Thirdeyemom

The Entos Eyesu Monastery: An island sanctuary

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.

Papyrus fisherman on Lake Tana, Ethiopia

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.

Lake Tana, Bahir Dar Ethiopia

Boat is loaded with wood to sell at the market in Bahir Dar.

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.

Entos Eyesu Monastary Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastary Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

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.

Entos Eyesu Monastary Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

It is a beautiful, lush and verdant place. In the background, you can see land and Bahir Dar.

Entos Eyesu Monastary Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Only this sign told us we were in the right place as there was no one around.

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.

Entos Eyesu Monastary Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

We paid a small fee to enter the monastery. Here we are getting a written receipt.

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.

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Following the priest to the Entos Eyesu Monastery

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

From the outside it didn’t look like much but inside it was quite beautiful.

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

The priest explaining the artwork inside the monastery.

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Noah’s ark.

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

A ceremonial drum used for chanting.

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.

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

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.

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

A woman and man work on traditional weaving.

It was the first time I had ever seen traditional weaving on wooden looms. It was amazing to watch!

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

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.

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Smiling at her Polaroid of herself.

Video of her doing her craft (Note: This is not the best quality but still interesting to watch).

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Her daughter smiles.

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Another young woman in the room poses for a photo.

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

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.

Entos Eyesu Monastery Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

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.

I was in Ethiopia in June as a reporting fellow with the International Reporting Project. To see all my stories from the trip, click here

21 comments

  1. tall and golden with your own special aura of goodness, you surely looked like one of those angels to them! it’s so nice that you had a rich cultural exchange without being saddled with traditional conversation. great post and beautiful experience!

    z

  2. Your posts are heartwarming and heart-wretching Nicole. Thank you so much for sharing this rich experiences with us. I think your photography niche just may be that of everyday people.

  3. Those papyrus boats are incredible! Travelling to these untouched places looks amazing, too many places are ruined by tourism these days. An unrivalled experience, I am very jealous!

  4. I can hear the laughter of these women, as you show them the videos. How many people live on this tiny island? Is there a school for the children? I’m filled with questions about their lives. If it took that man 5-6 hours to transport wood, what would happen in an emergency, like transporting a pregnant woman to a clinic? OK..I’ll stop asking questions, now. Your stories are fascinating and they fill me with wonder.

    • I’m not sure how many people live on the little island and whether or not there is a school. We were there for a short time and had no translator!!! No guide either. So we were not able to communicate with anyone except through gestures and smiles. The wood takes so long to transport because it is so incredibly heavy however you can get to shore by reed boat probably in about a half an hour. SO that is how the people in emergencies get transported. Great questions! Yes such a different life they live!

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