Monday, 3 October 2011

Lalibela, the "Honey Eater", in North Central Ethiipia

King Lalibela carved this church out of rock 900 years ago....
the UN decided to "protect" it with this monstrosity three years ago...
King Lalibela (the "honey eater") was a 12th Century Christian King of what is today's northern Ethiopia.  He got it into his mind to carve ten churches out of the volcanic mountain rock high on the mountain, at 8,000 ft.  That is to literally carve away rock around the imagined church, then carve into the resulting block to create a church made of one solid piece of stone.  He had ten carved, one for each of the Ten Commandments, then added one more to the memory of St George.  They reminded me a bit of Goreme the troglodytic city in Turkey, though it's not at all like that..  It's amazing what Man will do in propitiation to their various gods.
This is a UN World Heritage site.
Three years ago, UNESCO decided it needed protecting and they built ugly canopies over the churches.  The local people, the priests, Ethiopians at large, did not want the protection.  After all, they've survived nine centuries with minimal wear, the climate is dry and benign.
Yet the UN went ahead anyway.  The designer should be shot without trial, says Korbus, our resident architect (Korbus "Mercedes").  Not only are they ugly, they are unnecessary.  If protection were needed, it could have been done with waterproofing liquids.
But that would have been too simple for the UN. Consider where the money went: to feasibility studies, weather studies, to UN review committees, to the designers and builders, an Italian firm.  Money wen't to western companies, to design a western concept, built with western goods and services.  All this would have been counted as "aid" to Africa, yet virtually all of it would have gone right "Out of Africa" again.
To add injury to insult: during construction, the "protection" structure fell over and damaged one of the churches: more than it has been weathered over the last 900 years.
A scandal, a calumny, a shame on UNESCO.
Priest contemplates the inanities of UNESCO...
Isn't this episode a perfect metaphor for so much of what passes for "aid" in Africa?  Well-intentioned idiots, spending other people's money to do things that the locals don't want, and only making things worse.

The country around Lalibela is picturesque valleys and mountains, growing maize, barley, wheat and aloe vera, seemingly fertile and well-to-do.  But this is also famine country.  When the dry hits, people starve.  Direct action to alleviate this is surely better than vanity canopies.