Eastern Ethiopia - Hyenas and Khat

May 1, 2010


Eastern Ethiopia

                                     Part 1.        Chat and Harar Hyenas

Dear Friends,

Have you ever wanted to feed a hyena?  Hold up a hunk of raw meat on a short stick so the hyena can snatch the food?  How about clenching a piece of meat in your teeth and letting the hyena grab it?

Well, that particular activity is the choice of the “Hyena Man of Harar.”

Each night, a pack of wild hyenas roams in from the bush to a square in the city of Harar.  The Hyena Man sits next to a pot filled with of chunks of bloody raw meat.  He calls to the hyenas by name!  One by one they skulk over to him for a mouthful.   And they don’t even chew.  They grab the meat, crunch it into their jaws and swallow.     

My driver offered me a chance to play “nice doggie” and help with the feeding. 

 I passed.

On the terraced mountains from the city of Dire Dawa to Harar, I observe row upon row of neatly planted shrubs.    Rather than cultivating wheat or any of the other nutritious local grains, the farmers prefer this evergreen shrub.  The shrubs provide the farmers with a productive year-round cash crop.  It requires little attention and is in high demand, especially in the neighboring country of Djibouti

This “mellow” plant – Catha edulis - has long stems and bright green leaves. It is called “chat” or “khat” or “qat”

“High” and “mellow” are the appropriate words.  But chat is not to smoke.  Chat is to chew.  And chew and chew.  Is everyone in this region high on this stuff?  I met one young man who offered “to share.” 

I passed.

Do I restore my reputation as an adventurous traveler if I mention that I indulged one of my personal addictions and stopped for an hour to enjoy the buzz of the khat market in Awaday?  By far, this market is the most colorful.  Hundreds of women and girls are dressed in patterns and prints of orange and red, green and blue, purple and pink, turquoise and tan. 

The commotion, the chaos, and the colors of the Khat market are enough to make me dizzy.  Yet my need goes unrequited so I wander over to the food and merchandise market.  And once again, I score.  I admit that markets have a hold on me.

End of Part 1.


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