On the day we hiked to see the waterfall in Bahir Dar, I had been fighting signs of the ferenge1 sickness—the common food-borne illness suffered by foreign visitors. When we awoke the next day, I begged to skip out on our tour of the monastery-filled islands on Lake Tana … but my begging was not successful.
We crawled into a tiny three-wheeled taxi that took us along the rocky roads to the edge of town. From there we boarded a motor-boat that sloshed across the lake to the smattering of islands. According to legend, the Ark of the Covenant lived here for ages before it was transported inland, along the northern border of Ethiopia.
From island-to-island, we toured hut after hut—at least, the ones that allowed women on them. Mostly they looked the same, and this is where I learned the story about George slaying the dragon. The usual process involved men and women entering from opposite sides, where we removed our shoes and re-assembled from inside. Because we left the same way, it didn’t surprise me when I couldn’t find my husband, BK.
After a brief moment, he emerged from a nearby hut, explaining that we had both been invited to join the locals for the day’s celebration. Reluctantly, I entered.
I was welcomed with a plastic tumbler of a tela, or honey wine. There were a little more than a dozen of us, all sitting on the floor along the mud-walls of the hut. We were celebrating the feast of Medhane Alem2, or that of the “Savior of the World.” Technically, it was the day before Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas, so it was likely the equivalent to Christmas Eve.
With permission, I captured the following photos:
 Ferenge is the Amharic word for “foreigner.”
 Alem is the Amharic word for “world,” which is also part of my name Alemayehu, which means, “I saw the world.”