I just heard from the hyena-man’s daughter, Ardalle, that she graduated from college this week with a nursing degree. I have to say I’m so proud of her. I remember my time with the family and seeing how difficult it was for the kids to succeed in school. For a start their parents can barely read and write so they had no-one to help with their homework (other than a stupid anthropologist). And the resources available to them were so limited. Books for kids are unheard of in Ethiopia and families have to pay for paper and pens for their kids. Most parents don’t prioritize these things so kids often don’t even have materials to do their homework. Ardalle is diligent and I remember her always doing homework, but she is also fortunate in that her father sent her to a good school and provided her with the paper and pens she needed. And this is where the hyenas played a crucial role. They showed up night after night to feed in front of tourists who paid the hyena man who had the wisdom to see how that income could be put to good use. And now thanks to these hyenas the cycle of ignorance and child marriage in Ethiopia is ever weaker and there is one more educated, independent woman in the world.
This weekend the clan and I are moving house so it’s an apt time to move this blog. The new site is called Among Animals, giving me scope to expand the subject matter. Fear not, I’ll still be writing about my dear hyenas but now I can include a host of other creatures who would have struggled to find relevance in a site about hyenas in Harar. The new site is here and I hope you enjoy it.
It’s a happy day for me today as my book on Harar’s hyenas is finally out. Penn State University Press were originally going to publish a revised version of my dissertation – all academic reading, and dry enough to kill mould – but then they had a meeting. They decided that the subject deserved a more accessible book for a general audience and asked me if I could come up with an entirely new manuscript. Two years and many long days/nights of writing later and Among the Bone Eaters is out. I’m very excited about this book and not just because I put so much work into it. It also gave me a chance to revisit my time in Harar and foreground the human and hyena characters, much as I’ve done here. I was also fortunate that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas agreed to write a foreword which for me is an honour beyond measure. And Suzanne Wolk, Nigel Rothfels, and Kendra Boileau provided the best guidance imaginable for which I’m forever grateful.
If you’re familiar with this blog and come to read my book I should explain some inconsistencies with hyenas’ named used. The hyena known here as Jalla is named in the book as Kamareya. The reason for this difference is that Yusuf the hyena man and his son Abbas often gave the same hyenas different names. Abbas called this hyena Jalla while Yusuf called him Kamareeya. I prefer the latter because, as I found out, it means ‘Like the Moon.’ I’ve also spelled Bebe in the book as Baby because this is closer to the correct pronunciation. Deraltu is named in the book as Koti and the young hyena named here as Burisee retains her original name, Fintamurey. This hyena was also called Rimbaud (after French poet Arthur Rimbaud) but that’s a whole other story. Apart from that pretty much everything is as accurate as is my memory. Ahem.
There’s an idiom in Harar which is waraba nasib (hyenas’ luck) and there’s a bit of that flying around this blog at the moment. That’s because right now you can get 30 percent off on a copy of Among the Bone Eaters if you use this order form. I hope you find the inclination to get a copy of this book, whether directly or through your library, and if you enjoy it or not please let me know.
My spies in Belgium just informed me that a documentary about Harar’s hyenas is screening on Arte Belgique tonight at 7pm (thanks Sash). So if you have access to Belgian TV you can see a nicely made doco directed by Maurice Dubroca, featuring Yusuf and the dear Sofi hyenas. The producer Christophe really worked hard to get this doco made and is really passionate about the hyenas’ stories so congrats to him for getting this film to air when so many networks are afraid that people will switch off when it comes to hyenas.
Here’s the page about the documentary and here’s the link to the programme schedule. I love the mention of ‘un pacte de non-agression avec les hyènes.’ Hopefully it will be released for online viewing so those few of us living outside Belgium might have a chance to see. And being on the Arte network it should screen in France at some stage too.
I just heard from the producer of BBC’s One Planet series who was filming in Harar over the past month and there is much afoot in the world of Harar’s urban hyenas. Where I described the clan war between the Aboker hyenas and some others, I suspected that the ‘others’ might have been from the Hakim clan, and it looks like this is the case. Apparently the Hakim hyenas have been going into the Old Town on a nightly basis and challenging the Aboker hyenas’ dominance. What’s more, when someone took a dead ox and dumped it in front of the Suqutatberi gate, not only did the Aboker hyenas and Sofi hyenas converge on the scene but the Hakim hyenas came up from the south. The result was a three-way clan war, and in the morning a dead hyena was found just east of Suqutatberi near the tannery. Meanwhile the Sofi hyenas are conspicuously inconspicuous. They don’t come to the feeding place at the shrine anymore – probably because they’re nervous of the adjacent building project – and instead spend their evenings at the garbage dump, without even going into the Old Town. If Abbas is to host tourists he has to convince them to go halfway to the dump where he carries a bucket of scraps and feeds hyenas in darkness. I think the BBC will have trouble squeezing all this into a 6 minute sequence.