Postcards from Lalibela

In Postcards From..., Travel, Vision Is Better by David23 Comments

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A week ago a group of us landed in Lalibela, Ethiopia about the same time as thousands of orthodox pilgrims were arriving from all over the country. We spent the last week in this high dusty town, walking among the centuries-old churches, all carved from the red rock on which this town sits, and waiting for orthodox Christmas.

Unique in ways I’ve not encountered anywhere else in Africa, Ethiopia is hard to describe to those who haven’t been, and Lalibela is even more so. After being exiled to Jerusalem by his brother the king, Prince Lalibela eventually returned to his home with the intention of building an African Jerusalem, and this town – some 2600 meters in the mountainous north of Ethiopia – was where he built it.  Churches here, all intricately carved from the rock, and joined by tunnels and bridges, are alive; they throng with life, the priests and pilgrims moving to the rhythms of a faith practiced here for many centuries. The walls are hung with tapestries, the floors covered in carpets, all of it lit from high carved windows and the odd bare bulb, placed wherever the rock allows. It’s crowded and dusty and full of mystery and humanity.

No surprise then, that I love it here. On Christmas morning we woke early to welcome the sun with the thousands of pilgrims, gathered around one of the larger churches, singing and hanging out in growing blue of dawn and the yellow of candlelight. I helped an elder pilgrim down a steep hill, only to get to the bottom and find it was he who was helping me and wanted payment for his services. From my perspective I paid an old man to let me help him down a hill. Merry Christmas. Then I sat with the masses to watch a preacher hurl his sermon into the crowd while the sun began its climb into the sky, and felt like I could have been sitting at the feet of John the Baptist, all wild-haired and full of fury. There’s nowhere in the world I’ve been that’s felt more like a journey back in time.

Coming out of one of the churches a man greets me with a smile and says something I don’t quite catch. We try a few more times and my ear keeps missing. One last try and I get: How do you like the churches? What do you feel?” Perhaps it’s just a quirk of using a language not completely his, but it catches me off guard. Not “what do you think?” but rather, “how do you feel?” I feel wonder, brother. I feel wonder.

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  1. Pingback: Postcards from Lalibela | xzine

  2. That was a great comment, David.

    Over the past 20-30 years, many of our workshops, seminars, and perhaps a few “life coaches” have advocated not live life out of feelings, rather by intellect.

    For most, unknowingly, they attempt to strip out the fundamental creative force that is the germ of all creation. Our ability to feel is our ability to influence our sub-conscious and those around us much more than any rational thought ever will.

    To the extent we feel, we live.

    Love these images.

  3. Beautiful images David!!..Love that first one the mood and feeling of the image is fantastic!!..Looking forward to more and be safe on the trip..

  4. Judging by your description of your experiences in Lalibela in words and images, I’d say the gentleman, who asked you how you felt, posed his question correctly.

    Great job of conveying the wonder of the place and moment, David.

    I look forward to more postcards from Lalibela.

    Also look forward to reading more about the X-E1 on the road since that’s my travel camera as well.

  5. Hi David

    Great images, particularly like the 3rd one with the light shining in thru the window.

    I was in Ethiopia in October taking some photos for a local Charity using the X-E1. I found the 35mm f1.4 was superb in enabling me to capture photos in low light in the huts/houses.

    I never made it to Lalibela, but would love to go back and visit it some day. These images make me want to ensure I get there ifI go back to Ethiopia.

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about your experience with the X-E1 and the lenses you used.


  6. Pingback: Postcards from Lalibela | David duChemin

  7. I love the last picture. The juxtaposition of the old world feel and the new world tech. Wonderfully highlighted by the warm and cool tones of each. Fantastic!

  8. “From wonder into wonder, Existence opens. “ ~ Lao Tsu

    You can find the whole incredible translation here:

    Lao Tsu lived in about 604BC, but his wisdom is as fresh as a daisy born yesterday.

    Wonderful, moody, sense of place images, David. Makes one feel like one is there. Just beautiful.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Tom. I’ll look that up when I can. I like Lao Tsu, or what little I’ve read of him.

  9. Awesome photos. Especially of the preacher and rising sun. I love the guy’s question, “How do you feel?” Makes you stop and connect with your surroundings. I want to go there!

  10. A nice mood conveyed !
    Interesting how the X-E1 pics mix well with the Leica pics ;o) !

    Have a good time, David !

  11. Looks like this was a wonderful experience heightened by the Christmas season and that the X series camera performed well. How did you find using the Fuji?

  12. Wonderful set with great atmosphere and mood!
    Did you use your X-E1 as mentioned in an earlier post?

    1. Author

      Thanks. I did use the XE-1, and my Leica M. Fantastic cameras, both of them, and in some ways the Fuji out-performed the Leica. I’ll be doing a blog post with my reactions, but it might take a week or two to get up. I head to the Maasai Mara in a couple days.

        1. The new 24mp full frame. They just call it the M, though it’s getting tagged as the M (240 type) by the masses for some much needed clarification.

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