Posts tagged coffee
Posts tagged coffee
Baga Geesan! Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome to 2004. Yesterday, I celebrated in classic Ethiopian style — did a little buna crawl, ate some delicious food, sat around and made small talk with my neighbors, and when there was a lull in the conversation, was urged to play.
I spent the morning making preparations to do my own coffee ceremony, cleaning, roasting, and then manually grinding the beans, and boiling the water; just as everything was almost ready, my neighbor Garama came to my door. “Joanna, come drink a coffee!” So I did, joining the rest of the neighbors on my compound. Two coffees, actually — poor decision, but it was so delicious. I returned to my room, got the water going again, and summoned everyone. Mukreet showed up first, and since the coffee was ready, I poured us each a cup. Weak sauce. With a little coaching from her, I added some more grounds and put the jabana back on the fire, which had died down a bit, so I spent some time fanning the flames and trying not to get ashes all over my nice, clean house.
In the meantime, everyone showed up and was chatting away, waiting patiently for the promised buna to materialize. Sudden, my landlord said, “We have a new name for you. A local name.” Uh-oh. “Iyanu.” Sounds nice, but Ethiopian names all have meaning* — what does Iyanu mean? Bumbling idiot? Clumsy? Girl can’t boil buna to save her life? Apparently, it’s a name given to a girl born on New Year’s Day, and it means “lucky.” I was being born into my habesha self, I guess, by boiling buna for my neighbors. We’ll see if it catches on, but it felt really good to be named by my compound.
Despite my little habesha christening, the ultimate buna product was pretty mediocre. Luckily, there’s another holiday coming up: Sept. 28 is Meskel, the finding of the true cross. I’ll have the chance to redeem myself in the cultural integration department then — I’d better get some practice in in the meantime. (I have to say, I boiled up the leftover grounds in my espresso pot this morning, and the simplicity was incredible but vaguely unsatisfying.) Also on the to-do list: pick up some incense to burn, popcorn to pop, and grass to scatter on the floor — key components of a complete coffee ceremony.
The rest of the day was bunalicious; we continued the buna crawl at the houses of two couples who live in my compound. I have trouble saying no to that second cup, so I ended up drinking seven cups of the stuff yesterday — thank goodness they’re small. The day ended where it began: with Garama poking his head in and summoning me, this time for some delicious kai wot (spicy, meaty, red stew). Ethiopia sure knows how to celebrate a new year.
*To elaborate on the name thing: it’s very common for folks in Ethiopia to ask what your name means. Name meanings here can be related to the person’s birthday or their place in the family; for example, I know a guy named Fassika (Easter), and another named Wandim (brother). Bigger concepts or things in nature are also common: Meheret (mercy) and Sahai (sun) are two women’s names. Oh, and Biblical names are all the rage: Dawit (David), Bethlehem, Eden, Solomon, Aster (Esther), Samuel, Yakob (Jacob)…you get the picture.
I didn’t often think about my name’s meaning back in the States, but “Joanna” means “God is gracious,” which is hard to explain when you aren’t great at the language and folks aren’t necessarily great at English. So when discussing the meaning with my host family, we settled on “gift of God,” which happens to be the name of my oldest host sister. So now when people ask what my name means, I tell them it’s Bereket, sacrificing a little bit of accuracy for the recollection of that moment with my Ethiopian family when I felt like I belonged.
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.
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. Legend has it that a goatherd noticed his flock got a little saucy after eating the bean of a certain tree, and decided to give it a shot. He enjoyed the stimulating effects of the bean, and he and his buddies experimented with different ways of preparing it. After some trial and error, they settled on the roasting, grinding, and boiling method we’re familiar with today, and my favorite beverage was born.
Ethiopians love their coffee, or buna, as it’s called here (and as I will call it in this blog post, because it just feels right). It’s served in cafes and restaurants, of course, but it’s also available under bright tarps that line the streets between or in front of buildings. You can pop under the tarp of your choosing and grab a cuppa any time during the day. The flimsiness of the structures themselves belies their constancy: the same buna lady will be there every day, serving many of the same customers, remembering whether they prefer buna or tea, and at what time, and whether or not they take sugar. The regulars know each other as well as they would in any neighborhood bar in America.
The reason buna can be served anywhere is because its preparation doesn’t depend on electricity. The Ethiopian preparation of coffee goes something like this: you buy the dried coffee beans from your neighbor, or local shopkeeper, or whomever. You take them home and roast them in a pan over a fire, shaking to ensure they don’t burn (shake, shake). When they’ve roasted to your liking, you cool them off, then grind them with a mortar and pestle (thump, thump). You boil water over a charcoal stove in a clay pot called a jabana, then scoop in the coffee grounds and swirl (swish, swish). After boiling the mixed water and grounds for a few minutes, you take it off the heat and let it settle for a bit (tick, tock).
If you’re running a buna shop, you pour it into a thermos and serve it up to your customers as they arrive (glug, glug). In the traditional coffee ceremony, you pour a round of buna into little cups (the size of espresso cups, roughly) for everyone present, then sit back and relax as they sip (slurp, slurp). If you’ve done a poor job of grinding the beans, your guests will find little chunks of buna in your coffee (the big ones float and so are poured out with the buna; the fine grounds stay at the bottom of the pot) and will spit them onto the floor (ptewy!). When folks are done, they’ll pass their cups back to you (or you or another helper will go get them). You’ll rinse off the cups and saucers, then pour a second round from the jabana (glug, glug). While folks are enjoying their second cup of buna, you’ll pour more water into the jabana and bring it back to a boil. After you get the cups back, you’ll pour out a third round, the weakest batch, to finish everyone off.
Honestly, it was exhausting just writing that all out. You’d think, with this being such a process, that Ethiopians would only have coffee on special occasions. And you’d be wrong. Most have it every day after dinner; some go through this ordeal at lunch, as well. Between the lengthy prep process and the caffeine consumption itself, it’s a wonder that women get any sleep at all in this country.
Although I know the process of making buna, I’ve only done it once, and that was under the heavy coaching of my host sister. The art of boiling some good buna is largely a product of experience: you know how much coffee to make for the number of people present, how thick it should be when you first add the grounds, and how long to let it rest by years of trial and error. I certainly don’t have that, but I’ll have to boil up buna at some point, especially now that I have two jabanas.
ethiopia’s coffee love affair
as little orphan Annie would say, “I think I’m gonna like it heeeeeere!”