There was a small lake north of the city of Seattle which was very popular with the people of the area. It was very unique. There was no obvious inflow or outflow of water but the lake’s level remained the same and was almost always clean and clear. Once upon a time, there had been an aqua theater there where water shows had been staged for enthusiastic audiences. All that remained of that outdoor extravaganza now was a concrete husk of a quarter-circle of benches and many stairs climbing to its top.
It was somewhat late evening but was a very balmy one as well. The usual brisk breeze was nearly dormant and only fluffed her hair in an occasional puff or two.
She tickled his palm as they proceeded forward, she got him finally to hold her hand, and she insisted, “A walk around the lake, kind gentleman?” She played obviously coy and batted her beautifully long lashes at him just to emphasize that she would get her way.
And she did. “Love to do that with you, sweet woman.”
So they held hands, an Ethiopian woman and a Hispanic man, and even let their connected arms swing back and forth in rhythm to their gait too. Were a stranger to glance at them, that person would never recognize the freshness of it all. Though their unconscious show was full of energy, it didn’t seem self-conscious or brand new whatsoever.
She was dressed in spring theater gear for Seattle. That would be casual and usually with layers over her shoulders and torso. She had already removed the cognac colored thin leather jacket and he had already taken it and slung it over his shoulder just so she wouldn’t have to bother with it. Her blouse was in a white that possessed sheer chiffon insets at the shoulders which gave it a see through look there. Her mocha skin visible through those two portions of the top contrasted beautifully with the rest of the woven item. The long sleeves did give it a slightly more formal look but it worked well for the trek that they were engaged in too. Her plain black toreador pants were just chic enough for the indoor event and just comfortable enough for the outdoor. The only difficult items in her ensemble were her heels. But she made them work for her even when they strolled at a rapid pace.
“I have to go back to my African fascination with you. Remember our very first conversation? I have a thing for that continent. And Ethiopia, most ancient land of ancient lands, is the perfect point for us to get to know each other even better.
“I have a game that I will play with you for as long as you will allow it. It is simple. It’s called the question game. I am a really curious person. I will ask one question and then when you are done answering, I will ask another.”
“Lovely game. Ask away.”
“If you could only chose one aspect of Ethiopia to tell me about, something that you know something about, that you love or cherish, regale me with it.”
“Regale you with it? You have such an adorably intellectual way of expressing yourself. No one talks like you do. It’s something that piques and soothes me all at the same time. Never before and probably never after you.”
He hoped that there would never be anyone after him. But that was way jumping the gun!
“There is Lalibela.”
“Yes, Lalibela. You asked.” And she tightened her grip on his hand and kissed it besides.
“I really feel lighter when I am around you.”
“I know this place, this Lalibela, like the back of my hand. When I was living in Ethiopia, I frequented it all the time. Whenever I go back to visit my parents and family there, it is my first stop after Gondar.
“Do you wish the history or the description first?”
“Give me the description first. That way, I can visualize it while you let me in on its origins.”
“It is a magnificent set of huge churches hewn right out of the rock of the plateau. It is one of our holiest of cities in Ethiopia. Aksum may be just barely more special spiritually. But Lalibela is a mecca and many pilgrims go there daily.”
She was obviously in love with this special area and the significance of it.
Her descriptions were detailed and faultless. She did regale him and here is what she told him.
The layout was that of eleven churches altogether divided into two main groupings. Roughly half of them had been built north of the Jordan River and the remainder to the south. The final church was set aside, a distance away from the ten but was connected by trenches that eased the way there.
The church, Biete Medhani Alem with its five aisles, was the single largest stone carved monolithic church of its kind. She assured him that its bold design was truly a paean to God Almighty. And it was, in her mind, a testament to man’s love of his divine roots made manifest in these wonderful temples devoted to the Christian faith.
She continued by mentioning to him that several of the churches were early on used as royal quarters for those of the Zagwe, those of the resurging faith that had waned for a short period. Soon though, they became the temple for just God and his closest minions.
He couldn’t believe how much she was aware of this part of her people’s legacy.
There in the church of Biet Golgotha replicas of the tomb of Christ, the tomb of Adam, and the crib of the Nativity sat in chiseled glory.
“The churches, because of their popularity, are constantly being restored and returned to their original form.”
She revealed to him that there was always some degradation of the structure and its integrity occurring. Interior paintings, sculptures, and bas relief designs were at the highest of risk. She had donated many Ethiopian birr to the cause of those upgrading and refurbishing projects monotonously going on.
“To give money to this reaches into my heart. It is the very least that I can do.”
“Wow!” was all that he uttered.
Not too intellectual, that!
“Ready for the history behind the magnificence now?”
“Totally, totally, totally.”
Here she wonderfully articulated to him the pride that she felt in informing him of something quite extraordinary.
The cathedrals had been created as a New Jerusalem in the mind of its creator, King Lalibela. After all, the Muslims of King Lalibela’s time had conquered the original Holy Lands and had blocked any pilgrimages there by Christians. So, what better an idea than to have established a new area for worship?
Scholars, according to this monk, had been in grave disagreement on the origins. The first “facts” mentioned by this venerable old man of the church had been regarding the common legend.
King Lalibela had been born in Roha, Lalibela first, and his name meant, “The bee recognizes its sovereignty.” It had been God who, in a dream, had ordered the king to build these marvels. In the dream, God had given Lalibela detailed instructions on the construction down to their colors. The construction had moved rapidly as angels had supposedly redoubled the work at night when the laborers of the day had slept.
Another hypothesis had been that the famous king had been in exile in Jerusalem and had promised himself that when he returned to his native Ethiopia, he had to craft a city to match that of the Holy City.
They accomplished the entire circuit of the lake while she spoke.
It was time. He couldn’t stand it anymore. This woman was priceless and he whispered to her as they slipped into his car, “Come to my place. Pretend it has the grandeur of Lalibela. You can do that by closing your eyes as soon as we go in the door. I will lead you the rest of the way.”
She was flushed and exhausted by then. But she had a premonition that there was a perfect antidote for that.
“Lead on. Take me where you desire.”
She let all of her secrets out with those two very simple statements.
His heart pounded and the drive swept by without a conscious effort on his part. His entire mind was focused on the beautiful woman beside him and seeing her safely home to his abode.
She let him pull her hand gently once they were there. She more than appreciated a man who could take her by that very hand and direct her in dominant fashion. His passion was setting an energy within that was sweeping him away. To her, it seemed dominant; to him it seemed wild and crazy. Fortunately, it worked for both.
To get the full story and other stories look out for Wobbled Words in November. Wobbled Words is a compilation of short stories, proceeds from the sales of which would go for humanitarian purposes, basically, for the education of discerning but indigent students. Watch out for more info.
Continually, Africa’s history and essence are being distorted because we have decided to fold our arms while we allow others document our essence. Continuous rape of Africa stares us in the eyes. Just few days ago Africa Leaders went for a photo-op with POTUS in Washington DC, cap in hand we go begging from the West in the name of seeking aid.
Jeff Underwood is the author of “An African Fascination.” He is a registered nurse and a writer who lives on the west coast of the United States. Writing to him is akin to giving birth. “Though it is full of pain and challenge, the outcome is worth any difficulty prior.”