I turned up about two hours too early for sacred hyena feeding.
So, Harar being Harar I went for a coffee with the bajaj driver in the main square of the Old City.
Hyena feeding has been a ritual since about the sixteenth century, a multilingual local prostitute who insisted on joining us explained. The hyenas are allowed, even encouraged to roam the streets as only they can spot if a person is possessed by a Djinn. If a passing hyena sniffs one out he is entitled to rip the unfortunate Ethiopian/small blond Ferrangi to shreds releasing it.
After about half an hour of hyena explanation, the pro remembered her expertise isn’t in local history and presented my bajaj driver, Alex with a verbal price list in harsh Amharic. They started negotiating and I left them to it, walking back to the little village where the Hyena Man was supposed to show.
I was still too early.
Some kids were playing football, I joined in for a few minutes but began to feel like Rolf Harris at a One Direction concert so sat and waited…
The entire village appeared.
I was surrounded by malnourished kids, all wanting to practice their English.
An adult turned up, clearly the village authority figure and made them line up in turn to tell me their names.
Some little girls began a game for my benefit, consisting of clapping 5 times, shoulder dancing and stamping something into the ground (a Ferrangi? An Eritrean?)
More little kids appeared, the entire town had shown up to witness the lone tourist.
I retrieved my camera from a passing toddler.
The village gathered around for a good look at my pics. I vaguely considered taking some but the evening had been refreshingly free of “Money! Money! Money! You! You! You!” so far.
It started to rain. Heavily.
Someone grabbed my hand and led me to a maze of tin houses opposite, through a dark hallway and over someone’s goat.
We hit light and I was in a living room.
A family were gathered around watching an old TV and eating. They seemed a bit nonplussed at the Ferrangi that had turned up in their living room.
Someone invited me to sit down and gave me a blanket.
We chatted a bit and the family drifted around.
Considering the hysteria a Ferrangi inspires in parts of this country, no one seemed massively bothered that one appeared to have moved in.
The lights went out.
I sat in the dark under my blanket.
It was surprisingly cosy.
Someone shuffled into the room. I spotted a blurry shape getting comfortable opposite me.
The lights came back on.
A granny was relaxing opposite me.
She spotted me and the injera fell from her mouth.
You’d think the family could’ve warned her.
She did the cross motion at me and muttered something in bemused Amharic.
A teenager came to the rescue. He was learning English at school and was pretty bright. We discussed Ethiopia and how the country was going. He wants to eventually buy a house in the Old City. They all seem to. Early a toddler had told me in surprisingly good English how he was going to buy a house for 10 birr. Clearly Channel 4 is missing out here, there’s a real market for property programmes.
Eventually I decided to make a move before I outstayed my welcome and ended up causing offence and tramped out into the monsoonal rain, catching up with Alex, clearly back on the job, out near the edge of the city centre for a ride at local rates back to my hotel.