Lalibela’s Monastery of Nakuta La’ab

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I was very pleased to see the article by Yvonne Horn, “A 23-Day Exploration of Ethiopia,” in the August ’07 issue. The picture on page 10 is mislabeled, however. The photo of the priest with the vellum bible was taken at the Monastery of Nakuta La’ab in Lalibela, not at the large, modern, concrete Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum.

I believe this detail is quite important, as the two churches and their sacred artifacts are very different indeed, and it would be nice to draw more visitors to the rural church near Lalibela. The priest at this church is very obliging and kind and willing to show visitors the sacred and precious objects of the church, unlike at the modern church in Axum.

At the church in Axum, a famous and very touristed site, there are usually unidentified “guardians” hanging around who will aggressively exact high payments from visitors in order to show them a couple of pages from a Bible. This harassment is done by the workers of the church, not the priests; during the times I have visited, I have never met a priest at the Axum church.

The Nakuta La’ab monastery, about six kilometers outside of the center of Lalibela, is more in the traditional spirit of the Ethiopian church. A cave church set in a rock face with natural springs, it is attended only by a resident priest and nun, who are always very pleased to welcome us.

Axum and Lalibela are the two most frequently visited places in Ethiopia and both have been corrupted by tourism. Scams and pickpocketing incidents are rampant and, sadly, many locals there have become greedy and very aggressive toward foreigners. Slapping or punching of tourists is common, as are the cries of “Give me birr!” “Give me pen!” “Money!” “Stylo!” “Caramela!”

Much of this is due to the past bad behavior of tourists, who threw money at kids through the windows of cars and handed out candies, pens, etc., in the most random and callous manner. I have witnessed this behavior firsthand. Please refer to any guidebook for Ethiopia regarding this phenomenon, also called “faranji hysteria.” (I often instruct travelers how to take photos of the people: to always ask first, approach respectfully, etc.)

Bearing this in mind, the priest at Nakuta La’ab stands out, as he is kind and obliging, never holds out his hand for money (in my experience) and certainly never demands it. Because of this, people always enjoy their visit to this church and are happy to leave donations voluntarily.

YVETTE HAAKMEESTER, Tour Leader, ElderTreks, Toronto, Ont., Canada

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I was very pleased to see the article by Yvonne Horn, “A 23-Day Exploration of Ethiopia,” in the August ’07 issue. The picture on page 10 is mislabeled, however. The photo of the priest with the vellum bible was taken at the Monastery of Nakuta La’ab in Lalibela, not at the large, modern, concrete Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum.

I believe this detail is quite important, as the two churches and their sacred artifacts are very different indeed, and it would be nice to draw more visitors to the rural church near Lalibela. The priest at this church is very obliging and kind and willing to show visitors the sacred and precious objects of the church, unlike at the modern church in Axum.

At the church in Axum, a famous and very touristed site, there are usually unidentified “guardians” hanging around who will aggressively exact high payments from visitors in order to show them a couple of pages from a Bible. This harassment is done by the workers of the church, not the priests; during the times I have visited, I have never met a priest at the Axum church.

The Nakuta La’ab monastery, about six kilometers outside of the center of Lalibela, is more in the traditional spirit of the Ethiopian church. A cave church set in a rock face with natural springs, it is attended only by a resident priest and nun, who are always very pleased to welcome us.

Axum and Lalibela are the two most frequently visited places in Ethiopia and both have been corrupted by tourism. Scams and pickpocketing incidents are rampant and, sadly, many locals there have become greedy and very aggressive toward foreigners. Slapping or punching of tourists is common, as are the cries of “Give me birr!” “Give me pen!” “Money!” “Stylo!” “Caramela!”

Much of this is due to the past bad behavior of tourists, who threw money at kids through the windows of cars and handed out candies, pens, etc., in the most random and callous manner. I have witnessed this behavior firsthand. Please refer to any guidebook for Ethiopia regarding this phenomenon, also called “faranji hysteria.” (I often instruct travelers how to take photos of the people: to always ask first, approach respectfully, etc.)

Bearing this in mind, the priest at Nakuta La’ab stands out, as he is kind and obliging, never holds out his hand for money (in my experience) and certainly never demands it. Because of this, people always enjoy their visit to this church and are happy to leave donations voluntarily.

YVETTE HAAKMEESTER, Tour Leader, ElderTreks, Toronto, Ont., Canada