Here’s a moment I don’t ever want to forget:
My neighbor Alemi poked her head in my doorway. “Joanna. Kotuu.” Come here.
I followed her next door to the room where Seena and Getachew live. There were three other women sitting around a table, a plate in the middle. There were five spoons jutting out of a large helping of marqaa, a traditional porridge covered with butter and berbere. They told me to sit down, and we all started eating.
I visited Seena the night she gave birth to her first child, Bethlehem. Relatives and neighbors were gathered to welcome her into the world, drinking coffee and eating marqaa. I was sitting next to an exhausted and frustrated Seena while our other neighbor coached her through breast feeding for one of the first times. I tried to not let my discomfort show too plainly on my face.
It was a week later when Alemi summoned me back, and little Betie slept peacefully while we all chatted and encouraged each other to keep eating. When we finished the porridge, the other women, one by one, put down their spoons and grabbed onto the edge of the plate.
“She doesn’t know,” one whispered to the others. I looked up, and saw they were looking at me expectantly.
“Joanna. Hold onto the plate.”
I smiled sheepishly and did as commanded. Together, we raised and lowered the plate three times, ululating as we lifted.
We got up and left Seena and Betie to nap.