We’re off to Ethiopia! The Rotary Club of Northwest Austin has partnered with the Rotary Club of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Central Mella on The Rotary International Global Grant #1743732 and will be implementing 12 clean water projects in Ethiopia. The mission trip will focus on building goodwill, visiting the Rotary-sponsored projects, witnessing the trials and struggles of people without water, and celebrating the gift of clean water.
Travelers will meet with fellow Rotarians, share common visions, and learn about “Timret Lehiwot,” a nongovernmental organization focused on human rights, education, and saving mothers and children. Timret Lehiwot has been recognized by Rotary International including having received the Best Health Program Award District 9200, Rotary International 2009 and the Best Cooperatives Award, Rotary International, 2009. Travelers will also learn about the rich history and culture of Ethiopia while visiting some of the country’s World Heritage sites.
This is Susanne’s sixth trip as our executive director, and she’ll be sending reports back as time and Internet access permit. Stay tuned!
Our group of travelers have arrived safely in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia! Susanne writes, “We’re here, napped, and fed. Time for a little site seeing around Addis.”
This is the first trip to Ethiopia for Carol, Bill and Kent. They are excited for what’s in store, and we can’t wait to hear more about their experiences in the coming weeks.
We arrived safely after a 13 hour flight from D.C. to Addis Ababa. After checking into the hotel, napping and lunch, the group toured the city and saw the historical sites including the National Museum which houses many of national treasures, but most importantly the remains of “Lucy” which are the bones of an early hominid from the Australopithecus Afarensis. She lived in Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago.
After an early evening, the group’s first full day in Addis was punctuated by a meeting with the Rotary Club of Central Mella. The Northwest Rotary Club of Austin wrote a Rotary Global Grant which was awarded a $60,000 award for water projects in Ethiopia. The Central Club of Mella is serving as the host club which is crucial to the reporting, implementation and evaluation of the project. Northwest Rotary Club member, Kent Miller, presented their club’s president, Samson Tesfay, with his club’s banner.
We visited with a project supported by the club and led by one of the club’s members. The project is called Timket Lehiwot which means Alliance for Life. The organization is a nonprofit and works with marginalized and disadvantaged groups. One component of their project is called Wise Up which works with women in the sex trade industry. Education on Aids and HIV awareness is at the heart of this program. The organization works in collaboration in offering referrals to the women who are in need to testing and/or treatment. In addition, Wise Up provides technical training in sewing, embroidery and ceramics. The women receive business training and afterwards, they can use the center as a business incubator which offers them the machinery and supplies to produce products for sale. Timket Lehiwot also works with disabled women. These women are placed in charge of public bathrooms. They manage the facilities which are a use for pay. There was discussion around funding resources and the role of the government. Most of their funding is from private donors and organizations including from the United States and Europe.
The evening culminated with a visit to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant. The restaurant features Ethiopian traditional singers, musicians and dancers. The most exciting part of the experience is the dancing. The Ethiopian style of dance is so unique and defies human anatomy. Many of the movements are made using the shoulders, neck and head. One of the dancers performs a solo dance in which her head spins round and round and appears to be detached from her body.
One of the remarks from the night was the unique tradition of hand washing both before eating and after. An attendant comes to the table and offers a pitcher of water and towel on which to dry our hands.
Tomorrow, we begin our journey south, but for tonight we look forward to getting a good night’s rest and waking up refreshed.
Our day started off leisurely with a 1:30 departure time from the airport. Our flight took us south to Arba Minch which literally means “40 springs”. Our tour guide informed us that there is plenty of surface water from rivers and lakes in the area and in fact, we flew over Lake Abeya on our way to our destination. The lake is distinct because of its red/brown color which is the result of the iron ore. The neighboring lake is called Chamo and the two lakes are separated by a land bridge.
After a quick change into our hiking boots, we drove into the mountains to visit with the Dorze tribe. The tribe is known for their weaving which is visible in their textiles, houses, fences, etc. They are also known for their distinct houses which are woven from bamboo. You wouldn’t consider bamboo a highland plant, but there are different varieties. The bamboo shares the same land areas in the region as fig, fichus and pine trees. The houses are considered to resemble the skulls of elephants and take two people three months to build. The houses can last 100 years or more. Families live in the houses along with their animals. The living arrangement serves a couple of purposes, including providing heat and also protecting the animals at night. The family keeps a fire burning in the house in order to smoke out any insects and bugs that might infest the house.
The mother of the family we visited provided us with a demonstration of how a local food is made. The “enset” or false banana is a tree that looks like a regular banana tree, but produces no fruit. The entire plant is used. The leaves are used as umbrellas and also for food for animals. The roots are used to create a type of soup that is said to be good for pregnant women. The stalk is striped from the tree and the pulp is scraped and smells similar to cucumber. The pulp is then wrapped in enset leaves and then buried in the ground and allowed to ferment for three months. The resulting product is a pungent stinky cheese-smelling dough. The dough is cut several times to cut up the fibers. It is then kneaded and spread into a pizza crust thinness and laid out and topped with leaves. The entire package is then placed in the fire and cooked. The cooked bread is called “Kocho” and is served with a chili hot sauce or locally harvested honey.
After a short dance break with the local children, we returned to our lodge and enjoyed our dinner by the light of the moon which reflected off of the waters of the lake. As we read our devotional, we reflected upon the idea of diversity and acceptance. Ethiopia offers a wide variety of tribes, cultures and languages and prompted our discussion about diversity, acceptance and the many religions observed in Ethiopia.
Tomorrow, we will drive north which begins our visits at project sites. Our partner, Mekane Yesus, which is the Lutheran Church in Ethiopia, has a development arm that serves the whole person and also supports many marginalized and underprivileged people. However, tonight, we are enjoying the thought of a quiet night and a good sleep at the aptly named Paradise Lodge.
From Carol, W2T Board Member and one of our travelers:
Today was a day of travel; we are now set to be in place to visit water projects daily for several days, beginning tomorrow. Our location this morning was Arbaminch Paradise Lodge which overlooks two of the largest lakes in Ethiopia, Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo, which are separated by a natural land bridge. Lest we leave the verdant Rift Valley without notice of the plentiful and varied flora and fauna, we took a walk and also a board cruise on Lake Chamo. Our walk yielded us interaction from a comfortable distance with a large male baboon who responded when Susanne tossed peanuts in his direction. He was quite stately and appreciated the unexpected snack. We also saw baboons and small monkeys in trees, a secretary bird, an African fish eagle (looks a lot like a bald eagle), and some storks. I was surprised to see vegetation I recognized: bougainvillea, periwinkles, morning glories and acacia trees. Our boat ride on the most productive of Ethiopia’s lakes yielded sights of pelicans on and over the water, several crocodiles, and several hippos. Our boat captain cut the motor in places where crocs and hippos were likely to be, and we were well rewarded. Close enough to clearly see but not to alarm the animals.
The remainder of the day was spent getting the proverbial Ethiopian massage — accomplished by driving or riding over Ethiopia’s poor roads, jiggling all the way. Which reminds me of a joke: “How do you tell if an Ethiopian driver is drunk?” “He’s drunk if he’s driving in a straight line.” I thought that was funny the first time I heard it but after traveling by car most of the day, I realize how hilarious that would really be. First, there would be the potholes you’d inevitably encounter, but straight line driving would also have you running into stray goats, goat flicks, cattle (again both singly and collectively), donkeys and donkey carts, the little three-wheeled taxis referred to as Tuk-tuks (spelling unknown), the children and adults who step into your pathway, carrying all manner of parcels of sticks, animal fodder, and Jerry cans for water. To be on the road is to take a great chance that others are looking out for you. Hats off to our excellent drivers from Diversity Tours, Getch (apologies for spelling) and Anderson, who get us to our destinations, always without incident.
Our long car trip also took us away from the very green Rift Valley through Sodo where we had lunch to Awasa where we will be for the next three nights. The closer we got to our destination, the more we were aware that the villages were becoming more affluent, relatively speaking. Evidences of this included the addition of horses to the mix of road traffic, the use of donkeys instead of people to haul the yellow Jerry cans, and the improvement in the housing stock and village shops. Gashaw explained that we were in a productive agricultural area with the cash crops of Burberry (or berebere) and potatoes vs the subsistence farming we’d seen in the Rift Valley.
Our evening concluded at dinner with the President of the Mekane Jesus Church and the Development Director of church’s Social service ministries, DASC.
Tomorrow we leave the hotel early as we visit Water projects.
“The Joy of Water – And the Challenge of Remote Travel”
In 11 1/2 hours away from the hotel we accomplished visiting 5 Water projects in the mountains south of Awasa, 4 projects that had been completed in the last one or two months and one hand dug well that was currently in process. We met with the water committees and community representatives, placed commemorative plaques and exchanged translated words of love. Susanne shared the love and hopes of the donors that the villagers would enjoy increased health and economic wellbeing. She noted that the well was now theirs to care for through the leadership of their water committee and their collection of the users fee to assure that there would always be funds for maintenance of the well. Community members thanked and blessed us. This was what we came to share.
That said, the travel reached difficulties far beyond anything we had experienced to date. Our trip started on a dirt road that had been worked on for three years by the Indians before they left the country. Enter the Chinese with similar grand expectations to build the road and reap access to resources. The road was a bone jarring washboard, rich with potholes. Great clouds of dust arose behind every vehicle. On that road we bumped mostly up and down.
For the majority of the day we were traveling up and down the mountains on clay dirt roads with deep ruts. On those roads our movement was primarily side to side as we slipped from one rut to another. Although rainy season ended about two months ago, the potholes were all filled with water making ascent or descent very difficult. It was like trying to get up (or down) a hill in 10 inches of unplowed snow. Lots of slippage accompanied by the holding of breath.
The road condition that was the scariest of the day was the place where the road ended at a rushing stream and didn’t pick up again until the other side of the stream. Nothing, not even a stream stumped our intrepid driving team.
Our travel ended as it began on the Indian/Chinese torture road, but this time as the light diminished. The great clouds of dust billowed, mixed with unmitigated vehicle exhaust. These conditions along with the darkness made it almost impossible to see the people darting across the road, or heavily laden donkey carts, or Tuk-Tuks that failed to use their headlamps. But Gaetch and Anderson got us safely back to the hotel around 7:30. A day of many blessings.
“An Assault on the Senses”
Ethiopia is indeed a land of many contrasts.
In commercial areas of villages, my eyes smart from the road dust that arises in the wake of each vehicle. I am overcome by the swirl of colors and the feeling that everything is jumbled together and packed tightly. I am alarmed by helmet-less motorcycle riders (often three to a vehicle), boys and men “donkey surfing” or standing up on their cart platform as they drive their donkey(s), and five vehicles of varied descriptions occupying what was intended as two lanes. My nose is assaulted by unchecked emissions from diesel trucks and old cars.
But Ethiopia offers my senses dramatic beauty as well: terraced cultivated fields, verdant byways in the south, a prodigious variety of birds to delight the eye and ear, flora and fauna seen elsewhere only in zoos and conservatories.
I experience beauty also in a community that prepares to make themselves ready for clean water: for their willingness to disrupt their social order by selecting women to serve on the Water Committee, their willingness to raise initial startup costs and to collect user fees. I experience the beauty in grateful faces, looking forward to a better future.
“On Skinny Cows and Other Musings”
What is a Skinny Cow? In the US, it is a brand of ice cream novelty known and loved by Weight Watcher members. In Ethiopia, it is simply a descriptor that applies to every cow. In the southern region we have been traveling through, there has been no lack of lush grazing material. Perhaps it is the amount of exercise the cows get. Our guide informs us that there are two types of cattle in Ethiopia, and so far we are seeing only the short horned variety.
So many floral greenhouses! Ethiopia is one of four top producers of flowers (especially roses) for export. The huge number of greenhouses we saw were owned by a company from the Netherlands. The Castel winery we passed is owned by a French company.
The land we are passing through is much more arid and the neat round huts have given way to ugly rectangular concrete block structures with corrugated metal roofs. The flora has changed from bamboo and false banana trees to cultivated fields of tomatoes, watermelons, squash, red onions, peppers and strawberries (the latter are covered with white opaque plastic to avoid sunburn). The field are irrigated with ditches.
En route to Addis, we passed wind farms, a manmade lake for hydroelectric power AND the only 80 kilometers of honest to goodness freeway — a “gift” from the Chinese in exchange for large reserves of potash. Also under construction is a huge stadium funded and being constructed by the Chinese. The continuation of the freeway is to be continued by the South Koreans. One wonders what resources have been traded away in consideration of these gifts.
We’ve had a lovely lunch in Addis at an ex pat hangout, a Greek Club.
Now off to Ambo where tomorrow we will visit wells again.
“On Road Kill and New Well Celebrations”
Despite the prodigious of animals traversing the same highways as vehicles, and despite the lack of heed paid my the animals, the most frequent disaster of the roadway is neither goat, nor cow, nor dog, but rather trucks and cars that are traveling too fast to negotiate a turn. Sometimes we encounter a recent wipeout, and I always have hope that someone will come to right it. But the tire-less rusted out carcasses tell a more likely tale, that the vehicle will be forever an addition to the landscape.
Today we are dedicating new wells supported by the Rotary Club in Austin with additional funding from all Rotary levels including international. We are joined by several representatives of our local implementing partner, DASC of the Central Gibe Synod and the head of all the DASC units of the Mekane Yesus church in Ethiopia. I am missing the first well as I have succumbed to a case of “tourista” and did not feel up to the four hour round trip walk from the road to the well. I sat on a hill with our guide and met several lovely people who were traversing the difficult path effortlessly. Truth be told, I am not certain that I would have made it on such a trip in full health. The trip was in the mountains at 9,000 feet and the air was thin.
I have heard that the celebration was awesome. The village had slaughtered a lamb and made lamb stew and had a coffee ceremony. Susanne observed that other than our group, the women were not served.
I was able to attend the second well dedication. We were met at our vehicles by a welcoming committee and sang, danced and clapped our way to the well site with a call and response kind of singing. The videographer interviewed the young woman whom she interviewed a month before, separated from the group so that she could have a meaningful conversation. The well had been open for two weeks.
We were served food and coffee at the home of a 51 year old women who had 13 children ranging from 4 to 36. The house had a dirt floor and a single lightbulb in the main room. They had benches, chairs and stools ringing the perimeter of the room. There were 35 people in the room, some of them serving and some of them standing. The ceiling of this stick and wattle home was covered by a striped cloth and trimmed by what appeared to be scalloped crepe paper. Serving involves first the opportunity for each guest to wash their hands. The server offers a basin and pours water over your hands while you wash. Of course there were insufficient plates and coffee cups to go around, so people were served, plates were collected and washed so that others could be served. The meal is served separately from the coffee, which follows. Not all in our US contingent chose to partake.
When it was time to depart, the villagers accompanied us to our vehicles with call and response singing, clapping and dancing. What great joy.
“Rules of the Road and a Spring Protection System”
Rules of the road:
As we were traveling five hours from the Ambo area back to Addis Ababa, I began to reflect on what appear to be the rules of the road. As every road, no matter how big or small, is traveled by walkers and conveyances of every description, there have to be some generally accepted rules of conduct for traffic to be able to move in a generally forward direction. These are the rules I have intuited.
1. All living beings are valued, but are expected to give way to all motorized conveyances.
2. There is a stripe down the middle of the road that reminds you that all things being equal, you should generally be to the right of it.
3. But not all things are equal. First there is the problem that your own side of the road may be deeply rutted or otherwise not a desirable place to drive if you value your axles and teeth. Such circumstances may encourage drivers of every type of conveyance to stray from their designated position to the right of the stripe.
4. Secondly, there is a definite pecking order of conveyances which involves an interaction of vehicle size, age, perceived status and horsepower. If you are unsure of where your vehicle fits into this pecking order, others will be quick to remind you with a beep (or if they are vexed at your cluelessness, with a honk).
5. In general, every vehicle gets to beep at and pass every walking being (both two and four-legged varieties) and every animal-drawn conveyance. The three wheeled taxis I referred to in a prior post as tuk-tuks but go by the name of “bajajs” in Ethiopia are only slightly higher in the pecking order than donkey carts. Older cars, minivans, small trucks and vehicles overstuffed with people, goods, or both must give way to newer vehicles with the horsepower to pass them.
6. The vehicles that rank in the top group are generally helpful to others in their same general classification, turning on their hazard lights to indicate a problem ahead, using both headlight and hand signals to indicate when it is safe to pass them and when it is safe to come back into their lane after passing.
Of course, our very new white 4-wheel drive Toyota vehicles were at the very top of the pecking order. So far, because our implementing partners have been traveling with us to water project sites, they added a third similar vehicle in our entourage, making our presence quite obvious.
Visiting a spring protection system under development:
Yesterday before our long trip back to Addis, we had the opportunity to visit a spring protection system currently under development. This site was funded by Rotary Clubs in Austin, Texas and Addis that had collaborated to create a multi site project with Rotary International funding as well. The project was judged to be about two weeks from completion. The eye of the spring had been protected, the reservoir and Water spigots had been completed, and washing stations and a cattle trough had been added. The pipe connecting these components needed to be buried before the whole system would be ready for use. So the stream was still flowing and we could tell that there would be plentiful clean water upon completion. Our hydrologist Gashaw explained the modifications required both to us and our implementation partner the DASC of the Central Gibe Synod.
While the spring was not far from village, the village women explained they had to awake before the cattle to reduce the unpleasant taste from the cattle’s contribution to the water. And the villagers frequently contracted typhoid from the water. Since typhoid treatment required a three hour walk to the nearest clinic, freedom from typhoid was a huge motivator for them.
We could see that the villagers had already acquired strong posts and rocks to build the fencing around areas that required fencing and to assist in the burial of the pipe. The people were excited about the changes coming to their community.
A short sleep in Addis:
We arrived back in Addis at around 6:30 pm and said our goodbyes to our Addis Rotarians and DASC implementating partners who had been traveling with us for several days. We were grateful for the hot showers, delicious dinner and beautiful accommodations of the Saro Maria Hotel again. Time to repack our bags and feel a bit more organized after our travel in the mountains and in very basic hotels. We needed to awake by 5:00 so we could leave at 6:00 for our flight to Axum. Of course, knowing that we needed to get to sleep earlier than usual made it so hard to go to sleep, despite our luxurious surroundings.
Sunday’s adventure begins with a flight north to Axum, the reputed location of the original biblical ark of the covenant.
“In the Tigray Region and Axum”
Yesterday, Sunday, we flew from Addis to the northernmost region to see Ethiopia’s oldest city, Axum. But before our tour of the historic sites, Susanne was able to arrange a visit to two water sites funded by our congregation in Minneapolis, Nokomis Heights Lutheran, that were completed in 2012.
There is an Ethiopian story that when God was done creating the heavens and the earth, he had lots of rocks left over. Shrugging his shoulders, he decided to leave them all in Tigray. The story certainly has the ring of truth. Rocks everywhere. This region is unlike anything we’ve seen to date. Whereas we have seen houses built of plant material and houses built of cinder blocks, every structure in Tigray is built of rock. Indeed the region offers no other building material options, as trees are almost absent and the natural vegetation is from the cacti family. The fences here are composed of stone. They are quite low, created not so much to provide a barrier to entrance but to show where one field stops and another one begins—and to give some clue about where the road might possibly be.
Oh for a GPS system! We off-roaded for quite some time in the general area of our water projects with our development partners taking many wrong turns. The lead car stopped to inquire several times, but as Susanne and I observed, they asked the wrong people—they asked men. It was hard to see an indication of a road anywhere and directions like “turn right at the third rock” were incomprehensible if not laughable. Another thing that most of us did not grasp is that in that hilly, terraced terrain, the water project would not be visible from the road.
It was worth the effort, which was considerable. Each of the two spring protection systems required steep descent down narrow rocky trails — and of course a similar but seemingly more arduous course upon leaving. Our hydrologist, Gashaw, adopted me as his special charge to assure my safe arrival after noticing that I often stepped on rocks that rolled, leaving me off balance. And it took two people to get me back UP the hill. But oh the joy between those descents and ascents!
Each community was present in force, awaiting our arrivals for perhaps hours with bread, injera, coffee and popcorn. Popcorn is a celebration food tossed like confetti and enjoyed also in the manner we are used to. Lots of u-ulation and rhythmic clapping greeted us in each location. Each project was well implemented with stonework fencing (surprise!). At each of the two sites, the eye of the spring was protected by a concrete structure, farther down the hill was the reservoir and water spigots, and down further was a trough for cattle that made good use of the runoff.
One community reported that in addition to use by the villagers, the number of users swelled considerably during the dry season as neighbors came to draw also. Of course we expected that the people would report that they are healthier (which they did). But an unexpected comment was that their animals are also healthier. The most surprising comment came from a man who said that when it came time to give their daughters in marriage, they had to give serious consideration to whether the male suitor lived close to a well, as they did not want their daughters to suffer deprivation of clean water again.
In the late afternoon we visited the historic sights of Axum. So interesting. But it’s time to move along so I don’t miss breakfast. If I fail to have time to write about Axum in a future post, check it out on Wikipedia. Axum is the birthplace of Christianity in Ethiopia.
“On Ethiopian Apparel”
In Addis the apparel of residents and tourists is more or less indistinguishable from the apparel of people in Europe or the US with the addition of scarves. There is stratification by age with older men more likely to wear trousers with plenty of legroom and young men to wear tight fitting jeans, often with manufactured marks of distress — deliberate rips, bleaching, etc. In our luxury hotel Saro Maria in Addis, the very young attractive female staff wore fashionable uniforms with very short skirts. I saw no other exposed knees anywhere. Some younger women in Addis wore jeans and slacks; older women were most often seen in dresses and skirts that hit well below the knee. Scarves and shawls were common among women. I saw no sleeveless tops.
In the rural areas we visited, men dressed in typical western-looking clothing but with the frequent addition of scarves, head wraps, and shawls. Again there seemed to be a stratification by age, with older men wearing suit pants and suit coats or sports jackets topped by wraps that may have been intended by the manufacturer as table cloths, bed blankets, beach towels or more traditional textiles woven in Ethiopia specifically as wraps. They always seemed to me to be overdressed both in terms of formality and in terms of warmth. Perhaps my perception of formality came from the context in which I saw them—community celebrations and “in town” at the market. Younger men wore jeans, long sleeved dress shirts or tee shirts and zip jackets with or without the addition of scarfs/wraps. The younger the man, the tighter the jeans. No one wore local straw-woven hats. There were a lot of baseball style hats. The most interesting combination of headcovering was a traditional cloth wrap worn over the head and shoulders and topped by a baseball hat.
Ethiopian women in the rural areas dress very modestly in dresses and skirts that hit between mid-calf and ankle. They are well draped with headscarves and wraps, the latter of which is used to wrap and carry babies, water in Jerry cans, sticks to be used as fuel, provisions from the market, etc. A few store owners wore slacks; no woman we encountered in her own rural community would be mistaken for a woman in Europe or the midwest.
Why scarves? For both men and women scarves serve many functions: warmth, keeping dust out of one’s hair, keeping dust out of one’s mouth, keeping the sun from beating down on one’s scalp, etc. A scarf can serve both cooling and warming functions.
Where do they get their clothes? At the market. Most market goods come from China.
Footwear: we saw a lot of very fashion-forward, colorful sneakers on younger men. And on both men and women we saw lots of Chinese-made jelly shoes. Wildly unsupported footwear for arduous climbs and long walks.
“With What Shall I Build My Fence?
Well, of course that depends on the materials at hand and can result in some unkept looking structures as well as some quite lovely ones. In the commercial areas of villages, shop owners are likely to use corrogated metal which builds a highly effective, visually unappealing enclosure whether the metal is untouched, painted or rusted.
In the Awasa area south of Addis where bamboo and false banana trees (aka enset trees) grow in profusion, they weave great rolls of lovely mat fencing which are transported to other areas. Farther west, we observed stakes interlaced with smaller branches, sometimes with leaves still attached, giving fencing a shaggy appearance. There were also cactus fences and the rare stake and barbed wire fences. The ones that made me smile were only two or three rocks high and intended only to mark off territory not to be traversed by car in the Tigray area where rocks abounded, to the exclusion of every other resource.
“The Rock Hewn Churches of Lalibela”
In the 12th century, a series of churches were carved out of the side of a mountain north of Addis. The resulting wonder is attributed to a beloved Ethiopian king, Lalibela. The village now bearing his name is a place of devotion and pilgrimage for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and a World Heritage Site which 90 percent of tourists to Ethiopia visit. The inspiration for this site was to create an alternative place of devotion to Jerusalem, which was difficult to access during the Crusades.
The photos here show a series of six of the churches carved from the mountain. The roof structure you see over some was placed by UNESCO to protect the structures from further environmental degradation. The pillars you see on one of the structures that look like concrete block are reconstructions. Some of the churches are more elaborate on the outside and others more decorative on the inside. It was essential to remove one’s shoes to enter the churches and our guide had an associated shoe attendant who guarded our shoes and assisted me in traversing safely from place to place. The floors of the churches were covered with woven rugs.
All of the churches hold daily services as they are pilgrimage sites. One of my photos shows several yellow Jerry cans of water being blessed by a priest. Our guide noted that water that has been blessed must remain outside a home and not be carried inside.
Imagine being given the task of carving a church out of a mountain with hand tools!