About a month ago, a group of friends and I were discussing things we would like to change about ourselves. When the question turned to me, I thought for a moment. Then answered, "I want to face failure with grace and to not shy away from stressful situations. I want to be surrounded by people who will not only support me in my failure, but encourage me in it; that it's necessary. All with the ultimate hope that I can be that type of person for others."
A little known fact during this holiday season is that, according to Axumite history, one of the three wise men that made the journey to meet Jesus at his birth came from Ethiopia. At the time the Axumite empire was robust, boasting of several exports. But the gift that the Ethiopian sage chose to bring to Jesus was one of most distinguished fragrances the kingdom had to offer - frankincense, a gift fit for a king. To this day, Ethiopia is still known for its frankincense. Ethiopians, regardless of religious background or beliefs, use the thick aroma to add to the intoxicating and royal ambiance of their coffee ceremonies.
207 – Appreciation for elders
208 – Being a Dambena, or regular customer, and trusted to pay later
209 – Ethiopian’s love of American pop-culture
210 – Condom proliferation
211 – Schools’ eagerness to work with Americans
212 – Fire side chats with women as we bake injeria
213 – My compound mates
214 – The acutely focused night sky
215 – The ability to use the same verb tense for present and future
216 – Bumping into donkeys on the road
217 – Running in the rain without an umbrella
218 – Hearing men defend women’s rights (this is not an everyday occasion, but when it happens it is a treat)
219 – The boys who sell oranges at the bus stop in Gondoin
220 – Washing the feet of special guests
221 – Using space efficiently
222 – Discovering something new at the Market
223 – When buses fill up quickly
224 – Baby macchiatos
Bale is a spectacular region of Ethiopia that I recommend any traveler (domestic or international) to take the time and visit. Most guidebooks and seasoned sojourners brag about the unique wildlife (nyalas, warthogs, and hyena) or the breathtaking panoramic cordillera. All of the above merit a trip to the watershed territory, but less known incentive is the Bale Bayanet. Bayanet is a variety dish featuring vegetables served in little concentric piles on a plate of injeria. The Bale bayanet has a wide variety, fresh spices, lots of color, and of course – all local.
Strolling the streets in late June after an early afternoon rain shower, one might find the air glistening with a parade of wings. They aren’t dark and densely swarming like locusts, but they aren’t quite as sparse as butterflies either. They are summer dragonflies. In Amharic they are called “kirempt agagabis” which literally means the entrance of summer. Staring down the road with the sunlight cracking through the clouds and bouncing off the dancing translucent creatures, it really does look like a shimmering gateway for the Ethiopian summer to come right on through.
Shamagale literally means “elder”, but is also used to connote the person who arranges a marriage on behalf of a family. The bride or groom will usually select a trusted friend of the family to arrange a fitting match for the seeker. This person will discuss with both families, bringing gifts as necessary. While the idea of an unwillful arranged marriage (especially at a young age) is not something I support or encourage, I am fascinated by the concept of a Shamagale for older and willing parties.
After some thought, I had the epiphany that Shamagales are just as common in the West as well. We have simply digitized the concept and outsourced it from our friends and family to marriage connection sites like eHarmony or shaadi.com.
Nothing picks me up more on a down day than seeing two grown men swinging pinkies together as they walk down the street….or better yet if they grab one of mine to swing as well. I appreciate unorthodox displays of affections. One of those is the tender endearment of male friendship expressed through handholding. The Western world has been conditioned to interpret this simple gesture as a manifestation of the eros form of affection, but really it is just an articulation of the philio affection – or brotherly love.
Organic food is all the rage these days. I understand the premise and the need; we weren’t built to take in so many unnatural chemicals, pesticides, and genetically altered concoctions. Nevertheless, I look at life of an average Ethiopian. Ethiopians consume what they grow. No organic stamp necessary. No packaging necessary. If you want a chicken, you buy the whole chicken (alive) from someone at the market, take it home, and cook it.
Whereas most kids in the US who wanted to earn some extra cash might babysit or mow lawns, kids in Ethiopia have other ways of pulling in an income. One of the popular ways for young boys is shining shoes. If I have the time, I like to stop and get my shoes shined for the day. It’s a great way to support the kids and, as one volunteer once put it, “It feels like a little massage for your feet.”