Waraba ziara taborada

Whenever I happen to be sitting around the home of Yousef, the hyena man and his family – now my adopted family – and I need to get out and see the hyenas I simply say ‘waraba ziara’, which translates roughly as ‘hyena religious visit’, and they understand why I’m walking out. In fact, I only have to stand up and put on my jacket and they say it for me.
‘Waraba ziara, Marcos?’
Goodbyes are always difficult. It was to be my last night with the hyena man and his family. I was in their very modest house, breaking the fast with the family, doling out the goodbye presents, taking lots of photos of me and the missus in traditional Oromo clothes, when it all became a bit much. So I got up, put on my jacket and to a chorus of ‘waraba ziara’ went outside to the shrine.
Yousuf’s son, Abbas, was looking after the feeding as Yousef was in the house having a good time, so I sat with Abbas for a bit and we talked in our strange mix of English, Oromo and Harari. Then some tourists arrived and Abbas went forward to the feeding area with the bucket of scraps, while the hyenas came out of the shadows and took their respective places, waiting to be fed; some in the arc of the taxi’s headlights; some at meat-throwing distance from Abbas; some too afraid to even come within 20 metres. And Willi right in front of Abbas with his chest against the bucket and head up in expectation.
I was glad Willi was there because on this special night I wanted to be able to wish him well, ruffle his fur, scratch behind his ears and then leave and go thoroughly wash my hands. Sadly the only other of my favourite hyenas I could see was Jalla and I don’t know what she’d been eating previously but she certainly wasn’t interested in feeding this night. She’d parked up just to the side of the feed area with her chin on her paws and just wasn’t interested Thereby disproving the myth that a hyena is never sated.
Willi was the only hyena that was game to take food from the tourists so he was basically getting everything dished out apart from the handfuls that Abbas would throw out into the darkness. And the tourists were intent on hanging around so I was getting impatient, waiting for them to leave so I could have some quality time with my hyena. And then while the tourists were still crowding around, Willi’s attention span reached it’s end and he turned and, in his lazy fashion, waddled off into the shadows. So I went around back of Yousef’s house to meet up with Willi on the hill and, not having my torch because I’d ceremoniously presented it to Yousef, I squinted into the darkness looking for the short fat hyena with the ‘why does it always happen to me?’ face. But to no avail. There were other hyenas, some too afraid to let me come anywhere near and there was this new one who’d been investigating me with a mixture of curiosity and readiness to run away at the slightest of movements from me. But no Willi.
Sad, I thought as I stood and looked out over the corn that had been planted on the hill and was laced with paths that the hyenas had trodden. The same hill that will be bare dirt in a few months time and a few months later covered with the fastest growing of the weeds that thrive around Harar. And then down from the top of the hill came a dark shape, with the most casual of walks, and it did a 180 degree turn and parked itself on the ground not more than 2 metres in front of me. It was Bebe, who I’d first seen a year ago when I first came to Harar; who I’d watched grow from a very small cub to a beautiful sub-adult (technically, sub-adult is the correct term but not exactly synonymous with beauty); who growled at me the other day when I sat too close, which I put down to hormones. Sad that I missed Willi but it was kind of fitting that I got to say goodbye to Bebe; she’s always been my favourite and she was there from the start. So I told her to behave and to stay away from farmers with axes; to avoid eating dead rats because they might be poisoned. And stick with Yousef because he’s a good provider and not to migrate to the Assumberi clan. And with her head perfectly still and her chin on her outstretched paws, she rotated her ears to listen and alternated between eyeing me and looking straight ahead and, her expression said, ‘what the hell is this monkey man doing here with us hyenas on the hill?’
So I took out Willi’s red plastic comb that he loves to chew and loves having his chin combed with, and held it out for Bebe to sniff. Then I put it on the ground in front of her nose and she snatched it up and chewed vigorously so that by the next morning there will be nothing but a few bits of red plastic on the ground.
This will be my last post from Harar as I’m right now in Dubai airport on my way back to Australia to complete the writing up phase of this research. I’ll be writing a few papers in the meantime and I’ll put them up here, permissions permitting, and any other hyena related news that comes out of Harar via my good friends in the town.
The hyenas will still be there, feeding every evening and wandering the streets into the early hours of the mornings. Willi, being male, may well succumb to his biological imperative and leave his natal clan in search of a mate from another clan. This is my great worry; that he’ll disappear from the hyena feeding place and next time I’m in Harar, I won’t be able to find him. Or maybe one day, the ‘other’ hyena feeder at Assumberi might find a short, fat, worried looking hyena standing right in front of his feed bucket.
Bebe, thankfully, is a girl and although she’s pretty low ranking, she does well enough at the feeding place to justify her staying there. So even after a few years I can come back and expect to find Bebe, looking very casual, getting the hyena’s share of the scraps. So I told her, when I got up to leave, ‘By the time I get back to Harar, I want you to grow big and fat and have lots of little cubs just as beautiful as you. Bye bye Bebe.’


1 thought on “Waraba ziara taborada

  1. I feel for you, Marcus! Great writing – could just picture everything. Keeping my fingers crossed that you can get back to Harar soon, and that both Willi and Bebe (and my two favorites, Tukwondili and Bajaj!) will still be around.
    Safe travels, and best of luck with your re-entry to Oz.

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