Orthodox Priest and Nuns, Debre Maryam Monastery

by John Downey

Debre Maryam is one of Lake Tana’s oldest monasteries, if not impoverished in terms of the relics housed there.  We hired a boat and guide to take us from Bahir Dar out into the lake; Debre Maryam is a short 20-minute ride from Tana’s southern shore.  According to the guide book, “the priest there enjoys modeling for photographs.”  This was obvious – on our arrival, mass was still ongoing inside so we had to wait.  After a few minutes, the priest came straight to us and asked if we’d like to see the museum.  We paid our entrance fee, the museum window flew open and he held up an apparently old goatskin manuscript.  I also asked if he would hold a smaller and more colorful, yet severely decaying Bible.  Without hesitating, he rummaged through the glass case and produced it on the counter.  It’s a wonder how old these books actually are, given they are exposed to the humid Tana air and handled constantly by the photogenic priest.

These nuns were a different story.  Reclusive by nature, I eased into some rapport with deferential gestures and when I wasn’t sure if they’d agree to be photographed, I turned to the guide who negotiated a few minutes.  The woman above was especially reluctant, but I persisted until she gave in (for only a few frames).

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