Travel Weekly editor-at-large Arnie Weissmann continues his
journeys through Ethiopia. Following is the fifth in an eight-part
series telling the tales of his travels and travails:
he day-by-day scheduling of my
three-week trip in Ethiopia was, as much as possible, worked out in
advance, with flights and local guides prearranged. The planning
was difficult, in part because the things I wanted to see were
spread out across this large country. But also, as I was setting
and resetting the itinerary, one high-priority item that guided
many of my decisions was my desire to visit a Felasha village.
The Felasha are the black Jews of
Ethiopia. Mystery surrounds how a "lost tribe" of Jews came to be
present in Ethiopia -- local legend claims they are descendants of
a union between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, while some
anthropologists believe they first surfaced as a subculture just
300 years ago.
I carved out a day to visit a Felasha village that a local tour
operator said was near the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar. I had
arranged for a driver and guide to take me to the village, and I
was picked up right on schedule.
A little ways out of town, we passed a sign welcoming us (in
English) to the "Felasha Village." I asked my guide how many
Felashas there were in the village -- I had heard many had
emigrated to Israel.
"Well, actually," my guide said, "the Felasha Village has no
"No Felashas? No Felashas in the Felasha Village?"
My guide hastened to reassure me.
"Don't worry, it will be interesting. The Felashas taught the other
villagers how they made their pottery before they left for Israel,
so you can still get Felasha pottery."
"I'm not so much interested in the pottery as I am in talking
with the Felashas. Are there any Felashas around the area?" I
"Yes, there are many in Chilga, and in Ambober, there's a big
"Then let's go to one of those villages. How far away are they?"
"Chilga is too far away -- there is no time. Ambober is only
three hours, but you need a four-wheel drive vehicle, and we don't
"Can we get one?"
"No, we have none."
The former neighbors of the Felasha
in the Felasha village do their best to present a Felasha village
for tourists, despite the absence of Felashas. A couple of homes
sell black pottery similar to what the Felasha used to create. One
woman pointed out a mezuzah (which Jews throughout the world put on
their door posts) at the entrance to one of the village's homes. I
asked if she knew what it signified, but she shook her head.
My guide asked if I wanted to see a synagogue, and I was brought
to a round, empty, dark hut. I shined my flashlight around and saw
a Star of David at the top of the center post.
There was nothing else to see. I went back to one of the homes
selling the black pottery and I chose something that seemed to
capture how I felt about reworking my itinerary a dozen times to
get to a Felasha village that housed no Felashas.
My purchase was a small ceramic representation of the torso and
head of a man. It was a fairly crude, disproportionate figure with
uneven glaze. His overlarge face drew me to him -- he bore an
uncanny resemblance to the figure crossing the bridge in Edvard
Munch's famous painting, "The Scream."
" " "
Arnie did the traveling, but you
can win the souvenirs.
This week's prize, pictured here, is the Woven Collection, and
includes a silk scarf depicting the story of King Solomon and the
Queen of Sheba, and a basket from Harar.
Just send an e-mail to Arnie at [email protected] for your chance to win this
third of four prize groups. (Editors' note: This contest is
Be sure to check back Thursday, July 26, where in his next
installment, Arnie will trek to Lalibela.
For the complete archive of Arnie's Adventures in Ethiopia,