Last January, in Addis Ababa, millions of Orthodox Christians got together to commemorate the baptism of Christ. This celebration, the Timkat, which corresponds to the Epiphany, generally takes place around the 19th of January. Although this religious festival is celebrated by Christians all over the world, it has a special significance in Ethiopia, where it is the most important and most picturesque event of the year.
It was on my return to France last January that I had the opportunity to make a stop in Ethiopia for few hours: Twelve hours and twenty-three minutes to be precise. “Twelve hours to discover Addis Ababa? Will have to be effective my buddy! A friend, accustomed to the capital, said to me, to whom I asked for some advice. “Definitely the Mercado, a market right in the city center. You will be able to “send cartridge” there! “. “Send cartridge” is our snapshot sniper’s jargon, to qualify the taking of quality snapshots. Yes, because I intend to take advantage of this Spatio-temporal bonus and satisfy an old desire, at least for few hours, on a few square kilometers: Capture Ethiopia!
I drop my luggage. I open the curtains. The sun floods the hotel room which is mine for the rest of the day. I will only stay for a few minutes, the time to unpack my material and swallow a coffee. My photo bag on the back, already on the lookout and ready to let me go, I go to the reception desk of the hotel. With the worried look that the hostess throws me, I understand that I will have to contain a little my excitement. “Can you tell me where the Mercado is? I said slowly, in a clumsy tone. “you’ll have to get a taxi to go downtown. But the market is closed today!” At that moment, there was no need to control my excitement, volatilized as quickly as my coffee. “Today is the Timkat. Everything is closed. The whole city is joined by Jan Meda. I can tell you how to get there!”
In the space of few seconds, I have just discovered two elements that cradle the lives of millions of Ethiopians, for a weekend. I have just come to understand that I will spend a single day. “The luck of the beginner,” I said, giving an amused smile to the Universe.
In the taxi that sneaks through the condensed crowd, I do a quick search on this mysterious Timkat. This celebration commemorates the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River, it is also the day of the Ethiopian Epiphany. It is specific to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest branches of Christianity, with no fewer than fifty million faithful. In Addis Ababa, the members of the various dioceses of the Church escort the sacred taboos (a replica of the Ark of the Covenant) to the different bodies of water in a multicolored parade. The festival takes place over three days and follows the Coptic Ethiopian calendar.
Arriving at the gates of Jan Meda, an immense park on the outskirts of the city, it is an explosion of sensations
Today begins the festivities … A new smirk intrudes on my face. Arriving at the gates of Jan Meda, an immense park on the outskirts of the city, it is an explosion of sensations: Prayers and songs emanate from the four corners of the procession, Boswellia incense slowly diffuse, embalming the pilgrims who converge to the entrance. I sneak through this human labyrinth and manage to penetrate the sacred enclosure. A priest, all dressed in black, blesses the faithful who bow in front him with his heavy cross.
“Where do you come from?” asked my neighbor. I explain that I am passing for the day and that I live in France at home. I see in these eyes that gleam of pride that, today, in the midst of this crowd, I’ll be by his side. Taking me gently by the arm, he continues “Follow me, I’ll show you what this day represents for us! “As he goes to a crowd, some of whom come out completely soaked, he tells me that Timkat is a word coming from the ancient Gueze – Ethiopian language, which means” immersion in water “, a reference to the baptism of Christ.
A few drops brush my face. Suddenly, it’s a torrent. I protect my camera by reflex before I even try to know where this water comes from. Raising my head, I understand. Perched on multiple promontories, young priests water the crowd in a trance with a simple hose. The drops rain, the smiles fly. This rain of holy water is greeted with emotion and deliverance.
“Yann, do you believe in God?” He asks me suddenly
As the hours go by, I keep shooting, enjoying the general joy and being stunned by the beauty of Ethiopian faces. Solomon, my adventure companion, seems to take just as much fun. “Yann, do you believe in God?” He asks me suddenly. A little distraught, I answer that I believe in a superior power – this famous Universe – but not in a God, in a representation. I see instantly disappointment in his eyes but especially sadness. Sadness for me not to have a God who can protect me and guide me in life. He smiled at me.
I live this day intensely and take advantage of all that it offers me to see, feel, experience. I realize that Faith can be beautiful, unifying and open. Values that I could no longer associate with religion. I feel fulfilled with gratitude and thank God – no matter what is his name, no matter what is his representation – for having given me such a beautiful day on the land of the cradle of humanity.
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