For the living, the Debre Damo Monastery is an all male affair. To gain access as a woman, you have to be dead – please don’t shoot the messenger, I don’t make the rules. It just so happened that when I was visiting Debre Damo, I was able to witness the funeral of a woman from one of the local villages. Her first visit to the monastery would, alas, be her last.
There is only one way onto the mountain where the monastery is located, which meant that the coffin had to be hoisted up the vertical rock face before being taken onwards to the funeral service. It was a remarkable sight to see the funeral arrive at the base of the mountain. Accompanied by dozens of mourners and musicians, as well as people carrying ceremonial umbrellas and Ethiopian flags, it seemed more like a celebration than a funeral.
After wondering around the mountain top, I was heading back to leave when a sudden riot of colour in the distance caught my attention. Priests were gathered around under a tree, dressed in wonderfully bright colours and carrying even more extravagantly colourful umbrellas. A band played traditional music and the head priest said prayers. There were plenty of people attending proceedings, but they were all men. I felt rather sad that this woman’s female friends were barred from being there as well.