A handful of incense hits the glowing charcoal, unleashing a fragranced fog. It blurs the vision and mingles with the rhythmic hum of prayer to cloud the senses. My hands tremble as I present Sheikh Omar, the keeper of Harar's famous Abadir Shrine, with a bundle of chat - Harar's trance-inducing cash crop. I tighten my headscarf with nervous fingers, feeling the weight of glances raised from prayer books.
A young man across the room smiles encouragingly. 'Are you a Muslim?' he asks. 'No', I say quietly. Will I get thrown out? He smiles. 'Great to see you're interested in our culture. I'll pray for you!' Sheikh Omar nods approvingly - granting me permission to attend the Hadra ceremony next door, in the ancient home of Sheikh Abadir, Harar's illustrious founding saint.
Heavy drumbeats shake the building's 16th-century walls. Inside, groups of people have gathered in prayer and song. The doyen of the group waves me over. She's a frail-looking woman, with watery eyes and a mischievous smile. I sit next to her, clap when she does, chew the chat she passes along and sway with the beat. The deafening clang of wooden percussion envelops us, the chat heightens the spirit, and like a giant ship, the group lifts itself from one spiritual state to the next. I'm caught up in the emotion, the rhythm, the heat.
As I run through the empty streets to catch my early morning bus, a couple of hyenas throw me suspicious glances on their nightly prowl. This is one mysterious city.
Katharina Kane travelled to Ethiopia on assignment for Lonely Planet. You can follow her adventures on Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled, screening internationally on National Geographic.