Today is Id Mubaarak, or the feast marking the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims around the world. Basically, the rules are that you can’t consume anything during daylight hours, including liquids. NBD if you’re this close to the equator: you skip lunch and abstain from buna during the day. It’s much more of a sacrifice for Muslims in places like America, who suffer through long days of summer without even a glass of water.
I knew the holiday was coming up because of the sudden appearance of a sheep on the compound yesterday afternoon. My landlord, who’s Muslim, had acquired him at the market that day, and the sheep was unhappy about it, bleating all yesterday evening.
I wasn’t fully prepared for the implications of the holiday, though: Id Mubaarak in Ethiopia means that all government offices are closed, which I didn’t learn until I texted my counterpart to try to meet up this morning, and there is no bread available anywhere, which I didn’t know until I tried to get some for breakfast. Everyone was home on my compound, the Christians enjoying their day off despite the persistent rain, the Muslim family hosting guests throughout the day. Kim came over for lunch and we were invited to buna next door (“Joanna, come drink a coffee.”) with all the neighbors and some of their adorable young relatives. Seena, 3 years old, knows the parts of the body in English. It’s pretty impressive.
After three rounds of buna, we took our leave and commenced a long afternoon of watching old Sherlock Holmes flicks and reading magazines from my latest care package. Kim took advantage of a break in the rain to go home, and that’s when my landlord’s sister brought over a bowl of what I’m sure my friend Jean would call “sheepy biz” — basically, minced offal sauteed with peppers and spices — and this delicious, sweet bread that’s apparently a holiday thing. I managed to eat about half of it (it honestly wasn’t bad) by focusing very hard on its taste, and not what this sheep’s digestive system will likely do to my own. As darkness fell, I realized the power was out, and wasn’t looking forward to an evening of getting things done by candlelight.
Cue a second “Joanna, come drink a coffee,” this time at the landlord’s place. I went, and enjoyed a party like most other Ethiopian celebrations: people sit around awkwardly, there’s incense, they pass around the popcorn, everyone drinks coffee and chitchats. Children are scared of me, and adults ask me how I like living in Ethiopia. How is the culture? The weather? The people? And when there’s a break in the conversation, someone picks somebody out of the group and says (for example), “Joanna. Tabatuu.”
(There’s no good translation for “tabatuu.” It translates directly as “Let’s play!” but no one expects you to whip out a football or a board game. It’s basically telling you to interact with the people around you. As PCV Scott has pointed out, in our culture, if you want to interact with someone, you just do it.)
Since today was a special day, the buna had a little something extra in it: dha dha, or butter. In all honesty, Ethiopian butter smells a little bit like old socks. I’d heard rumors that it was sometimes added to buna, but part of me hoped against hope that it wasn’t true. It is. And it’s surprisingly good. Somehow the musty taste, when mixed with the bitter buna and a lot of sugar, really works. It tastes almost nutty, and has an extra smoothness about it.
Another beverage that’s common at Ethiopian celebrations, and that I spilled all over the area rug at this particular one, is a beverage made from pressed barley and sugar that tastes vaguely like Coca-Cola, and so is often referred to as coka. I’m pretty sure it’s called kenneto, but don’t hold me to it. I tried asking, but was misunderstood, and was treated to an explanation of how it’s made.
But don’t think you can get away with just sitting there, quietly sipping your beverage and smiling politely. “Joanna. Tabatuu” is the natural way to fill any silence. Never mind that I don’t know these folks very well, that their English is shaky and my Afaan Oromo even shakier. They want me to chat, but it’s hard to converse when you’re just told to, without any help or topic suggestions. As a direct result of this awkwardness and the desperate search for conversation, I’m pretty sure my neighbor is going to braid my hair tomorrow. Stay tuned for some awesome pictures if that happens.
A long day of celebrating a holiday I only vaguely understand has come to an end. Luckily, the power came back on, so I won’t have to pass my night heavily caffeinated and in the dark.