Posts tagged holidays
Posts tagged holidays
A little more than a month after Kim and I first arrived at site, Ethiopians celebrated their New Year. We were both a little sad: no one really invited us to their homes. Since then, we’ve been trying to make up for lost time on holidays, and Kim put together quite the program for us yesterday for Fassika, or Ethiopian Easter. Celeste and Sile warned us about their busy Fassika last year, but we poo-pooed their warnings and forged ahead. As usual, we couldn’t really understand what we were getting ourselves into.
The day, in statistics:
Homes visited: 14
Homes we thought we’d visit when we started off the day: 7
Spontaneous invitations politely declined: 4
After a few weeks to rest, Christmas was back in full force. I celebrated Ganna - Ethiopian Christmas — in my town. If you’re a devoted reader of this blog, you know what a holiday here means: lots and lots of buna.
At the last minute, I decided to invite a few friends over for buna in the morning. I got started early: popping popcorn (the traditional snack of the coffee ceremony), roasting the coffee, and pounding it into a fine powder. I donned my newly-acquired Ethiopian cultural outfit and waited for guests to arrive. Only one friend showed — she’s Muslim, and didn’t have to entertain at her home — but my neighbors rounded out the party.
When I boil buna, I mix old and new-fangled techniques: I roast the beans in a frying pan over an electric stove, then grind them with a mortar and pestle; I bring the water to a boil first in my electric tea kettle, then in the clay jabana over a little charcoal stove. I’m sure I’m making generations of Ethiopian women turn over in their graves…but hey, I’m not from here.
After I added the grounds to the water, poured out a bit to check for consistency, and put it back on the stove, it came to a boil pretty quickly. I set the jabana down to rest, tilted slightly forward, to allow the grounds to settle, and started to spoon sugar into the little cups for those who wanted it. I poured the coffee, and a neighbor helped pass it out, first to the men, then the women. I was last, naturally. I took a sip: the moment of truth. It was…not bad. It was solidly mediocre jabana coffee, which is much, much better than my last attempt. Some folks even went in for a second round. I was pleased.
I had to dash off to lunch at Kassae’s house, but was unable to pass up a neighbor’s invitation for a little bite of lunch — delicious, spicy kai wot (that’s meat in a berbere sauce) that he cooked himself, no small feat for the average Ethiopian man. Lunch with Kassae, a teacher at the Teacher Training College, was more meat, this time with eggs and berbere for dipping. Afterwards, our friend Dabash boiled a proper coffee ceremony, and I headed home, where another neighbor pulled me right in for more buna.
I wasn’t to rest for long, though; another friend, a midwife at the health center, called. She had been on weekend duty that day, but asked me to come to her house when her shift ended. I gladly obliged, and met her parents, siblings, and adorable baby girl. They stuffed me full of coka (a local take on Coke), bread, doro wot (the national dish of Ethiopia, a spicy chicken stew), and, of course, more buna.
As I walked home, feeling fat and happy, I passed a shop where I’d once been randomly invited for a holiday and occasionally stop by to chat. I forgot that earlier in the day I said I’d come by later. “Why are you late?” the dad asked me. I explained my friend’s hospitality, which had taken until dusk. “Come back tomorrow at 1 p.m.,” he instructed me. I promised to do so. As I left the shop, I heard him tell another customer, “Guadenia keenya” — our friend — by way of explanation.
I returned for lunch the next day: tibs (sauteed meat) and doro wot on a communal plate. The teenage daughter gave me my first real gursha — that is, she placed the food directly in my mouth — and my second (tradition has it that if there’s only one gursha, the two parties will fight. We wouldn’t want that). They insisted I continue eating, as is their obligation as hosts, but I was let off relatively easily: when another guest claimed that she was full, the mom cornered her in her chair and forcefully insisted, gurshaing her when she opened her mouth to protest. It’s the kind of thing that would have been startling 7 months earlier, but that I now know is just part of the routine of hospitality. We all laughed the whole time, including the woman who’d been assaulted with food.
There wasn’t snow on Ethiopian Christmas, either, but I really enjoyed celebrating my first holiday here where I felt like part of the community.
Irreecha is an Oromo (the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia) pre-harvest celebration that Kim and I were lucky enough to celebrate on December 8th with people from all over the area.
As usual, we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves in to — we just knew there were going to be some festivities by the river, and so we met up to head that way as soon as we each had a chance to stop by our offices. While we were strolling, we noticed a surprisingly few number of people headed downhill with us (the river’s not terribly far from town), but many, many trucks, busses, and SUVs teeming with folks singing and clapping. Finally, a Red Cross ambulance that was already bulging with passengers stopped and offered us a lift. We crammed into the back and chatted with everyone inside while we drove down to the river — and kept driving…and driving…and driving. At one point, we asked if we were heading to Nopa, a tiny town about forty minutes away. We were assured that no, we weren’t, but it was clear that the festivities were taking place much farther away than we’d expected.
When we finally arrived, we emerged from the ambulance/clown car at a beautiful odaa. Odaas are giant fig trees (thanks, Scott) that are the meeting places for elders who administer traditional Oromo government. They’re beautiful and sprawling, and I’m a little obsessed with them. Kim and I met a few students from the Teacher Training College who were dressed in traditional clothing and were forming a little singing/dancing group. They encouraged us to join them in dancing — but really, we just latched onto them because we had no idea what we were doing.
Tomorrow is the Ethiopian New Year, and everyone is abuzz with preparations. They don’t do the countdown to midnight thing here (the day starts at 6am, so that’s either a really long party or too early to get up on a holiday) — the Ethiopian New Year is all about food, specifically doro wot, the national dish.
The population of chickens in town peaked yesterday, market day — just about every person leaving the market had a chicken tucked under his or her arm, like a living, squawking clutch. This morning, the chorus of roosters announcing their presence was even louder than usual. Just this very moment, I helped(?) my neighbors capture a rooster that was running around the compound in the rain. I’ve already received an invitation from my neighbors to partake in some doro wot with them tomorrow. I would feel much worse for the roosters if (a) they weren’t so darn tasty and (b) they didn’t wake me up this morning.
While chatting with an acquaintance last week, he started to say, “When you marry a habesha woman —” I laughed, and interrupted him. “When I marry a habesha woman?” “No, I mean, not you, but you,” he amended, gesturing around him. He plowed through my sassiness, and started again: “When a man marries a habesha woman, it doesn’t matter what she looks like, it just matters if her doro wot is good.”
On a different, more serious note, today is the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and, given the threats and warnings of another terrorist attack, I’m a little nervous for family and friends back home in DC and New York. I’ll be thinking about you today, a little anxiously, but hoping that some combination of luck, intelligence, and vigilance will thwart any plot. It’s strange being awake long before most of you in a place where the anniversary isn’t on anyone’s radar, surrounded by the bustle of preparations for a new year. Anyway, I’m sending out all my love.