After our blissful experience yesterday, the idea of visiting another ancient monastery set atop a mountain, that you can only access by hoisting yourself up a rope sounded exciting. The landscape getting there was definitely stunning, but by the time we arrived everything on site started to change. As we approached the verdant meadow punctuated with wondrous trees, we encountered the first group of non-smiling people since our arrival in Ethiopia. As opposed to the happy families we had become accustomed to, there were only men there to greet us. And instead of the beautiful, pure welcoming energy we so enjoyed everywhere we went, this place felt gloomy and a little dark, especially considering this group of men staring at us like predators narrowing in on its prey.
Next thing we know Tinko, Peter and I find ourselves climbing up a rope hanging vertically from a somewhat terrifying 50 meter cliff. A couple of men loosely grip a sheepskin cord and harness haphazardly thrown around us, to keep us from falling should our grip on this sweat soaked rope not hold. All the whilst, Sophie and Lucy wait for us at the bottom as the vulturous men, who fortunately only seem interested in getting their hands on a bit of money, hover around them, The rest of this questionable bunch of youth effortlessly swing up the rope behind us, waiting to intimidate us at every opportunity. It becomes quite an exercise in holding our ground.
An hour and half later, we discover a couple more good reasons why Lucy and Sophie should not regret having to stay at the bottom of the cliff. Indeed, you have to realize that no women have been up here since the 5th century, or possibly ever (although Tinko can’t believe that over the centuries a few girls haven’t been smuggled up clandestinely). The decor and architecture of the monastery has something of a Tibetan feel lined in dark wood andstones. The carpets on the floor have not been aerated for at least three hundred to four hundred years, judging from the suffocating amount of dust in the air. I barely managed five minutes in there, whilst Tinko had to hold his breath and we almost lost Peter as he knelt to pray and found himself submerged in a extra thick layer of filth.
Following this, we are invited to visit the cemetery where it’s apparently unimportant to bury bodies and much simpler to leave them out- souls matter more here. As someone died not long ago the air carries a thick stench that pervades our every cell.
We eventually make our way out of this open graveyard under the stifling heat, and unsurprisingly the only smile we encounter comes from an indifferent looking monk as we exchange a picture for a banknote.
It’s increasingly obvious that the energy here is completely masculine and unbalanced. The lack of a feminine counterbalance means that there seem to be no love, nurturing, beauty or joy. We miss you sisters!
We are relieved to finally head back down this perilous cliff, but not before haggling our safe passage down by negotiating with the monks to make sure they hold the rope for us. There’s nothing like being about to launch yourself into emptiness wondering if you’ve paid enough to make sure you don’t get dropped.
What a strange experience- a bleak landscape of downcast monks, an entourage of young men that are archetypal of a pack of wolves, a monastery built with materials brought up on ladders that were then destroyed and a stand alone, protruding rock that acts as a fractal of separation on many levels.
Knowing that Gebrewahid’s specialty is the thin line between light and dark, today’s visit was perfectly timely.
Story by Manu Rengade