The East Ethiopian city of Harar has been a civilizations and trade crossroads since centuries, where Africans, Arabs, and Indians still coexist peacefully. On 2006, UNESCO decided that its cultural heritage should be included in the World Heritage List. Nowadays, Harar’s old town remains a feast for the visitor senses and a constellation of cultural and architectural highlights.
The city’s charms attracted numerous illustrious mortals throughout history, who left traces of their stay, still visible in different kinds. Emperor Haile Selassie, a.k.a. Ras Tafari, a.k.a. Ras Mekonen, spent his honeymoon in a fair Indian architect designed building that currently houses a local museum. French poet Arthur Rimbaud lived for over ten years in the city, reportedly trading African goods to the Western World, and recovering from the affective break up with the likewise poet Paul Verlain. (the current Rimbaud House Museum is not the original house where the poet lived). Sir Richard F. Burton, multifaceted writer, explorer, diplomat, spy, etc. was held captive for ten days during his “exploration” trip by the Emir Ahmad III ibn Abu Bakr, and left a magnificent narrative entitled First Footsteps in East Africa or An Exploration of Harar.
But a visit today to Harar would not only render the splendid particulars reported above. The tourist apprehends three main concepts: the walled town and its cobblestoned streets, the hyena feeding ceremony, and the omnipresent khat. The first one is the predominant visual concept, materialized by the lively narrow pedestrian streets filled with cement plastered compound walls painted in light colours, bustling ethnic markets, one hundred and ten mosques and shrines, and the traditional guild grouped businesses in one or several adjacent streets, being the most characteristic Makina Kri-Kri street, where dozens of tailors stitch outdoors, leasing the onomatopoeic sound of their sewing machines to name the street. Second, the hyena feeding started some thirty years ago at a suburban house, where a cattle proprietor decided to feed hyenas to preserve his cows and save them from night attacks. Successively, the animal night meal turned into a wide show-ceremony, where the smiley carnivores attend every night to receive their scheduled ration, thrown on the ground or handed on a stick by the proprietor or even the public. Finally, khat in Harar represents a historical social custom, and presently an overwhelming local production and consumption. Khat is a controversial leaved plant stimulant that causes euphoria, and in different levels, dependency. While in some countries is legally a controlled substance, in Ethiopia, Yemen, Somalia and Djibouti is legal. Therefore, attractive for tourists who come all the way to Harar, and do not only want to visit the rumored world biggest khat outdoors market in the nearby town of Aweday, but personally chew it, forcing the unfortunate tour guides stay long hours awake throughout the night until they believe they can feel the euphoria. At that point, all of them emphatically express the wish to return and feed the hyenas from their own bare hands!