It’s hard to believe it had been five years since I’d been to Ethiopia, not counting the many hours of down time spent making a connection in Addis Ababa’s airport. Recently I arrived a couple days early for a ChildFund assignment in this Horn of Africa country so that I might explore an ancient city in Ethiopia’s exotic East.
Harar’s meandering old town is other-worldly, a step back in time along the caravan routes of the middle ages. Indeed, if it weren’t for Coca Cola’s stubborn presence inside the city walls it may sometimes be difficult to decipher which decade, or even century, you were losing your way in.
Most Ethiopians don’t mind having their photograph taken. It was my original intention to shoot only portraits for these two days I’d set aside. However, I was quickly enveloped in the atmosphere of the town and the eye candy was too much for me.
The green leafy substance seen here is known as khat, a highly addictive stimulant originating from Ethiopia. It appears to be both the boon and bane of Harar. Many farmers spend their entire lives cultivating it. Many women earn their living selling it on the streets. Many people, mostly men, spend far too much time idly chewing it in a hypnotic daze.
The World Health Organization classified khat as a drug of abuse in 1980. Though its use is illegal in many nations, Ethiopia is not one of them, and the country brings in a great deal of revenue every year in exporting the plant to places like Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti.
Khat does not come cheap. A lesser-quality bag begins at 100 Ethiopian Birr, or about $6, which is about three times as much as the average Ethiopian earns in a day. Consequently Harar’s alleyways are lined with addicts who are broke and sleeping on the street, sometimes begging in hopes of scrounging up money for the next fix. Khat, along with coffee, are Harar’s two main cash crops.
I spent much time indulging in the latter.
For the nerds out there, on each of these photographs I confined myself to either a Canon 16-35mm 2.8L zoom or a 50mm 1.2L prime lens, more so for the sake of continuity than portability.