Lalibela – Rock-Hewn Churches and Dirty Poor Children

“We’re lucky, it’s raining today! It’s the third day in a row it has rained. We are thankful to God!”

Mikael’s attitude to the rain differed drastically from ours. We prefer sunshine and heat on our travels. But being in Northern Ethiopia where hardly anything grows, we, too, were thankful for the drops that fell that day.

Lalibela lies high up in the Northern Ethiopian mountains – in the middle of nowhere, really. The village is surrounded by agricultural lands where the locals still use mules for transport, herd sheep and work their lands with hook-ploughs. There’s a constant, somewhat sour, smell of burning eucalyptus wood everywhere, as they use it to cook and to heat their homes. In the mornings, the women carry large, yellow plastic containers on their heads to fetch water for the day. Not much has changed in the last five hundred years.


Although the tourist office charges almost $30/person to view the rock-hewn churches, Ethiopia’s main tourist attraction, nothing seems to go back to the village. The villagers live in shacks just feet away from the churches. Many children don’t have shoes – some don’t even have pants! – and they play football with a ball made of rolled-up socks.

We watched the semi-final between Spain and Germany in a run down, filthy, miniscule bar, filled to the brim with chairs and people, on one of the few TVs in the village. There was an strong odor of stale beer and unwashed bodies. But everyone cheered for Spain, which was great, and of course Spain won!

But despite the destitution, the children in Lalibela dream of a brighter future. They dream of becoming water engineers, pilots, doctors, even the president of Ethiopia. But here’s the hook – they all want you to buy them a school book so they can advance to the next level. Everyone’s father has died and their mother works in a village far away, so they are all alone. How much of their stories were true, and how much was just tear-jerking stories is hard to tell.



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