Peter Bachmann and the People of Lalibela – Ethiopia:
Why for too much fascination?
It might seem just allegory, myth or metaphor or rhetoric…!! Is that? No it is not! Seriously not! Honestly, my obsession or special alliance to Lalibela and its people is simply an inexorable feeling that I couldn’t untie myself easily! Why? Is that because I got extra-ordinary reception there? Not really! I would feel even the other way round had it been on such ground. I knew that I am from another culture, faith and social background so that it wouldn’t be easy to develop such close affiliation with that place and its people! So what did clicked in to my mind to build such a special sensitivity? What did they plant in to my heart? What was injected in to my blood? What was installed in to my hands that made me desperate and fully determined to share the pains of these people? Here is the story:
My interest to visit a country called Ethiopia was conceived back in 1964 when I was 24 years old young and fearless man. During my travel from Ceylon and India across the Red sea, we had a small break in Djibouti port and I noticed that there is a long train transportation from Djibouti to Ethiopia; a country under the rule of kingship and the then only African Nation that could maintain its independence from colonial scramble of the western as a double attempt by Italy was not successful.
However, it was after the millennium, ten years ago in 2005 that I saw my dream come true when I did a very short but the most successful and exciting visit to that country and one of its Christian highland town called Lalibela: forty years after my trance!!
What did I see then? Yes of course I got a privilege to stopover and visit those unbelievable rock-Hewn and Monolithic churches which mirror the deep rooted Orthodox Christian faith and medieval period civilization of the country! Leaving the task of authenticating the true or mere rhetoric of the stories, the churches were constructed by the then ruler of the country king Lalibella aiming to build the second Jerusalem following his inspiration after visiting the biblical Jerusalem. Currently, all the eleven churches are registered by UNESCO as world heritages and they are the primary attractions of tourists who are going to visit Ethiopia from all over the world.
Initially, it was just like any other tourist that I went to that place. However, I got emotional and my mind couldn’t stop thinking beyond the material buildings! Where the most is blessed, clean, sparkling and unsoiled place for God? Why is Lalibela perceived by many Orthodox Christians as the holy land or second Jerusalem? Only because of the Rock-Hewn Churches? What about the people of that town? For me, what has to be seen was not only the material and physical faces of the heritages but also the people who give life to the material heritages whose hearts are the real church as a permanent domicile for Jesus Christ!
Was I philosophising? Not really! I looked at their situation! The town was full of street children, handicapped, the elderly and destitute who couldn’t subsidize even their daily bread. The area is naturally exposed to drought and famine for lack of rainfall on which the hand- to -mouth agricultural production is relied on! The topography is not convenient for farming, trading and other activities where a community can work on to generate income. Therefore, my eyes were opened to see not only those amazing architectural nobles which stand there testifying Lalibela as the ‘once up on a time capital city of the Zagwe dynasty’, but also the real faces of the people who are struggling with poverty.
It was then this insight which made me crazy of striving to do my level best to these people so that not only the buildings but also the community may truly represent the legend that this town is the second holy land. Now it is ten years since PBF got actively involved in the life these people. By this time, the name Peter or Emanuel__ the name given to me by the people__ is well known at least by nine from ten respondents everywhere in that town.
In fact, this doesn’t mean that the ten years journey was always with comfort in concrete tar- macadam. I had of course some discouraging and staggering experiences which might have had an impact of creating Unbearable ennui in my work for that community. Surprisingly, Thanks to God, my sticky concern for this community still remains with me and nothing seems to erode my honest love and affection for them.