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Eritrea: Debre Bizen

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Debre Bizen | Eritrea | Africa

[Visited: January 2004]

Obtaining the permission for visiting the Eritrean monasteries required a lot of patience, since someone incapable of handling adminstration was doing the red tape. Once the precious paper was finally in my pocket, I took a bus towards Ghinda. I worried a little about the sun during the climb, and had taken a lot of water. However, soon after we left the central highland, we dived into a thick layer of clouds. When I got off at Nefasit, visibility was 10 metres, if not less, and it was cold. I decided not to take any guide, and paid dearly for it, since I missed the right path and ended up looking for it for over an hour and a half. I heard animals close by without seeing them, I heard cars on the road, I heard voices from a distance, but I always ended up on a path that somehow seemed right, but ended unexpectedly. Soaked and scratched from plants, I decided that I had to go with a guide. Just before entering the village, however, I saw a sign saying that women were not allowed, and I knew I had found the path. Apart from women, all female beings are forbidden to climb the mountain. After half an hour of climbing on a path that seemed a highway after the small ones I had been trying before, I suddenly saw the face of a rock high above me, through shreds of clouds. Within minutes, I was above the clouds and a magnificent view opened itself up to me. Walking from here was a true pleasure and when I walked into the monastery I was not as wet as I had been before.

Picture of Debre Bizen (Eritrea): Debre Bizen monastery: sunrise over clouds

Instead of seeing old and wise monks as I had expected, I was greeted by quarrelling young boys who directed me to a stone bench and ordered me to wash my feet with water from a metal bucket they gave me. They inspected me, and when I saw the clouds which surrounded this 2400 metre mountain, I could imagine that I must have been a strange intruder for them. A few older monks showed up and greeted me. Suddenly, three camels glided inside the inner court through an arch. Somehow, it was a bizarre show that was unfolding in front of me. I was ordered upstairs in one of the many stone buildings, where I was given tea and bread. After going outside and taking some pictures, I came back to the little house which was also going to be my room for the night, all the people were gone. I warmed myself on the stones of the house outside, and when they became cold too, I retreated inside. It was going to be a very early night, waking up every now and then because the stone floor started to make life hard on my bones.

Picture of Debre Bizen (Eritrea): Monk dwellings in Debre Bizen monastery

Waking up just before sunshine the next morning was as mystical an experience as my arrival the day before. Since I was very cold, I decided to walk around, and found a nice spot on a rock, facing sunrise. I noticed that the surroundings of the mountain were still covered in clouds. The complex was much larger than I had expected, I saw monks in their robes, students going to their class, and oxen roaming around the monastery area. The clouds, which took away the rest of the world, made me feel detached from the world, it was as if I was alone with a small community of some 120 monks and their students on a separate planet. A small boy came to tell me that tea was being served, with the same bread as the day before, which was yet one day older now. The only person speaking English gave me a small tour of the monastery area, I scribbled something in the guestbook and donated sugar, cookies and some money, and then I was on my way down again. At one point, I thought I heard pigs, which was strange as I hadn't seen any in the three weeks I had been in Eritrea. When I took a closer look, I discovered more than 50 big baboons on a rock not too far away. They spotted me as well and were moving towards me. I decided that I was not in the mood for an encounter with these animals and hurried down, into the fog. Once back in Nefasit and in the every day world, I had to wait for more than an hour for a bus back to Asmara. It was a good opportunity to prepare my mind for the city after the heavenly experience up in the monastery.

Picture of Debre Bizen (Eritrea): Fog on Debre Bizen monastery path
Picture of Debre Bizen (Eritrea): Bell tower of Debre Bizen monastery
Picture of Debre Bizen (Eritrea): Rocks towering aboce clouds, Debre Bizen monastery
Picture of Debre Bizen (Eritrea): Street in Debre Bizen monastery
Picture of Debre Bizen (Eritrea): Storage tower in Debre Bizen monastery
Picture of Debre Bizen (Eritrea): Church in Debre Bizen monastery
Picture of Debre Bizen (Eritrea): Sunset on Debre Bizen monastery
Picture of Debre Bizen (Eritrea): Writing monk at Debre Bizen monastery
Picture of Debre Bizen (Eritrea): Thinking monk at Debre Bizen monastery

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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