Located in southern Ethiopia beside an enormous lake is the city of Hawassa. Around 140,000 people live there, surrounded by the most beautiful and exotic nature I have ever seen.
Monkeys are sitting in every single tree, eating or grooming each other and no matter where you look in the sky, colourful birds will be seen, especially the very characteristic Marabou Stork, which is a very common sight around the lake. Hawassa was the destination of a journey out of Addis Ababa, a short vacation, making it possible to experiencing the exotic nature of Ethiopia that the capital cannot provide.
I travelled along with a group of fourteen volunteers and interns and we left Addis Ababa early on Friday morning for an extended weekend in Hawassa. The hotel where we stayed was located right beside the lake and the area around it served as a park where the Guereza and Vervet monkeys as well as exotic birds live side by side. From chairs placed at the lakeshore, people can examine the entire lake while relaxing, the view and the atmosphere were all perfect – it truly felt like a vacation. Around the hotel area, the monkeys live in the trees and they are all very used to seeing humans, allowing us to feed them with snacks, which they gladly grabbed from our hands. The only downside of the monkeys being so tame was that we had to be very aware of our food while eating in the restaurant, or else they would simply steal it as soon as we looked away.
One of the biggest attractions of the lake is the chance to see wild hippos in their natural habitat, and for us that was no exception. Two small boats took us on a short trip out to see them the next morning. Differences between Europe and Ethiopia were very visible as we boarded the boats; no lifejackets were provided, no speech about boat-safety was spoken and the boats were both taking in water as we were crossing the lake. Nonetheless, I still felt very safe upon leaving land, since I was sure that the sailors had been sailing out to the hippos an uncountable amount of times and since they were all still alive, I was sure that we would make it back as well. The boat trip was no disappointment; after sailing for twenty minutes, we found eight hippos relaxing on the opposite side of the lake and even from a safe distance we could easily observe every single one of their movements. The two baby hippos and the six adult ones all seemed to enjoy their lives as they were relaxing in the sunshine, and we were for sure enjoying our lives as well.
Around the lake a small footpath can be found, and around there, lots of different birds live and they can all be seen walking. The birds include fish eagles, marabou storks, banded barbets, blue-headed coucals, white-rumped babblers, herons, storks, terns, plovers, waders, and pygmy geese. We walked there as the evening approached and the variety of different sized and coloured birds were stunning. Along the lakeside, fishermen sailed out in small homemade boats which seemed to be incredibly hard to balance on and it looked like they were standing on the surface of the water with their rods while they were fishing. Also a thirty-meter long cement-bridge going straight out into the lake from the shore was used for fishing. Here, people can see actually how the fishermen are fishing, as well as having a look at their very basic fishing rods.
Fishing is keeping a lot of the people living in Hawassa employed and the fish market is a great place to witness that. The fish market contains several different areas named after the purpose of the place. The women’s area is a small area located near the entrance; this is, as well as the restaurants, the only place where women work in the market. In the area, women prepare the fish for sushi, which can be bought in the nearby restaurant. Behind the women’s area, there is a small building where all the fish are taken before they are set for sale. In this building, fishermen register the number of fish caught and afterwards they are sold there as well, and this is also the place where children work by skinning the fish with their teeth. At the other end of the market, at the lakeshore, boats and nets get emptied for fish and prepared for the day after. Located nearby, the lakeshore is ‘the black market’ where fish can be bought before they are registered for a little less money than usual. One of the main attractions of the fish market for tourists are the marabou storks, ‘the birds of evil,’ as it was named by one woman accompanying me because of their big black body and their long thin beaks. They were all over the fish market searching for spare fish parts they could eat or simply waiting for people to feed them.
Hawassa is something special and for sure worth a visit. The lake secures different occupations than those you are used to seeing or hearing about in Addis Ababa and the luxuriant nature and exotic animals are a sight worth seeing For vacation I have yet to see a more relaxed environment, and there is nothing as good as a walk by the lakeshore for forgetting the, at times, very stressful everyday life in Addis Ababa.
Ed’s Note: The writer(Teis Feldborg Gregersen) is on an internship at The Reporter.