After touring Lalibela I returned to my luxury hut, drank a couple beers, and scrolled through a week’s worth of Facebook posts. One of them was by my son, Vince, who was announcing to his 263 friends that he would undertake a project to remove some of his tattoos and replace them with new ones—to the tune of $4,000 over the course of a year.
Ugh. Tattoos are, in general, a divider between Baby Boomers and younger generations. To me, they are a total waste of money. $4,000 would pay for a very nice European vacation. It would buy a good used car. It could even go toward a down payment on a house. A very small house.
But it’s his money and his body.
By 10am I was gazing up at the light as I was about to switch it off, and it was a new experience for me to sleep under a light shade with a face on it. As a bonus nightmare-inducement, it also featured a swastika.
I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep, finally. But that was not to be. Again, there were the roosters and the donkeys. Again, at around 4am, the chanting started. But also again, I was fortunate to have ear plugs. When I woke up at 7am, they were still chanting and I could see worshipers in white gauzy robes wending their way up the hill toward Lalibela in the distance. It was Sunday, so there would be services, and I wondered if the chanting would go on even longer than the four hours it had run the previous day.
I went down to the dining hut and drank a good cup of coffee while I waited for my ride to the airport. The only other occupants of the room were two Israeli guys who looked like absent-minded professors, with wild shaggy hair, long beards, and thick, 80s style glasses. I came to believe that they were professors of religion and/or history and would have all the answers to my questions. But no matter how blatantly I stared at them, they never looked my way but kept talking loudly in Hebrew. Well, loud is the only volume Israelis speak at, in my experience.
Finally I got up to leave, and that got their attention. I said hi and asked if they knew how many Jews had been in Ethiopia at the time Lalibela was created—my guide had said Ethiopia was “mostly Jewish” at that time?
They scoffed and said no, that was not correct; there were “only a few million” Jews in Ethiopia at that time. That didn’t sound right either—how many people could there have been all told in Ethiopia 800 years ago? But their accents were so heavy I just smiled and left rather than press for clarification.
And so 18 hours after my arrival, I was driven back to the Lalibela airport, with the by-now expected young boys in the back seat for the ride. I flew to Axum, where my driver was waiting to take me back to Shire. But first, he swung by the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. This is where the arc of the covenant is supposedly kept. As a woman, I was not allowed to enter. However my driver pointed out some steles across the road from the church and said, “Italians take. They break. We make them give back.” That’s all I know about that.
The driver had tapped out his English, so for most of the one-hour drive I gazed at the rows of stone shacks along the road, maybe 12 by 12 feet in size, and thought I would go insane in five minutes if I had to live in one. But so many Ethiopians were born, lived their entire lives, and died in these shacks. They were home, and as long as there is love in a home, that’s the most important thing, I guess.
Vince, when you read this, you know I don’t “get” tattoos but I’m glad you’ve got a project you’re excited about that doesn’t involve drugs, gambling, or theft. I’m just so glad you’re home.