Lalibela, Ethiopia—This happens to me a lot. I land in some place with no agenda, only to find out that something spectacular is going on. When I arrived in Lalibela, I hadn’t coordinated a plan. The historic rock-hewn churches are the main attraction, so I decided to start there.
The churches were impressive, no doubt. But after several hours of tours, I needed a break. I was headed back to my hotel when I noticed something in the brush along the side of the road. There was a cow laying on the ground and another being guided by a group of men. After staring for a bit, I realized what was happening. They were in the process of slaughtering the cows.
I asked my guide if we could get closer and if it was appropriate to take photographs. I was in the clear.
I learned that this particular slaughtering process happens every year for Epiphany. It is a process that involves several people. At one point, my guide was recruited to help the men drag the cow to the shade. The cows are slaughtered and skinned by a group of men. Afterward, women come and cut the animal into smaller pieces. The meat is dried underground for one day, then prepared by women the next day. The slaughtering process was relatively quick. I took lots of pictures. A group of children came by to watch and we had similar reactions, mine being a bit more exaggerated (I was simultaneously gagging and snapping photographs.) While I don’t think the photographs are as disturbing as actually being there, I will spare you the gore.
The cow slaughtering experience was so much more interesting to me than visiting the churches. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was sad and fascinating all at once.
The following day was the eve of Epiphany, part of the Timket celebration. I observed the late afternoon portion of the ceremony which included a processional of the priests and deacons walking through the streets of the city, delivering sermons and prayers. The day of Epiphany was the actual carrying a representation of the Ark of the covenant to the church, The House of St. George.
Johannesburg, South Africa—I couldn’t go to South Africa without visiting Johannesburg. My first stop was the Apartheid Museum. I remember, as a child, watching the film Sarafina and not understanding what was going on. Probably like many people, I had a vague understanding about apartheid. Later during the week, I visited Soweto and discovered the integral role school children played in fighting the apartheid regime.
The Apartheid Museum has lots of online resources. I highly suggest learning about South African history from South Africans, to fully understand. Start with The Origins of Apartheid. There was an exhibition about Nelson Mandela. I read his autobiography several years ago so it was a good refresher about his life and the lives of other freedom fighters.
The entire time while I was walking around the museum, I was asking myself how could something like this happen, and for so long. It was a similar internal dialogue that I had when I visited the Slave Lodge in Cape Town, and the history of my ancestors in the United States. Trying to wrap my brain around injustice usually leaves me exhausted and angry.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
— Nelson Mandela
So after my wandering around the museum, I allowed myself to be fully engaged with the complexity of human history and I came to the realization that freedom looks like the sacrifices people make to ensure the freedom of others.
Cape Town, South Africa—I took one of those double decker tour buses to Signal Hill. It was the most efficient mode of transportation when trying to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.
Immediately after we arrived, I hurriedly exited the bus and walked around to find the perfect spot. I didn’t know what I was looking for but I knew it would be far away from the large group of people perched on the ground in front of the parking lot. The farther I walked, I discovered that I was in my element – trodding through rough terrain, almost barefoot…Totally free. It reminded me of when I was a kid, climbing trees and exploring the unknown.
I finally found a quiet spot, perfect for watching a sunset. And I waited. As I set up my camera to take photos, I turned around and there it was, a beautiful rainbow.