With all the hype over the mugshot, I wonder if Malcolm X would have had a modeling deal? At least he got arrested in a suit.

The Tabourian hospital, originally built in 1942, is being rehabilitated with a $3 million grant to turn it into an urgent care unit. It’s the first ever in the area. Decades ago the late soul singer Bessie Smith passed away on her way to this hospital after being turned away from Clarksdale hospital because of her race.

The house of local organizer Amzie Moore is currently under construction to be turned into a museum.

In the backwoods of the Laurel Hills Plantation, 15 minutes drive off the main road, stands an 18th century cathedral built in 1782. The family had grown so wealthy from slavery, they constructed the cathedral for their private use. Although not in use, the church has been restored and updated with electricity.

#freedomsummer50 #spohp At the Fannie Lou Hamer Complex in Ruleville, MS J Hosbey interviewed Elisha Langden, WWII vet, USDA retiree. He helped a number of black farmers get federal loans since the 1950s #freedomsummer50 #spohp At the Fannie Lou Hamer Complex in Ruleville, MS J Hosbey interviewed Elisha Langden, WWII vet, USDA retiree. He helped a number of black farmers get federal loans since the 1950s

#freedomsummer50 #spohp At the Fannie Lou Hamer Complex in Ruleville, MS J Hosbey interviewed Elisha Langden, WWII vet, USDA retiree. He helped a number of black farmers get federal loans since the 1950s

At Margaret Block’s home in Cleveland, Mississippi. Field secretary for SNCC. Born and raised in the delta.

We conducted 11 interviews with Civil Rights veterans in Natchez, MS and learned a lot about armed resistance in Mississippi. 

We got a chance to stop by Richard Wright’s childhood home before leaving Natchez. Although there’s a historic marker a family currently lives there.

Craziest story: 
Protesters were taken to Parchman prison, striped naked and forced 6 people into a maximum security cell that was make for 2. All sheets, pillows, and mattress were taken out, leaving cold steel bed frames. They were given laxatives when they entered—no toilet paper—and the water was shut off so they couldn’t flush the toilet. We conducted 11 interviews with Civil Rights veterans in Natchez, MS and learned a lot about armed resistance in Mississippi. 

We got a chance to stop by Richard Wright’s childhood home before leaving Natchez. Although there’s a historic marker a family currently lives there.

Craziest story: 
Protesters were taken to Parchman prison, striped naked and forced 6 people into a maximum security cell that was make for 2. All sheets, pillows, and mattress were taken out, leaving cold steel bed frames. They were given laxatives when they entered—no toilet paper—and the water was shut off so they couldn’t flush the toilet.

We conducted 11 interviews with Civil Rights veterans in Natchez, MS and learned a lot about armed resistance in Mississippi.

We got a chance to stop by Richard Wright’s childhood home before leaving Natchez. Although there’s a historic marker a family currently lives there.

Craziest story:
Protesters were taken to Parchman prison, striped naked and forced 6 people into a maximum security cell that was make for 2. All sheets, pillows, and mattress were taken out, leaving cold steel bed frames. They were given laxatives when they entered—no toilet paper—and the water was shut off so they couldn’t flush the toilet.

On our way to Mississippi for freedom summer! On our way to Mississippi for freedom summer!

On our way to Mississippi for freedom summer!

The road from Aksum to Lalibela was long but well worth the journey. Down another winding mountain road we started back south. Our trip was fairly smooth although we did get stuck behind a train of camels and had to wait for them to clear out of the road.

Camels in the Road

I could easily write an entire blog just about Lalibela. We were there for two days and only got to see a fraction of what the city had to offer. The rock-hewn churches could easily be counted as the Eighth Wonder of the World. It took us two days to see all 11 churches in the immediate vicinity although there are additional monasteries not too far from the main city of Lalibela. The Church recently increased the price of admission for the churches to $50 which is pricey but well worth it. Additionally you have to pay extra for a guide (400 ETB/day = ~$20) and couple extra bucks if you plan on using a professional grade video camera.

Beta Myriam

Entire books have been written about Lalibela, chronicling the legacy of the thirteenth century King. The city is named after the thirteenth century King Lalibela who attempted to build a “New Jerusalem” after Jerusalem had been captured by Sultan Saladin during the Crusades. The 11 churches are carved out of the ground, each with their own distinctive character. Some have large pool areas used for mass baptism while others are created in architectural styles that mirror the work of older Ethiopian empires.

The churches are connected through passages carved out of the stone and small channels serve as drainage to guide rain water. In order to reach one of the churches you are forced to crawl down into a pitch-black passage. Navigating the passage is said to recreate the depths of hell and reaching the other end is testimony of your faith.

Passage to Hell

The churches are still in use today and host both domestic and international tourists. Priests are responsible for maintaining the churches and thousands of people flock to the city during the major religious holidays for religious services. I’ve heard it’s almost impossible to move around the area during Christmas and Easter.

Another Lalibela Church

We even caught an elder priest supervising a young boy about 10 years old as he read passages of the Bible in Ge’ez. As the oldest continually written African language, Ge’ez is reserved largely to the clergy with only a handful scholars in the United States capable of reading it. The earliest written evidence dates to the 5th century B.C. although the earliest linguistic evidence dates back to 2000 B.C. The script served as the foundation for modern Amharic text and the numbers are still used on Ethiopian currency.

In addition to the rich religious history, Lalibela is also know for its honey; and where there is good honey, there is good Tej. In fact Lalibela means “the bees recognize his sovereignty,” a name King Lalibela acquired at birth when it is said that that he was swarmed by bees. At 25 ETB (~ $1.50) per bottle it was impossible not to buy the Tej. We attempted to carry bottles of Tej back to the States as gifts but we had to abandon that cause halfway back to Addis Ababa. The Tej never stops fermenting and gasses continue to build up in the bottle. We were told to unscrew the bottle caps each day to let out gas but it was more like every 4 hours. The cap literally flew off one of the bottles after it hadn’t been opened for 6 hours. We ended up giving it away and people were more than happy to receive it.

Map of Ethiopia Travels

In total, our travels took two weeks and we covered more than 2000 km. It was well worth the adventure but if possible, I would have tried to break it down into two smaller trips or stretched it out longer.

Aksum was more than I could have imagined. We arrived in the afternoon, got ourselves situated and went out to visit the local church and the famous Stelae of Aksum. We got a personal guided tour of the sites from a friend of a friend who happened to be an archaeology professor at Aksum University. We were surprised when she told us that that former President George W. Bush stopped by in the morning. Evidently, traveling by helicopter and airplane, he was on a historical tour of Ethiopia as well.

First we stopped by the Church of St. Mary built by Haile Selassie in the 1960s. Just adjacent to the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, which is said to house the Ark of the Covenant, the newer church was build as a site for women and men to pray because the area around Church of Our Lady is restricted to men only. In between the two churches lay the ruins of what is said to be the first church in Sub-Saharan Africa, and perhaps the first in all of Africa. Largely overgrown by bushes and weeds, parts of the structures are all that remain. Apparently excavations were conducted in the 1960s or 70s that dated it to the time period of King Ezana—the Ethiopia’s first Christian Emperor. We couldn’t get too close to the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion because it was undergoing renovations.

A Bible Written on Lamb skin

The Orthodox Church constructed a small museum adjacent to the ruins. Church artifacts included religious regalia largely donated by the former Emperors and preserved by Church officials over the years. The collection wasn’t in the best shape. Imperial crowns, gowns, and manuscripts were sitting behind thin glass cabinets. In some cases, paintings and artifacts were laying on the ground up against the wall.

Aksum Stelae

The stelae field was just as impressive as the churches. The three large stelae, one of which was recently returned after having been stolen by the Italian government during their World War II invasion of Ethiopia, demarcated the royal burial ground of the pre-Christian Aksum Empire. While the stelae are extraordinary in their own right, the real mystery lays underneath.

In a labyrinth of tunnels and tombs, empty chambers are all that remain of what used to be the burials of the Empires’ rulers. Unfortunately the museum was closed for renovations and we were only able to enter two burial chambers because the others were too precarious. When the government resurrected the stolen stelae, the weight disturbed the foundations of the others and they had to rig a series of cables to help keep them in place. 

We concluded the trip with a visit to the burial tombs of King Kaleb and Gebre Meskel. Less than a kilometer down a dirt road, these buildings were less frequently visited but just as spectacular. Down in the chambers were some remnants of Geez glyphs on the wall although not enough to decipher the complete meaning. We were told that the ground underneath one of the chamber floors used to serve as an escape tunnel although it’s unclear. Since we had an official guide from the University we had the opportunity to go down into one of the vertical shafts. Looking back it probably wasn’t the best idea. One person had to stay at the top to help us out because there weren’t any ropes or ladders. I ventured halfway into one chamber and came across a bat with my flashlight. I quickly made my exit. 

From the trip I was surprised how many building lay in ruins with no signage. There are plenty of sites around that could be excavated and people are still trying to determine their use and function. We were told that Neville Chittick and David Phillipson excavated the Aksum stelae decades ago but it seems there are still many more questions that remain unanswered. Unlike many other large archaeological sites I’ve visited, Aksum is right up against a major street and people can enter and exit almost freely.

Also as a side note I think it’s worth mentioning. I came across a group of students playing Chini skip in Aksum. I’m not sure what the other terms are for it but it’s a game that is also played in Jamaica where students take turns trying to jump over a rope—or a string of rubber bands—as it gets progressively higher. I had to take a picture because I never thought I’d see it in Ethiopia.

Chini skip