One of the most striking differences between my life in Canada and that in Ethiopia, is my lack of time
spent with women. There are no other female instructors at the college, few female students,
no female school administrators, and even few female teachers. However, there are
many women who work at the college - secretaries, waitresses, "runners" (physically moving messages
from one department to another - there is no e-mail and few phones), duplicators (the college
uses an old-fashioned duplicating machine with stencils). Without exception, they have been
very friendly and welcoming to me. Most of them do not speak very much English, so we have short,
lively conversations in two fragmented languages with lots of smiles and hand gestures.
Last week, one secretary, Aynalem invited me to her house for coffee ceremony.
Aynalem lives at the back of her uncle’s house in the small servants’ quarters with her sister. They
are 30 and 29 respectively, and of course I was reminded of Tasha and I. The coffee ceremony
is actually lunch, followed by coffee. We had doro wat, which literally means "chicken sauce" and
is a great delicacy. It is a tasty, spicy red sauce with onions and big pieces of chicken
and whole hard-boiled eggs, served on injera (flat bread). You use pieces of bread to pick up the
food. These sisters would make good Ukrainians: after I had eaten one egg, one drumstick,
two servings of the sauce and an entire injera, they asked plaintively, "Lori, did you
already eat lunch?" When I replied no, they said, "Well, why don’t you eat anything??"!
After I uttered the magic words, "tageb" (‘I am satisfied’), Aynalem brought me a pitcher of water
to wash my hands, and then she began the long process of making coffee. Raw coffee beans are
first roasted on a kerosene stove, then ground with a wooden pestle. The ground coffee is
mixed with hot water in a thin-necked clay pot and left to heat. The coffee is served in
tiny cups with liberal amounts of sugar, and is always accompanied by sweet, rather than salty,
popcorn. Incense is burned during the ceremony, and the entire process takes about an hour.
Needless to say, the coffee was delicious!
Throughout the entire time I was in their small house, a TV was on, tuned to the only station
available in Ethiopia, ETV. At first there was a cultural programme about dancing. My rudimentary
knowledge of Amharic told me immediately that it was not in Amharic! There are over one
hundred different languages in Ethiopia, which, as all Canadians can well imagine, causes
all sorts of difficulties. The television station broadcasts in many different languages at
different times of the week. There is a time for Oromifa, Gurage, Sidaminya, etc. Aynalem and
her sister understood exactly as much of the Oromifa programme as I did!
As we were ending our meal, I experienced my most surreal Ethiopian moment; the newscast came on,
in Amharic. The lead story was the famine in the Somali and Afar regions of the country.
I was actually sitting in Ethiopia, eating with Ethiopian women watching starving Ethiopians
on TV. Their reaction was much the same as a Canadian’s would be. They exclaimed, turned their
eyes away and said, "It is a big problem". Indeed it is. Yet, in Awassa, as in Canada, it is a
problem that can seem at once debilitatingly overwhelming and comfortingly distant.
Continuing the surrealistic theme, the newscast was followed by an American soap opera,
"The Guilty". I didn’t recognize it and it seemed at least twenty years old. Aynalem and her
sister are big fans and we watched mostly in silence as they were trying to understand the
machinations of duplicitous oil barons and emotionally tortured heart surgeons. No wonder
Ethiopians have some bizarre ideas about Western culture!
I was very happy to have spent the afternoon in the company of women, a rare treat here. I am
working on my coffee making skills so I can return the invitation.
Dehna Walachew (Good Afternoon!)
ps - The world fridge postcard collection is amazing - nine countries and three provinces,
thanks mainly to my brother-in-law Sonny, who has adopted an obsessive devotion to the
concept and lavishes us with postcards. Reese says hi!