law, everyone was in a state of misery at the realization that they had been disobeying the Law. The scribe, however, told them to not be afraid, but that “the Joy of the Lord is our stronghold.” This last phrase proved to be quite poignant, and stayed with me through all the ups and downs of the climb.

On the trail: Day 1. MACHAME CAMP

My arrived at the gate, ready to hike. We had some time to spare as all our papers and travelers checks were sorted out, so I spent some time bartering down prices with the locals for a hat, a walking stick and bandana. I saw these really fancy walking poles that would go for about 5 dollars, but one of the men, who recognized my frugal spirit, pulled out a hand shaped wood walking stick that he would sell to me for 1 dollar. The romantic in me couldn’t help but take him up on the deal. The moment I set foot on the trail, I was full of energy. Hiking in the cool breeze under the trees set my mind longing for the forest of Tryon creek. I felt healthier and more alive than I have felt since I came to Africa. Even a downpour only served to further echo sentiments of home and lift my spirits. “the joy of the lord is our stronghold” continued to stick in my mind. Even though our guides tried to get us in the habit of going slow, this first day was hiked at our direction at a voracious pace and our 6 hour hike ended up being only 3.
In our group there were 2 canadians from the Toronto region named Tim and John. These two were planning a 7 day climb. There were also 3 men with me doing the 6 day hike from Holland named Jerome, Peter, and Case.
We scattered across the mountain, only really meeting up for lunch, but otherwise taking to the trail at a somewhat breakneck speed. I knew one didn’t have to be concerned about altitude sickness till the 3rd day, so I took my pent up energy and spent it.

Day 1: 2 am

This is perhaps the coldest night of my life. My 7 degree Celsius sleeping bag is completely inadequate. I even pulled out my emergency blanket to keep myself warm.

Day 2: Shira Hut: 3840 m
After the cold night, I knew I had to find some other sleeping option. Hiking the mountain on a whim, I was somewhat ill prepared. John’s bag never arrived from the airport and they were to bring it up the mountain to him by porter when it did arrive. I would then take his rented sleeping bag and line it with my own. In the meantime, my head guide offered me his. I am forever indebted to him.

Steeper than yesterday, the climb began to wear on us. We started hiking at 8 am. Our head guide had pleaded with us to go slower and we acceded. 200 people had started with us the day before and only one had at this point turned back. It seemed that the whole mountain was with us on this narrow trail. Not exactly what I thought my Kili Experience would be. I have taken since arriving in Africa to talking to my body. This sounds weird, but since reading that most illness is caused by the body’s overreaction to bacteria, and having to endure long hours on busses without bathroom stops, I have told my body to deal with it. On this journey, feeling a slight headache, I told my body to start producing more red blood cells. These cells are essential in carrying oxygen and the body copes to the altitude by breathing deeper, increasing the heart rate and making more cells. My body doesn’t always listen to me. I taught the guys that night how to play hearts.

Day 3: Baranco Camp (3900 m) reached lava tower (4600 m)

After the circus that was the trail yesterday, we decided as a group to head out early. We still got up at the same 6 am wake up call, but quickly put our bags together, chowed down food and hit the trail by 7 am. This was the Kilimanjaro I hoped to climb. We were the only ones on the trail.
I regularly got the feeling that I was part of the fellowship of the ring, setting off on the journey with our packs and walking sticks, heading for Mt. doom.
It started cold, but as soon as the sun peeped out the temperature rose ten degrees. Water is amazing. The ground was still frozen as we hiked. Somehow the water freezes and expands from the ground straight up. It would appear that there were blades of frozen grass, each one pushing up a small pebble. We were promised a hot lunch on the trail and our porters and cooks quickly overtook us. When we arrived at the foot of lava tower, a wonderful leek soup was ready for consumption. Lava tower was the highest point reached that day at (4600 m). Living in the North west, these formations were nothing to spectacular and the trip was taken there mainly to help our bodies acclimatize. I do get to check off the list taking the highest grounded bathroom break of my life at 4600m. Squat toilets are no fun, particularly since most climbers on the trail are not familiar with them. The only advantage is that the cold takes away most of the smell. The cold has somehow fixed my watch which has been showing multiple numbers on it over the past 2 months.
After climbing lava tower, we descended through a valley, past some prehistoric looking trees and on to our camp at Baranco.

Day 4: Barafu camp (4600m)

Our ascent began again at 7 am, zigzagging our way up a cliff face next to baranco camp. Today we would hike to karango valley and then up to Barafu before our final ascent. Descending from lava tower the day before, my right knee started paining me. I decided that using my walking stick, I had somehow changed my stride. my knees began to ache again descended through the valleys. I only got a taste of what would be in store for me hiking down the mountain.

We had a small lunch at karanga valley before I group split in two. John’s bag would finally arrive that night, so he gave me a few extra granola bars and his bellaclava. Tim, who had some prescription anti altitude sickness drugs that his doctor had prescribed to him, gave me two of them that he had extra. Both these signs of kindness proved indispensable on the mountain top. With that our fellowship was broken

We began our upward descent again. I would feel a few slight tensions of a the head and a slight wave of nausea. I would use these as reminders to slow down and breathe deep. I even employed some of my singing experiences and breathed from the diaphragm. Hiking up hill from the valley, I got the distinct impression that I was somehow entered Dante’s inferno. The landscape was bare and the black rocks were covered with a yellow lichen. While our new guide Faustine took the lead at a fast pace, a habit which could prove to be disastrous, I took it at my own pace, slow and steady. Stopping for a break amongst the shale rocks, it began to hail. All the sudden were surrounding my the tinkling music of the mountain.
Arriving in Barafu camp I could feel the altitude pressing down on me. I decided to rest for a while. With John our porter, Jerome and Peter, we took the trail again to acclimatize our bodies. We hiked up another 100 m to Kosovo. I began to massage my neck on the trail and my headache seemed to disappear. Was it altitude sickness or just bad pillows that had been giving me trouble. All the same, I had figured out one trick to keep me safe going up the mountain. Following dinner (which included my anti-altitude sickness pills), I sent myself straight to bed, preparing my body for the 12:30AM departure time.

Day 5: Uhuru peak (5895m)

I awoke with a start at midnight. It is hard to function at the hour, and even though I had energy, I still felt clumsy on the trail. Many climbers had begun 30 minutes earlier. We could see the halogen lamp lit snake of climbers zig-zagging up the trail. As we got closer to the mountain, it was hard to know where the climbers ended and the stars began. Our guide had set a dangerously fast pace and we quickly overtook two groups. I kept telling him pole pole. At one point during our break, when I took two minutes longer to tie my shoes, he gave me a hard time. I calmly replied that I planned on making it up the mountain and I wasn’t involved in a race. Nearly one hour in, our guide mentioned something to the porter and seemed to disappear. Now it was just porter john at the lead and our assistant guide following behind. While John went slow, we seemed to take almost no breaks. The mountain quickly got colder and colder. Every time I took off my gloves my hands began to go numb. The pace continued slowly but surely. Almost no one spoke. All thoughts, all eyes and all movements were directed towards the mountain. We saw climbers begin to slow down, stop and some ever turn around, but we trudged on. Despite the early hour, I began the hike full of energy. I can admit that the past 5 days had begun to wear me down though. Soon we were surrounded by snow, walking through cuts into this ice, Our asst. guide stopped near the top as his shoes seemed to be falling apart.

We reached stellar point and began to walk around the crater rim. All the sudden we were surrounded by white. I had entered a whole other world. The glaciers were showing their exposed receding faces to us, the fields of ice, smooth and unbroken covered the landscape and then I turned and saw it.

It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. With hues of blue and yellow preceding the sun, the land of Kenya and Tanzania canvassed with a sea of clouds, and Mt. mawenzi perfectly sillohetted the sun began to peek awaken the world once more. Staring there, I understood beauty. Thanking god for this moment, I felt my throat clench, my sinuses tweak and I began to cry. I wish words or photos could somehow express this moment, but all seem shadows compared to this beauty. Returning to the task at hand, the snow all the sudden took on the glow of the sun. Turning to Stephan, a French man who I met there on the trail, I told him in French that it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. He in turn began to cry as well.

Rejoining my group of four, we took to the summit. We continued to stop, struck by the evolving beauty of the landscape. Holding hands, we reached Uhuru peak at 6:49 AM on Jan. 25th, 2007. With only our porter left, we had summited mount Kilimanjaro.
The crater itself held its own beauties, as fields of snows seemed to lead to a city of ice.

Day 5: the descent Mweka camp
The only problem with climbing up a mountain is that you have to climb back down. I made the mistake of not taking the time to be sure that all gear and all clothes were properly set for descent. Walking stick in hand I began going down the steep mountain. Never more have I regretted renting shoes than here. Taking perhaps an hour more than I might have in good condition, I reached the bottom of the mountain with feet covered in blisters. After 10 hrs of hiking I reached camp. There I saw the smiling, congratulating faces of John and Tim. They welcomed me into camp and I sat telling them of my whole experience. Our fellowship was once again renewed, and we shared one final hot meal before we split again. I continued my slow descent, developing two more blisters on my feet. That final day we hiked a total of 15 hrs since midnight. Back at mweka, we grabbed some beers, played some cards and finished off our night.

Day 6: Mweka Gate
Our final hike was but 3 hours. The heavy descent continued and I could feel it in every step. All I wanted was to be done. How short our memories are. I seemed to forgot all the beauty of the mountain in this downward descent. Perhaps this forgetfulness was the real inferno. I was reminded, however, of the old words of coach corey: pain is temporary, pride is forever. We reached the end, received our certificates, set plans for a later meeting for beers in moshi and set to our homes. I had done it though. I had climbed Kilimanjaro and I will never regret it.