Tucked inside a tiny island in the middle of Lake Tana in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia lies the island monastery of Entos Eyesu and its people. It is a magical place that feels like another planet given its isolation and centuries-old traditional way of life for its tiny population. The monastery is not as beautiful as some of the other better known ones such as Bete Maryam, however, experiencing this tiny island is like taking a step back in time seeing a way of life long forgotten.
As we left the Zege Penisula, we saw the unfortunate paddler of the papyrus boat filled to the rim with wood. This man had the laborious job of paddling the firewood to the market at Bahir Dar, two to three times a week. The same distance on a motorized boat like the one we were on would take only a mere 30 minutes. Yet on a heavy, weighted down papyrus boat it would take a total of six hours to reach the market all for a sum of $25.
As we watched him paddle, the boat of wood hardly moved at all. I couldn’t believe the hardship and backbreaking work of this man’s daily existence.
The island was a short distance away from the peninsula and we could see it covered in green foliage in the distance as we approached on our boat. It was beautiful and hard to believe that people lived on such a small, isolated piece of land.
We were not met by a big crowd like we were at the dock to the Zege Peninsula nor were we expected to hire a guide. Instead, we disembarked and explored the monastery on our own. It was incredibly quiet and serene. Only the sound of the birds could be heard and there was not a soul in sight along the narrow dirt trail.
There were no tourist stands loaded with local treasures to buy nor people walking about the small island. Instead, all we saw was this sign that pointed us in the right direction up a narrow dirt path to the monastery. I had heard that few tourists ever ventured to see Entos Eyesu and judging by our reception, I imagine I’m right.
We were greeted by a priest who spoke broken English yet was friendly and rather expressive during our tour of the monastery. We were gestured to follow him inside where he pointed at paintings and we tried to communicate. We instantly learned that some terms are universal when it comes to religion like Jesus, Noah and God. Somehow we were able to figure out what he was trying to say but I was glad I had a fully guided tour in English beforehand at Bete Maryam.
As we left our gracious host posed for a few photos. I couldn’t decide which one I liked best so I included both shots.
As we were leaving, we came upon an unexpected surprise. Behind an open gate were some of the local residents on the island weaving and making crafts. We stopped to take a look and admire their amazing work.
It was the first time I had ever seen traditional weaving on wooden looms. It was amazing to watch!
We asked if we could record them weaving on our cellphones and they went crazy with laughter and surprise when we played them the videos. They had never seen themselves on video before let alone in a photograph. Elizabeth had her handy Polaroid along and took photos of them which made them really smile to actually have their first and only photograph of themselves.
Here is a short clip I took of this smiling woman doing her handicraft:
We also found another room that had a mother and daughter team weaving. We did the same thing: Photographed them with Elizabeth’s Polaroid and also videotaped the proud mother doing her work.
Video of her doing her craft (Note: This is not the best quality but still interesting to watch).
As we left the tiny island, I wondered in amazement about these cheerful, kind people and how they survive. Their lives must be full of hardship yet also complete with joy and peace.
I felt so fortunate to have seen this special place. My only regret is that we didn’t have our translators with us so we could communicate with the people of the island. I am sure they would have many stories to share.