Thursday, September 13, 2012

Welcome to 2005

The Ethiopian calender is different from the Western one.  For starters, there are 13 months. Each month has 30 days, with the remainder of the days of the year residing in a month at the end of the year. It's called Paugme. 

This often means that while I think it's September 1st, it's actually August 28th.  September 11th, aka September 1st in Ethiopia, is the Ethiopian New Year.  It is now 2005 in Ethiopia. I heard the year difference is because of difference in thought over when Jesus died, but I'm not positive. All I know is that Ethiopia, and some other African country, are eight years off from the rest of the world.

Habasha New Years is not celebrated quite as loudly as the Western January 1st variety. There's no staying up late and waiting for midnight, there's nothing special about New Years Eve here.

Everything happens on the 1st.  And by everything I mainly mean eating.

Most Ethiopian dishes here are a variety of wot, a sauce different types of food are cooked in. For holidays, the wot to eat is doro wot. It's not like the States where some families might have ham and the others roast beef for Christmas, every family has doro wot here.

Doro is the Amharic word for chicken, and doro wot included freshly killed chicken and hard boiled eggs. It's customary that every guest gets at least one egg and one piece of meat. There are no forks and knifes here, you have to break up the egg with a piece of bread and eat the chicken by peeling pieces off the bone with your fingers. It's a rather messy affair, but tasty.

It's customary in the morning for children to visit their parents for a meal, and the parents will return the favor in the evening for dinner.

I spent the day with my host family, and had two meals. First at my host mom's mom's, and then later at her place. I then returned to Huruta (my host mom sent me out the door with a bag of oranges and bus money. Food and cash, I felt like I was leaving my yiayia and papou's place.) and had two more meals. One with a counterpart and one with my landlords.

I feasted four times in 7 hours, I was rather surprised I didn't explode. As it was, I slept rather well that night.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Mass Funeral of Meles Zenawi

Bizu knocked on my door this morning, telling me she and Dani were on their way to the stadium for a mass funeral for the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. Did I want to come?


I expected a a dozen sheets safety pinned together to make a screen and a projection a a televised funeral. Nothing very exciting, seeming as I wouldn't understand it, but it was a good idea to join in community event and be seen.

The first clue I got that this was nothing like I expected was hearing a loud chant behind us on the road. I turned and coming down both side of the road was a mounted cavalry, red tassels swaying from bridles as the mass of riders trotted at us. We crowded against the median to let them pass and then mad our way to the stadium.

When we got there, the place was packed. The stadium was filled with people and two of the banks surrounding it were covered with mourners. The far side of the stadium was a mini bus station, people from neighboring towns and villages had come to. The other side held grazing horses. The group that had passed me had swarmed onto the field and were riding around it, but they weren't the first group there. Eventually they dismounted and joined the other groups on the field. They stood on foot in small groups in the fog or under tents, chanting and displaying memorials to Meles Zenawi – wooden signs, black and white posters stapled to palm leaves, flags.

We took a spot on the corner nearest to the stadium entrance, and had a prime view of the other groups coming. There was a church, led by a children's choir. Several more groups of mounted riders. Trucks filled with habasha and decked out in palms and flowers as if float parades. Most common though were simply groups of marching/running people, led by men with trailing women. They thrust wooden sticks in the air and they went by before walking onto the field, but sometimes the sticks were substituted with canes, umbrellas, and, nerve-rackingly, guns pointing into the sky held very insecurely.

Every group marched passed where we were standing, and then made their way down onto the field below. Groups just kept coming and coming, there seemed no end to the mourners, and when the fog rolled in you could see lit candles in people's hands as if it were the Easter midnight service.

It's crazy the amount of support and love Meles Zenawi had in his people. There's been a song composed about his death, I hear it everywhere, and the TV shows picture of him all the time as well as street testimonies of those who are sad at his passing. Kids sell pictures of him, the market has shirts depicting him, and when I went to Adama last week there was a huge parade of bajas going up and down the street. (It actually reminded me of Rhodes when Greece did well in the Euro cup, cars going up and down and honking and waving flags in celebration. I never would have expected similar activities for a memorial.)

If Obama died, I'm sure people would be sad, but I doubt it would be in the media as much as PM's death is here. Or that it would be a topic of conversation over a week later. People ask me 'did you here our president died?' as if they were announcing the scores of last night's gate. He is at the front of Ethiopian's mind, and it amazing to see how much this country cares for him.

I've been called 'sister' here. I had it explained by a judge in town that because he has a sister and cares for her, it's easy to extend those feelings to others. He wants his sister to be safe, and has similar feelings for me. Thus, I am like a sister to him even though I only knew him for the duration of an hour and a half bus ride.

So Ethiopia hasn't lost a leader, it's lost a brother who has worked hard to improve the life of his entire family. No wonder the country mourns so.