Harar, Ethiopia was an interesting place to visit after Lalibela. While Lalibela is an important city in Ethiopia’s Christian history, Harar is central to Ethiopia’s Muslim history. Considered the 4th holiest city in Islam (after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem), Harar in many ways is a symbol of what could be. Muslims and Christians have been living side-by-side here for over 1000 years.
Founded in the 7th century, it was the center for Islamic culture and influence for the entire horn of Africa region. The city is surrounded by a wall, now adapted to modern life. Something like 50 or 60 thousand people still live within the old city walls.
Harar is famous for having so many mosques. Around 110 survive, three of which date from 10th century. This is a bit of a misnomer though. Some of these mosques are really rooms inside people’s homes that feature a crescent moon jutting out from the roof, but still, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and deservedly so.
From Harar I continued onward to Somaliland, Somalia. But first I had to take part in a Harar tradition – feeding the hyenas. I didn’t know much about hyenas, but I knew they worked in packs and could be quite ferocious. With that in mind, I showed up to the feeding site and my proximity to these predator animals was a bit shocking.
For 100 Birr (about $5) you can feed the animals and have some pictures taken. The hyenas are about the size of a big dog, but they seem much bigger and far less gentle. As the guy fed them, it was like they had a hunger in their eyes I’ve never seen before in a dog.
The guy had a special relationship with the hyenas. He has known them their whole lives and he plays with them, has given them names, etc. At the end he hoisted some meat up and the hyena jumped up on my back to get it. They are much heavier than I realized 🙂
All in all, another interesting place and interesting experience 🙂