Looking for Abyssinian myths

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As for me, I’m about to leave this city to fiddle with the unknown. There is a big lake a few days away, and it’s in ivory territories: I will try to get there. But it is most likely hostile territory. I’ll buy a horse and go… Letter XVII, Harar, May 4, 1881, Arthur Rimbaud.

But why the French poet had to go into exile in the kingdom of Abyssinia and work there as a merchant for five years before contracting a deadly disease ? July 2010. My discovery of the Queen of Sheba Land has started with the immaculate and modern airport of Addis Ababa. Rain falls steadily. The whole city is a stacking of either scaffolding and kitsch concrete blocks builded by some Chinese entrepreneurs, either wide and grim slums. Great Rift Valley, 200 km south of Addis Ababa. The Lake Longano is glowing. Sole lake in the region free of bilharzia, the place is a weekend resort for some privileged families of the capital and a few Western tourists eager to discover the local wildlife. Some poor and barefooted livestock keepers live on the lake banks a few meters away. Far-northern city Axum: yes, myths are still alive in Ethiopia. A 1700 years-old funeral obelisk, stolen in 1937 by the Mussolini’s troops and returned back in 2005 stands over two meters above my head. Just married Ethiopians are being photographed before blue granite steles. A few miles away, high grasses hide the remains of the Queen of Sheba’s palace. The ingestion of a traditional spicy chicken dish painfully ends up my discovery of the Axum myths. A little bit nearer to Addis Ababa, the northern Baher Dar capital of Amhara region sits 1829 meters up. The largest lake of Ethiopia, the Lake Tana is the reservoir of the Blue Nile. Its waters are crossed by fishermen in papyrus boats. The many islands of the lake provide a safe heaven to the ancient monasteries. A tuk tuk taxi driver agrees to drive me to the Blue Nile Falls, 40 km away. Traditional wooden houses line the road. Sheltered under an umbrella, some barefooted farmers are bringing back goods to town on a donkey. Ten minutes later, the tuk tuk shows early warning signs. The driver is blocking the exhaust pipe with a plastic bag and eventually managed after much failed attempts to restart the engine. The same incident takes place twenty times before I manage to reach the Blue Nile Falls. Waterlogged for weeks since the beginning of the rainy season, the Blue Nile Falls fuel a powerful hydroelectric dam. I am now in Gondar, another former capital of Abyssinia. The city remains one of the most important trade in the country. The former State hotel Goha celebrates the neo-Stalinist style in vogue in communist countries. The hotel did not get rid off of its old-fashioned curtains. Finally I arrive to Lalibela, the spellbinding black Jerusalem. The mystery of the building of its rocky churches confirms that myths are still alive in Ethiopia. Now it makes sense what had prompted the French poet a Arthur Rimbaud to get lost one day in Abyssinia.

A story created in July 2010.