Pilgrims sit under a tree in front of Bilbala Gyorgis Church, near Lalibela, Ethiopia. Most have spots of skin smeared with the holy mud cure that makes the church an attractive pilgrimage site.
Large trees, especially sycamores, as here, are associated with churches and gathering-places in Ethiopia. In the Southern part, they are holy sites for animist cults, and it is thought that they may have had religious significance in pre-Christian times.
A teapot simmers atop a stove made from a ‘USA Fortified Vegetable Oil’ container distributed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It if a very common to see bags of grain and containers of vegetable oil with USA written across them, both in shops and being reused in other contexts, as Ethiopia receives about $1 billion of food aid ever year (though I do not know the percentage provided by the U. S.).
This boy had come to Bilbala Gyorgis (rock-hewn) Church, above the town of Bilbala, outside of Lalibela, to take the cure of its holy mud. Clay dirt from inside the church is mixed with holy water, then plastered onto the afflicted part; in this case, the boy presumably has some form of skin disorder. Bilbala Gyorgis, in addition to holy water and holy mud, offers pilgrims holy honey, from bees that have built combs in the former windows of the church.