The eleven rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are carved from single pieces of volcanic rock and were miraculously built over twenty-three years by the Emperor Lalibela in the 12th century. Our guide Binyam told me that the angels came to help at night. I thought that maybe the angels should have stuck around to make sure the people had enough food to eat. Scott pointed out that this is where my faith falls short and he is correct. But angels or not, Lalibela is certainly otherworldly.
We wandered a labyrinth of subterranean corridors that smelled of incense and b.o. and pepper trees. The churches’ rock floors were worn smooth with 900 years of use and our socks slipped as we shuffled shoeless from chapel to chapel. Priests clad in turbans and ceremonial robes displayed their processional crosses and posed for pictures.
Bet Giyorgis, the most famous of the churches, is stamped into the ground in the shape of a Greek Cross. We passed through the village at twilight and a priest chanted on a hillside as we approached the church, washed pink with the sunset. We splashed our faces in holy water and visited a mummified pilgrim in a cave.
We left the next morning at dawn to hike for two hours up to Asheton Maryam, a church carved into the top of the mountain. We reached a height of 3150m and we felt pretty good about ourselves, except when the eight-year-old barefoot shepherds left us in the dust. We met some highlanders along the way. They showed us how they separated the wheat from the chaff and Scott responded by wowing them with his iphone.
Later that afternoon, we hung out with a nun in her cave and shared her sprouted chickpeas. Then we met the kids at the Love and Hope Orphanage, a grassroots community project. It was night and day from the orphanage in Addis where we later picked up Tariku. There are over four million orphans in Ethiopia alone. A whole generation of kids has been orphaned by AIDS, malaria, famine and poverty. We were privileged enough to see just a few of the ways that the various communities in Ethiopia are responding to the problem. Adoption was a solution for our family, but it is not the solution for Ethiopia’s children.