We Fed Frickin’ Hyenas With Our Teeth
Posted by Cris on September 5, 2007
Harar is an old walled city in the east of Ethiopia, one hour from Dire Dawa. The main attractions, depending on who you are, consist of: winding streets wide enough for two people to walk down, nice views of the surrounding country, 84+ mosques in a very small area, its claim as the 4th holiest city in Islam, hyenas, “good” beer, smuggler markets, and chat. The winding streets and good views were as good as touted beforehand. For those of you who have been it’s a bit like Sevilla’s old quarter, where you can get lost very easily. The city, for us, was like a minefield of children, all of whom were very excited to see us and yell “farenju!” then ask for money. They were cute and easily dodged for the most part, and very into having their photos taken. While I have been known to admire a mosque or two, I wasn’t too interested in the muslim-ness of the city. The beer was ok, I couldn’t find the one I really wanted to try, called Hakim Stout and the only dark beer that (supposedly) exists in Ethiopia.
The markets were big and confusing, but friendly and nice to walk through, at least all of it except the part where the sewer pipe spills into the walkway. They are called smuggler markets because lots of stuff is smuggled in from Somalia or Djibouti, and its first “port” of call is Harar. Our tour guide said that he smuggles stuff in his spare time. We didnt see anything too crazy besides camel meat, some of which we ate. I bought a muslim scarf, and had to haggle not for the price but for the right to be able to buy it- the guy didnt want to sell because I wasnt Muslim. Finally I convinced him by badmouthing Bush a little and pointing out that we both had beards, so I was as good as half Muslim, at least. I did buy it in the end, and he said that the time was soon when Amy and I would “see the light” and “walk the right path” and become Muslim.
The highlight of our trip to Harar was feeding hyenas. Harar has an old relationship with hyenas, of which there are a ton around the city. They think of hyenas as a sort of combined sacred spirit guiding animal, mascot, and garbage man. The hyenas eat their garbage, and they feed them meat so the hyenas dont eat their people. There are a few crazy individuals lucky enough to be dubbed the “hyena men” who feed the hyenas every night on the outskirts of the city. They develop relationships with the animals, calling them by name and touching, pushing, and chasing them. This is, like many things, not only an ancient tradition but a tourist attraction, so we went to see it. Both of us participated as well, feeding the hyenas by sticking a 5 inch of so stick in our mouths, putting meat on the other end and getting a good whiff of hyena breath as they gobbled the meat off. It wasnt too scary, because it was obvious that the hyenas were pretty used to the attention. Still, we had hyenas a few inches from our noses, and that was pretty cool.