January 26th, 2011
30 Pieces of Prayer
from the churchyard of St. Giyorgis Church, Bahir Dar
I saw the big grin on his face, after he’d raised himself from receiving a blessing, from the purple robed, black turbanned priest.
Two elderly priests, quietly conversing, wrapped in faded white cloth, on a wooden bench, under some trees of shade; thier prayer sticks laying beside them.
The little old nun, bent over double, who came to pray by a sapling. Then hobbled away, her prayer stick as support. Her yellow turban, radiant as her devotion.
A young man, almost motionless, sitting on a log, his head raised towards the shrine, his eyes on the face of Jesus.
A white-bearded priest, attired completely in white, spotless white, down to a pair of white trainers. His prayer stick painted white also.
6am. Everyone wrapped in white on Christmas morning. Against the church walls and on the steps. Some reading their bibles, others bowing at the shrine. Gathered together in quiet meditation. A solitary candle burns in a central window.
A youth in red top and blue jeans, wheels his bicycle into the yard, props it up against the church steps, walks up them, crosses himself three times, then goes down on his knees to pray.
The young novice takes her arm, helping the elderly, slow-stepping nun across the courtyard, to her place of peace.
A little boy assists his grandmother as she seats herself on the church steps. He is watchful and attentive like a faithful servant.
Young man in a green and yellow tracksuit top, praying against the church. Placing his hands on the pale yellow walls.
Four white-clad worshippers, raise themselves from their log of contemplation, to recieve a blessing, from a favoured priest passing by.
An old man in a cream mackintosh, places his walking stick on the ground and begins to pray, placing his bony forehead on a massive church pillar.
A very tall man, topped by a red gold and green woolen hat, goes from wall to wall, paying homage in the same way. Hands upturned, arms raised, towards the cross on top of the church.
Two barefoot nuns, sitting on the threadbare grass. One, white turbanned in light green apparel. The other, dressed in white, a dark green turban on her head. They are facing away from the little gatherings; quietly fingering their prayer beads.
A young girl, maybe two years old, in a new white dress. Following her father in worship; a little bridesmaid for Christ.
I see them congregating in the shade, the elderly priests and nuns. Talking and giving of food. Everyone with a sack that is full, empty water bottles, and a walking stick. Sharing the pilgrimage towards peace: basking in the rest of destination shrine.
The youthful novice, massages the legs of the old priest, who sits with his back against a tree.
The young man parks his bike, kisses a step of the church, then the feet of Jesus, then wheels his bike away.
The old nun, clothed and turbanned in yellow, bows to me, while I bow to her, wishing each other ”Selam”.
Buses, vans and a taxi in the churchyard. To return the pilgrims of yesterday, depositing new ones today.
A boy in red gold and green shorts, carrying a long stack of wood on his shoulders, manages to bow and cross himself, before continuing on his business.
A girl, around five years old with intricately plaited hair, leads her tiny brother, maybe two years of age, on their little adventure, throughout the churchyard. Their very own, enchanted communion with Amlak.
A youth group. The young men mainly in tee-shirts and jeans: the young women, their upper halves wrapped in white shawls, raise themselves from the benches, where they have been sitting in a shaded grove. Chanting together, they cross themselves and sit again. Then a young man, enveloped completely in white, cream sandles on his feet, leads them in song and prayer, then begins to preach a sermon.
The silver cross, swinging like an incense burner, from the neck of the elderly nun, as she bends over, to retrieve something from her bag.
Young woman in a bright green shawl, sits alone against a tree, overhung with dark green leaves. Reminding me, of the solitude of Saint Yared.
Here comes a man of some importance, radiant in red gold and green robes and a yellow turban. Attendants beside him, retinue behind. Ending this little procession, their is an old priest, tall, majestic, in a flowing black gown.
The original church of stone construction, centuries old. Ancient catalogue of prayer.
A man in a red woolen hat cleans the windows. Two women, brightly attired, sweep the steps of the church. They seem happy to perform these tasks.
Two women from the youth group. offer me bread and orange juice, then bow and return to the gathering.
The youth group stands in unison, hands upturned, arms raised, chanting a final thanks, to end their communion with Amlak.
©Natty Mark Samuels, 2011.