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  • Day20

    Timkat in Gonder

    January 21, 2016 in Ethiopia ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    We got to celebrate Timkat! Aka the epiphany. It’s the largest religious celebration (at least I think it is) in Ethiopia, and we went to the town that had the biggest celebration of course! When in Rome!

    Basically it’s 3 days, January 20th to 22nd (leap year, it’s usually the 19th), where on the first day the many churches of the town march towards the Center of town with the arch of covenant. Then the whole town follows the arch of covenant over to Fascilades Bath (old looking building in the middle of a concrete empty structure that is filled with water only for Timkat) where it is kept overnight, guarded by priests and monks. The walk down follows these priests and monks, but they could only walk on red carpets. Which means there was a group of men who would roll up the one of 4-5 red carpets once the arch of covenant had passed it, and would run it up in front of them and unroll. Talk about an exhausting role. Because of this, the walk was at the piazza (so Center town) around 1pm, and Jack and I followed it to the baths – where it arrived around 6pm!
    Many of the people stay in the surrounding field overnight, chanting and lighting up candles.

    The second day is the recreation of the baptismal, where once the sun is up, the water is blessed by the highest priest. Once blessed, everyone one around jumps in the water and it’s a huge celebration in these waters! Chanting, singing, people from the crowd that were too far would throw bottles of water to be filled with this blessed water and they were thrown back so they could all be blessed.

    In the water were mostly boys and young men, women were mostly waiting for the bottles of water. I’m guessing it’s a modesty thing. Also, it super cold at that time of day! The water of have been freezing, it’s probably around 5-10 degrees overnight and at sunrise maybe 10-12 degrees. Locals are usually wearing the thickest jackets at this time, let alone tripping down to their boxers to jump in water.
    The afternoon of the second day and the third is the same procession walking the arch of covenant back through town and back to their respective churches they go. They fill the streets making circles, chanting, singing, honestly all looking incredibly happy to be celebrating.
    Everyone (or mostly) was dressed in traditional clothing from their respective churches, lots of white dresses and scarfs, with colourful borders. Men in white suits. All dressed to impress.

    Now for the tourist, we saw the most tourist we’ve seen yet in Ethiopia, in Gonder for Timkat. White people were everywhere, all of us being warned about the pickpocketing that would happen. We were told by our local friend Mulish (who was fantastic at organizing everything for us) to just bring enough money for water, nothing else. So we brought out cellphone for photos only.
    We had the chance to stay in a homestay for Timkat, so had a chance to chat with the family there. We borrowed white scarfs from them since we knew all the women would have one over their heads for the day. These two young girls took a liking to us, basically because we’re white, and starting chatting with us. At one point I wanted to shower, so needed to changed, and once I expressed this they’re basically just sat on the bed waiting for me to go ahead and change. I had to ask them to leave very bluntly or else they weren’t getting the hint! The also brought us special celebration bread, which we got to eat with their family, Grand father, Grand mother and aunt. No english. When we sat down they right away changed the channel to their only English channel that played old movies (the Perfect Man at this time). It was generous and welcoming. Made us feel bad for having to jump their gate the night before because we got back too late… Does lock at 9pm but we didn’t know!

    At the baths, there was a temporary stadium steatting installed for the tourists. They said it was to keep us safe from theft, but as Jack mentioned, it’s probably a great way to keep the white people out of the way of their celebration, which is understandable. Because of the chanting overnight, tourists are all told to show up at 3-4am of we want to witness the Baptismal. Thing is, no one speaks good enough English to explain why we needed to be there so early, or what would go on. We were just all told to show up at 4am if we want to see the celebration. So we did.

    We took a bajaj (like a tuktuk) because who wants to walk 30 minutes at 4am! Getting there, there was a line up to get into the stands on one side, and even people with “vip” tickets weren’t getting in (which of course we didn’t have). So we went to the other side, managed to squeeze our way threw the crowd, I passed first, Jack followed, you could see that the army guard wanted to ask for our VIP tickets but was distracted. They stopped our 2 Belgian friends behind us and asked for their tickets, to which they responded they were there with a group and the guide had the tickets. No further questions asked, they were let in, and maybe 2-3 more people behind us and that’s it! Full, no more room. We thought it was hilarious, last people let on and without tickets, luck!

    Then reality set in. A bunch of white idiots, freezing, sitting on these wooden stands, waiting for a ceremony we had no clue when it would happen. Well, 8am is when it happened! 4 hours later! I guess it was their way of getting us to see the setting in the night time, which was absolutely gorgeous. Candles everywhere. Quiet singing. Families huddled together. But since the sun rises around 630am, I will never understand why 4am was suggested, and why no one doubted it! A crowd of white people, freezing, waiting 4 hours for a celebration.

    You could really see the pride Ethiopians have of their culture and religion. It was incredibly beautiful to see.
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