Archive | January, 2013

Timket – The Epiphany Celebration

28 Jan

About a week ago we celebrated one of the biggest holidays in the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition – Epiphany or Timket. It was a three day celebration with parades, holy water blessings, eating, discovering new parts of Gondar, and learning more about the Orthodox tradition.

As a bit of background, the Orthodox Epiphany is different from what most protestant Christians think of it. I grew up understanding Epiphany as the time when the wise men came to Jesus (ya, it wasn’t Christmas Eve, sorry Nativity sets). But Orthodox Epiphany is the celebration of when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River some 30 years later. Epiphany being less of the wise men’s eureka moment and more of the commencement of Jesus’ mission and teachings on Earth.

Going even farther into background, the Arc of the Covenant is also believed to be housed in Ethiopia (Axum- Tigray Region). It was taken here from Jerusalem for safekeeping by Menelik I, the lovechild of the Queen of Sheba (Ethiopian) and King Solomon (wise old dude ruling Jerusalem). But Menelik didn’t exactly ask permission to take the Arc, thus creating a legend of Indiana Jones proportions (seriously, Indiana Jones goes to Ethiopia in the Last Crusade). Each Orthodox Church has a replica of the Arc of the Covenant and during Timket these arcs get paraded around each city or small town. But no one is supposed to look upon it (since it houses the Holy of Holies and all) so what you end up seeing are a bunch of umbrellas running around town.

What makes the Timket celebration in Gondar unique, and the biggest in the nation, is the ceremony at the Fasilides Baths. Most towns have parades and some holy water blessings, but Gondar goes through an elaborate ceremony and a priest converts and entire castle moat into Holy Water. Ya, it’s epic.

So I’ll walk you through some of the celebrations, history and ceremony from the vantage point behind my camera. My house was directly on the parade route and only 10 mins walk from the baths so I can safely say I was in the thick of the celebration all weekend.

Friday afternoon the celebration started with a parade of all the churches coming together with their priests, arcs, some floats and thousands of people walking from each church to the baths. There are 44 arcs (44 Orthodox Churches) in total in Gondar.

The parade coming down from Piazza, view from the mountain by my house

The parade coming down from Piazza, view from the mountain by my house

Some of the bigger churches had floats and entire entourages, all the arcs had to travel on a carpet which boys rolled and unrolled in front of the procession all the way down the hill

Some of the bigger churches had floats and entire entourages, all the arcs had to travel on a carpet which boys rolled and unrolled in front of the procession all the way down the hill

The arcs arrive, AKA a flock of umbrellas

The arcs arrive, AKA a flock of umbrellas

Arc Parade Float

Arc Parade Float

Each church had their own personality, uniform and group. In addition to the church processions many people joined and watched the parade in their finest traditional clothing [future blog post]. For women, habesha libs, as their known, are the white shawls (nutellas) with white linen dresses with beautiful embroideries on the hemlines. This year, there were a lot of Gojam (West Amhara region) farmer clothes as well. The green or blue outfits with the buttons made for the cutest little children.

This horse is decked out

This horse is decked out

Gojam boys and outfits

Gojam boys and outfits

nuns and crowd

nuns and crowd

watching the parade, and protecting herself from the sun

watching the parade, and protecting herself from the sun

As the parade passed we jumped on to the end and walked toward the baths. On the way, impromptu dance parties were happening everywhere. Morgan and I made sure to document. I was lucky enough to host Dan and Nicole, third year extension volunteers who spent their first two years in Gondar and were able to introduce me to more organizations, hole in the wall restaurants, and their favorite places around the city.

Ryan getting his shoulder shake on with a Gojam farmer

Ryan getting his shoulder shake on with a Gojam farmer

Morgan getting a good shot

Morgan getting a good shot

Dan and Nicole- best tour guides

Dan and Nicole- best tour guides

At the baths on Friday evening, the arcs arrive and the priests begin to set up. The more committed pilgrims stood vigil all night saying prayers and giving thanks. We returned the next morning in the dark at 4:30am to bleachers already full. BBC was doing a documentary on Timket this year (yay for Ethiopian tourism!) so there were a lot of media around as well. But being some of the only ferenjis able to say more than four words in Amharic we got pulled to the front and given prime spots. The enthusiasm by Ethiopians to share their traditions is really great to witness and experience. The weekend was full of anecdotes extolling Ethiopian hospitality, including the next day when five priests walked into my compound and invited us to have tea with them.

Fasilides Baths

Fasilides Baths

This priest came out and posed for our cameras, pretty awesome

This priest came out and posed for our cameras, pretty awesome

Prayer by candlelight at dawn

Prayer by candlelight at dawn

Priests lined up and chanting

Priests lined up and chanting

There were no seats left so people started climbing trees, very Zachius...

There were no seats left so people started climbing trees, very Zachius…

The ceremony lasted through the dawn and priests and worshipers sang, chanted and prayed as the sun came up. A quick sermon was given in Amharic and one of the priests blessed the water in the moat around Fasilides Castle. Not even three seconds later, hundreds of young men stripped down and jumped 20 feet off the walls into the water. Events got pretty chaotic as mobs pressed in around the sides of the pool. It’s a moment of ecstasy as (mostly men) jump into the water for blessing and then turn around and “bless” everyone else by throwing large splashes into the crowd. It was a lot of fun, if not a little claustrophobic.  Young boys climbed over scaffolding, jumped from trees, and old women filled water bottles with holy water to bring back to their homes.

As an aside, in Ethiopia, there is a superstition that holy water can cure AIDS and so part of the public health communications approach  (which is part of my work here) has been working with religious institutions not to necessarily discredit this belief, but to advocate a dual holy water/ART drug strategy.

Priest blessing the water

Priest blessing the water

The baths are open all weekend for revelers to come take a dip. Sunday afternoon we returned and the baths resembled more of a community pool with kids diving in and out and racing each other around the sides. It doesn’t sound like there is an expiration date for the Holy Water, so I filled up a bottle myself. It’s sitting full of silt on my kitchen counter- I’ll have to remember not to boil my pasta in it.

Diving in

Diving in

Lots of blessing going on

Lots of blessing going on

Jumping in, clothes and all

Jumping in, clothes and all

Baths become a community pool

Baths become a community pool

A more leisurely time to bathe

A more leisurely time to bathe

So there’s a long winded but very brief description of Timket in Gondar. It’s clearly the place to be for this holiday if the explosion of tourists (both foreign and Ethiopian) are any indication. It was a great introduction to some more of the cultural aspects of the city and Orthodox faith which pretty much dominates this region. I’m taking reservations for my floor for next year, but you’ll have to bring me chocolate.

For more Timket photos here is a link to my facebook album 

Care Package Suggestions

27 Jan

For those of you thinking of sending care packages, firstly I LOVE YOU, secondly, I know it can be hard to have any idea of what I need or miss so I figured I would put together a general list of things that I will always be excited to receive and that I tend to go through quickly.

-          Letters! You don’t even have to send me packages, old fashioned letters are always a treat, though I love everyone doubly who sends me regular emails haha. There has been multiple times I have literally laughed out loud in front of my coworkers reading your emails

-          Chocolate. It’s an unhealthy addiction, maybe I eat my feelings. Favorites include: M&Ms (normal and peanut), Reeses, Kit Kats, Chocolove toffee for the CO folks

-          Dried Fruit. Bananas and oranges are the only fruit consistently available here so snacks like raisins etc, are a great break, and they keep for a long time.

-          Salty snacks like goldfish, Cheeze-its, crackers. Available here but expensive.

-          Canned meat like tuna (in water) or chicken. Also available but expensive.

-          Cheese that doesn’t need refrigeration or that comes in single serving packets (Laughing Cow, bluebell, kraft singles, Velveeta all travel well)

-          Facial moisturizer – I like Cetaphil with the SPF

-          Nail polish- ALL THE COLOURSSSSS (apparently you can’t declare it though because the post office doesn’t like to air ship it? Confusing, but they travel fine, just don’t tell USPS)

-          Other girly things that I make me feel good: I only packed 2 pairs of earrings and would be happy to get some more. I thought I could buy some awesome Ethiopian ones here, but the traditional ones aren’t really for daily wear and everything else looks like a unicorn pooped rhinestones all over it.

-           Gum (mint) : if you want banana flavored gum, Ethiopia has you covered! (gross)

-          Magazines: My mom’s got me covered with TIME so if you have leftover Vanity Fair’s, Vogues or other fashion ones I can keep tabs on how much my chaco tan lines are deviating from current trends

-          Hot chocolate packets

-          Random things that are surprises : )

Things you don’t need to send me because either they are easily available, not worth the shipping price for you, or my mom has already sent me a million:

-          Ziplock bags

-          Peanut butter: it would be awesome, but there is a “natural” kind here (aka not sugary haha) that works just fine and it would be expensive to put something that heavy in a box

-          Baby/make-up wipes

-  Notepads, but notebooks of the pocket moleskin variety are cool

Hopefully this is helpful for people struggling to think of things. I’m not expecting anything, but just want to make lives easier.

Sarah Crozier
PO Box 479
Gondar, Ethiopia

A Peace Corps Playlist

21 Jan

So this would be the most random playlist ever, but here are my top most played recent songs on my iTunes right now (in no particular order). Clearly, music choice is the best barometer for my mood swings. Now no judging, sometimes you just got to rock out to Carrie Underwood when you miss America.
Hopeless Wanderer- Mumford and Sons [probably the G8 volunteer anthem… we are small obsessed with their new album]

Gold on the Ceiling- The Black Keys [one of my favorite concert T-shirts; I will never regret packing it, so comfy!]

Zion – Lauryn Hill [when you need a little soul]

Wordplay – Jason Mraz [for funsies]

Home – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros [always a favorite]

Winter Winds- Mumford and Sons [some days I feel angsty ok?]

On the Radio – Regina Spector [oldie but a goodie]

Gobbledigook – Sigur Ros [this is mostly what I understand in Amharic]

Underneath the Sycamore- Death Cab for Cutie [lately I’ve been harkening back to high school apparently]

California Dreamin’ – Mamas and the Papas [because you have to sometimes]

Unknown Brother- The Black Keys

Awake My Soul – Mumford and Sons

Chain – Fleetwood Mac [old school]

22 – Lily Allen [oh British pop, I miss you]

Drumming Song – Florence and the Machine [good cooking music, just don’t chop onions because you will be dancing and crying at the same time- trust me, it’s not pretty]

Show Must Go On – Queen [epic, and don’t try to convince me otherwise]

Crossroads – John Mayer [originally Cream]

The Youth – MGMT

Pumpkin Soup – Kate Nash [just threw that one in here because I really want some right now… the song’s not bad either. And you thought I could get through a blog post without mentioning food… hah!]

Mountain Sound – Of Monsters and Men [Indie music on a long drive here is perfect]

Le Long du Large – Coeur de Pirate [when I like to pretend I’m international]

La Inta Habibi – Fairuz [when French isn’t international enough, I break out the Arabic… nerd alert]

Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars [the bluegrassier the better in my book! Though I think this is because I’m having home-grown music withdrawal, Ethiopia may start my love of country music (and jazz?)… watch out!]

Seen It All Before- Amos Lee

Ho Hey – The Lumineers [miss you Denver!]

Caring is Creepy – The Shins [especially for a Peace Corps Volunteer, I mean, Ethiopia is basically the Garden State if you squint and pretend the guys telling you “you’re beautiful” are Zac Braff]

Settle Down – Kimbra

Red – Taylor Swift [no judging because the next one is worse…]

Beauty and a Beat (feat. Nicki Manaj) – Justin Bieber [my soul just died a little, but my heat skipped a beat]

Janglin’ – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros [I jangle all day every day]

Mowgli’s Road- Marina and the Diamonds [more funsies]

Kill the Director – The Wombats [THIS IS NO BRIDGET JONES!!!!!.... truth, says the chicken in my bathroom]

Stay by My Side (Acoustic) – Mishka [people are really into reggae here… and Mariah Carey (understandable), Michael Jackson (ok, cool), and Celine Dion? (what??? I’ve never heard so much Celine blasted from souks in my life. My Canadian self kinda loves it, my sanity does not)]

Chasing Pavements – Adele

Shake It Out – Florence and the Machine

I understand there is a suspicious lack of “Africa themed” music on here. I won’t lie, I’ve “blessed the rains down in Africa” “waved my flag,” and “Africayayed” more than few times, but they just don’t get put on repeat four months in. I will admit I have to get myself some Teddy Afro in my library, just don’t make me listen to it. And send me suggestions of new music I should check out! I don’t want to return hopelessly behind in 2 years.

I promise I will put together a cool music of Ethiopia post at some point, right now I really just hear a lot of Celine Dion and Teddy- I know there’s more out there!

Some Small Adjustments

18 Jan

Living in Gondar is 60% the same as America, 40% totally different. I still get up, go to work, have a social life, cook meals, exercise, chat with neighbors, avoid getting run over by cars (and donkeys!-difference), and generally go about my business. The differences come in the “hows.” Here are a few key adjustments I have made living in Gondar, which are certainly less than the adjustments some volunteers have made in the smaller villages.
Cooking

Sucking Peas

Sucking Peas

I still love to cook and experiment, but cooking entails a few different processes. My ingredients are most definitely not packaged and processed. Having shopped at farmer’s markets a lot, I’d say I’m pretty ingredient savvy, but every once in a while I come across some produce I simply have no idea how to cook/prepare. Of course, I haven’t even attempted to buy a live chicken or goat yet- maybe year 2.
Shopping

 

Spice Bags - Credit: Morgan Davison

Spice Bags – Credit: Morgan Davison

Oh the one stop supermarket, how I miss you. Shopping entails going to each individual souk or produce lady, looking at each individual item, bargaining over that item, being pulled away by the owner’s brother to introduce you to his mother, coming back, not getting a discount, walking away, getting a discount, explaining why I can speak Amharic, how long I will live here, why I’m not married, why I don’t want to give said brother my phone number, remembering I need another item, bargaining again, all while hopping between my feet so the kids don’t pickpocket me. Sometimes it’s really fun, other times it’s really exhausting.
Street Kids

 

Not in Gondar, but basically the same image all around, lots of youngins everywhere!

Not in Gondar, but basically the same image all around, lots of youngins everywhere!

Being a big city, Gondar has many children who come from rural villages and big families to hawk the streets and make a living. While there are homeless children in America, it just doesn’t compare to the 100s of kids you see running around Gondar. In general, Ethiopia has a huge (unemployed) youth bulge (like many nations on the continent- cue Arab Spring). Many of them are very nice, lovely children, and others of them (adolescent boys) are the ones I get the most lewd comments from. Walking up through the piazza area, sometimes I tend to shut down and ignore most of what’s happening around me. From the “Hey mister!” to trying to sell gum or Kleenex or whatever’s in the boxes to getting my ass grabbed to just the general extra attention I get in that area I tend to blanket ignore. But every once in a while you have a really sweet moment with a kid. Most of them now know that I live here and I won’t be asking them to tour me around the castles. But what is amazing is the entrepreneurial spirit of some of these kids. Chalking themselves up as tour guides they learn English, French, Spanish, German in an effort to entice tourists to pay them to be their guides. I actually had a full Spanish conversation with a kid just to mess with him before I switched to Amharic and told him I lived here. (Gotta get your kicks somehow). Then the other day a little girl (probably about 4 years old) ran up to me, remembered my name, gave me a big hug in the middle of the street and tried to figure out why my toenails were painted blue. Some of the children meet tourist families, and get “sponsored” by them to go to one of the better schools in the area. And it really does mean they get a better chance. In fact, some of the best English, most clever kids I’ve met here are basically working the streets. I’m hoping to do some work with an NGO here that runs a few street kid orphanages and a mobile education program.
The Shint Bet
Ah, the latrine toilet. Shint bet literally translates as “urine house.” What a love/hate relationship. Squatting to do your business is just one of those things that every person not in America does. You deal. What I find incredibly amusing is when there are “fancy” shint bets that are porcelain holes and have flush mechanisms! Ok, if you’re going to put all that effort into the latrine, install a toilet! (Though I understand plumbing problems are more of an issue) I am lucky enough to have a western toilet on my compound, the difference being I have to go outside my house to get to the bathroom and I share it with everyone in the compound. It’s fine, I think my favorite bathroom mate this week was the chicken waiting to be slaughtered for Timket (Epiphany). Yesterday I went in to use the toilet and the chicken was sleeping… and snoring. I think it was one of the top five cutest things I have ever seen in my life. It almost made up for it waking me up at 4am crowing. I bet you will tastes delicious in the doro wot (chicken stew).

Doro Wot for Genna- yes, you did taste delicious chicken!

Doro Wot for Genna- yes, you did taste delicious chicken!

Water

Washing my dishes at the spigot

Washing my dishes at the spigot

The point is, I don’t have indoor plumbing. Yeah, yeah you’re in Peace Corps we get it. So there is a spigot/tap outside my house but inside the compound that I get my water from. So I go outside every morning and evening to brush my teeth, wash my face, wash my feet etc. Can’t wait for my solar shower! Hot water wahoo! (It’s a black pastic bag that you fill with water and sit it in the sun- ooh technology… ) I really have it pretty easy. I fill up a big bucket with water that I use for cooking and leave in my house and I’ve never had a day yet where the water has been off. My good friend Morgan lives in a small village about two hours from Gondar and the only water source in her village is in the middle of town, so she has to stand in line with jerry cans and stalk up for the week. Peace Corps also issues every volunteer a carbon filter, which I fill up and then have a big bucket of drinking water.
Public Transportation

Peace Corps chartered this one :)

Peace Corps chartered this one :)

The city “bus system” is a system of line taxis that run, well, lines. They are mini buses that seat 12, and fit 25. They run from the market to piazza, down the hill and out of town, on a few different routes. Each stop is about one birr or two. Only 3.50 to the Dashen Brewery! If you don’t want to take a line taxi, like if you have a lot of stuff to hold (cut to me lugging 2 giant crates around the market, don’t ask), you can pick up a bajaj.

 

Bajajs - 3 wheeled scooter "taxis"

Bajajs – 3 wheeled scooter “taxis”

A bajaj parade!

A bajaj parade!

These guys will take you wherever you want to go door to door like a taxi, but they will probably pick up more passengers along the way. They are also more expensive, especially if you want the whole bajaj (again the crates) and you look like a tourist (you’re white). If you’ve been to India or know what a tuk-tuk is, that’s what these are.

For bigger items, or in more rural places, there are also horse drawn carts or “garis.” I used one the other day to get my kitchen counter from the top of the hill to my house. In Iteya we rode in them a few times to out of the way places (no paved roads).

Gari

Gari

So like I said, a lot of the same, a lot different. I’m doing the same things, I’m just getting them done in different ways.

Image

Portraits

15 Jan
Gondar

Gondar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My host sister

My host sister

Emily's Host sister

Emily’s Host sister

language class kids- wendeme, Mimilu

language class kids- wendeme, Mimilu

Dessie, Amhara

Dessie, Amhara

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Host brothers in Iteya

Host brothers in Iteya

Ryan

Ryan

Lisa

Lisa

Credit - Morgan Davison

Credit – Morgan Davison

Cooking for Ethiopia Part 1

13 Jan

Different ingredients, super high altitude, and only a stove have meant a few culinary experiments as I adapt to my new life for the next few years. Mid way through our training we were issued a “Cooking in Ethiopia” Cookbook, put together by previous groups of volunteers. It has been helpful for some things (oh, that’s the bleach to water ratio to clean vegetables- oopsie), but other things are less helpful (a recipe for Hungarian Cocktail Sticks? Minden naw “what is that?” Or Fresh Fish with Coconut Sauce? What posh corps country do you live in?).

So drawing on my own experience in high altitude cooking, the spices I brought from home (thank you packing lists!), and a bit of daring I have created a few dishes of my own.

#1 – Breakfast for Dinner

Om nom nom eggs

Om nom nom eggs

Since I never buy meat (no fridge), I either get my protein at a restaurant, in the form of shuro powder (see below), or I eat eggs.  This is my version of a Spanish omelet. Tomato, spinach, and feta become tomato (yay same ingredient!), gomen (basically Ethiopian spinach), and laughing cow cheese (thank you care packages!). Then I make home fries with salt and olive oil.

#2 – The Sarah Waldorf Salad

Bleached Veggies! Om Nom Nom?

Bleached Veggies! Om Nom Nom?

This isn’t so exciting except that it’s fresh, uncooked vegetables! Food preparation is key here. Since I buy my vegetables from the ladies with the tarps on the side of the road, and they buy them off the trucks that come in from the fields, I can almost guarantee there was no FDA stamp of approval on those carrots. Chigerellum! (No problem!) Usually I cook down or boil my veggies, but if I want to eat them fresh there is a bit more of a process. I start with a bleach water solution (1 tbsp per gallon) and let them soak for about 15 minutes. Then I rinse them with filtered water (I put that in there so Peace Corps medical won’t get mad… sometimes I rinse with tap water, which I clearly never drink… cough couch). This salad features all sorts of local and care package ingredients: lettuce, gomen, avocado, tomatoes, carrots, raisins and crushed almonds and cashews (trail mix from a care package); and then the dressing is an olive oil, salt, pepper, and lime mix (no lemons here).

#3 Shuro with Rice

It's yummier than it looks

It’s yummier than it looks

Cross cultural dish! Shuro is a soupy spicy dish made from chickpea powder and berbere that you can find at any restaurant- sometimes it’s the only thing you can order. And at any time I would say 95% of Ethiopians are eating it for a meal. The other staple is misir wot (spicy lentil stew). Usually it is eaten with injera, but since I don’t have an injera maker, I make it with rice (pictured) or potatoes.  Shuro powder is available by the half kilo and you buy it like flour. You can get it with or without berbere mixed in. I bought some with berbere to cut out the middle step. To make it you chop onions and tomatoes, cook them down in a bunch of oil (I use less than the average Ethiopian, but then again my shuro doesn’t taste as good). Then you add about double the water you want for a serving (it will cook down) and add like 2 or 3 spoonfuls of shuro powder and whatever spices to taste (I like garlic and black pepper, since I’m a ferenji, Ethiopians will put in raw kariya peppers). It thickens up pretty quick, is packed with protein (yay chickpeas!), will last forever (my ½ kilo bag will probably last half the year because you only use a few spoonfuls per meal), and is super cheap (hey local recipes!). Probably going to be a staple for me. I usually wilt down some gomen as well to get a varied diet with some rough greens.

#4 Curry

Thank God for spice mixes

Thank God for spice mixes

Rice based dishes are going to a theme I think. Stir fries, curries, and pretty much any Ethiopian wot I will probably put over rice (so blasphemous). But again, rice is pretty cheap, lasts a long time, easy to cook and is a different carb than injera so I get a little variety. With all the dishes that are basically variations on a theme, it’s nice to mix up the spices. If the base is carrots, onions, rice and sometimes an egg or too, switching between a soy sauce stir fry and a shit ton of curry powder will get me through the next few months. What I wouldn’t give for some broccoli (and don’t even get me started on asparagus or bell peppers…) The point of this one is that recipes don’t matter and you can just experiment with proportions until it tastes good. This curry was made on the fly, probably couldn’t recreate it, but the moral of the story is that either pack spices (sacrifice space) or pick up some in Addis before you get to site (expensive).

Here’s what I brought with me (and am so glad!):

-          Curry powder

-          Italian mix (oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary etc.- like a grocery store brand mix)

-          Black pepper

-          Garlic powder (easy to find garlic cloves here, but sometimes nice to have powder instead of cutting up cloves every time)

-          Cumin (I put it in guacamole!)

-          Chili powder

-          Cinnamon (you can find sticks, but again, nice to have powder)

Other non- spice related things I brought and were very helpful to have that first week (and are better quality than what you could pick up here):

-          Non-stick frying pan or skillet

-          Good paring knife (which I basically use for EVERYTHING)

-          Good chef’s knife (just a larger knife)

-          A pot holder/oven mitt thing, which I use with a bandana in the other hand to handle my pots

-          Veggie peeler

-          Can opener (though probably not necessary)

-          Wine/bottle opener (you can get those here, but it was small so I threw it in)

-          Butter knife (wish I brought more than 1! Forks and spoons are easy to find and cheap, but knifes are hard and “expensive!”- for a volunteer’s budget anyway)

-          Zip lock bags

-          Measuring cup

Anyway, experiments in cooking to continue! Not pictured, I have also made a few tomato based sauces from scratch with pasta and garlic bread and whipped together a “mexican night” for the other Gondar volunteers with guac, salsa, lime rice and black beans (from another volunteer’s care package) and lentil fajitas. Cooking is fun here because it cuts out a lot of the day. The opposite end of the spectrum being that today for lunch I ate a handful of kolo (roasted barley) and a lollipop… so it depends on my energy level haha.

Market Anecdotes

9 Jan

The way the airport is the best people watching place in America, the market on market day is the most authentic place to dive deep into community culture here in Ethiopia. A hustling, bustling, chaotic, crazy mess, many volunteers shy away from market days. I kind of love them. Yes I get a lot of attention, but at the same time, most people just want to conduct their business, get the best deal and crack a few jokes. Especially surprising people by using Amharic (even if it is only tinish tinish “a little bit”) is one my favorite moments.

Sorry for the lack of photos on this one- I don’t like taking my camera out in this area (duh). But a few anecdotes will help explain this Saturday ritual.

1)      The bus station is in the middle of the market, and only the bravest of tourists attempt to enter Gondar this way (the usual way being the airport at the other end of town- for those interested in coming!). My good friend Morgan comes in often from her small village a couple hours away to do her banking, pick up food not available at her market and get a pizza every once in a while. She usually loads up with stuff before heading back. Being white, the bus boys naturally assume we are headed to Bahar Dar (a resort town a couple hours away). When she says the name of her tiny town and I say I live here and am just helping (all in Amharic), I’ve never seen so many confused looks in my life.

2)      Similarly, a few days ago I bought 2 giant plastic buckets to hold my vegetables/dirty dishes/wash my clothes in. An Ethiopian tour guide was leading a group of tourists down the road, took a double look at my buckets and said “You’re not in my group—you live here!” Like it was a great discovery. Clearly, because all tourists buy cheap plastic buckets. They make great souvenirs.

3)      Walking to the market the other day I ran into one of the few mentally ill people in town. Small pause- this is actually a sad problem here. Many mentally ill people are left to fend for themselves on the streets because there are no free/public mental institutions and their families do not have the money to support them. Anyway, one such man passed me and pinched me on the arm, not very hard, but it took me by surprise. I told him it was rude, and he started to walk behind me rattling a water bottle. But what makes this better were the people who came to my aid and led him away. For as much harassment as I receive there is an equal amount of looking out for me.

4)      Berbere is the spicy powder used in almost every Ethiopian dish, and it is made from dried peppers and a myriad of other things. Getting turned around in the market the other day I ended up wandering down “berbere lane,” basically the section where all the berbere is made and sold. With kariya (dried pepper) dust floating into my eye, I was weeping as I walked down the road. And by weeping I mean, snot nosed, puffy eyed, crawling on my knees in confusion of how to get away from the poisonous dust that was choking me. Ok it wasn’t that bad, but I did get a whole lot more “izosh!es” (stay strong girl!) from the women as I made my way out of that section.

5)      Less of a market story, but “market related.” One New Year’s Eve a few of us volunteers went out to dinner at one of the nicer hotels in the area as a treat. This was a nice restaurant, good service, a beautiful view and even a prix fix menu. The choice for dessert was a chocolate cake or seasonal fruit. One volunteer chose the fruit… and was brought a banana. On a plate. Clearly it’s dry season. But who doesn’t choose chocolate cake? He brought that one on himself.

6)      Speaking of bananas, they are everywhere. Every stand, souk, and lady with a tarp on the ground is selling them. Therefore, there a lot of banana peels in the road… you can guess where I am heading with this. I literally Charlie Chaplin/3 Stooges/Mario Kart/My Usual Self style slipped on a banana peel in the middle of the market. I kid you not. Lucky for me, slapstick comedy is very popular here and I’m glad the Ethiopians who saw this thoroughly appreciated the humour.

So these are just a few weeks of notes and stories. I try to carry my notebook around with me to write down the funny moments of the day because the only way to live cross culturally is to hold your head up high and laugh with the punches (and sometimes pinches) that come along.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,112 other followers