Archive | February, 2014

An Ethiopian Wedding

20 Feb

Last weekend I crossed off a Peace Corps bucket list item – attend an Ethiopian Wedding. And boy was this a wedding. Probably one of the biggest events in Gondar after Timket, this was the wedding of one of the Four Sisters. If anyone has been here and eaten at Four Sisters Restaurant, they know how big a deal these ladies are in Gondar. My friend Helen got married to an Australian man named Anthony, who looked a little overwhelmed by the mobs of chanting men at his wedding to be honest. But everyone had a great time, not least due to the copious chunks of raw meat delicacies being offered (I politely declined, been there, done that.)

My invitation on a scroll

My invitation on a scroll

so many people

so many people

Laurissa, Myself, and Morgan

Laurissa, Myself, and Morgan

The wedding lasted for about three days of festivities with my guestimate of over 1,000 people attending at some point during the event. T’ej (honey wine) flowed freely, and it was pretty fun being the some of only white people on the bride’s side. I put on my hasbesha libs (Ethiopian dress, borrowed thanks to Morgan) and we drank and danced. Gondar’s big wigs were all out, almost everyone in the tourist or restaurant or hotel industry was there. Giant tents were set up for the guests and the street kids were out in full force, getting in on the siga wot (meat stew).

so much confetti

so much confetti

Helen and Anthony

Helen and Anthony

This was an interesting event since it was both distinctly Ethiopian, but also she was marrying a foreigner. A white wedding dress, bright pink bridesmaids dresses, and the usual pound of makeup on the women made it a hybrid high school prom, mosh pit situation. We were lucky enough to run in to each of the four sisters as they ran around the guests, though only able to get a photo with Aiden (the youngest, a university student and one of the smartest women I have met).

Myself, Aiden, and Morgan

Myself, Aiden, and Morgan

It was great to mingle with friends and strangers, taking in the spectacle while also a part of it. It typified the existence of a volunteer here. While I was invited and welcomed warmly, there are some traditions I will never quite understand. Both at the party and outside the party, all I could think was, weddings are weddings, in America or Ethiopia. It’s a giant party.

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Timket 2.0

11 Feb

Living here for two years you get a few chances to see holiday celebrations. Is this craziness typical? What exactly is a tobat? Do I really have to get up at 3am? These are the questions you have a year to mull over before diving in to the second time on a holiday. This is my second Timket in Gondar. And it’s just as crazy as last year.

watching the parade

watching the parade

SONY DSC

on the way to the bath

on the way to the bath

Priest with an i-pad... yup.

Priest with an i-pad… yup.

Per usual, we started the day before with a parade of the arcs of the covenant down from the 44 Orthodox churches in town. Though not as much of a spectacle as last year, there were just as many people walking right in front of my house.

A priest pouring holy water float

A priest pouring holy water float

We woke up at 2:45am (learned our lesson from last year) and went down to the baths to get good seats on the rickety platforms. Lucky for us, this year they reserved seats for tourists so we just pretended not to speak Amharic for a day. Last year I was right in amongst the crowds, but this year we were more separated. I’m glad I got to experience both. Being in the thick of things last year was a great introduction to my community and the culture. This year, after living her for a while, ya…. I deserved the breather.

dawn prayer

dawn prayer

Fasil Bath at Night

Fasil Bath at Night

waiting for the service

waiting for the service

The rickety platforms

The rickety platforms

Timket in Gondar!

Timket in Gondar!

Timket is Gondar at its best and worst. People travel from all over Ethiopia to worship at the baths, as well as see the sights. A bazaar is set up the week before, tour companies pick up all sorts of business, and professional pickpockets from Addis come up to take advantage. The ceremony is both spiritual and chaotic. Young men jump in with no thought to the significance – one almost fell in before the water was blessed. But as the ceremony moves from religious to more generally cultural, we still get to experience a very unique part of Ethiopian life. This year many of the PCVs who visited jumped in to the pool! I declined, knowing from last year how cold it would be.

 

SONY DSC

jumping in!

jumping in!

the first jumper! right after the priest blessed the water

the first jumper! right after the priest blessed the water

in the holy water

in the holy water

so. cold.

so. cold.

climbing the trees to get a good view - too bad they aren't sycamores, that would have been perfect

climbing the trees to get a good view – too bad they aren’t sycamores, that would have been perfect

Seeing this holiday for the second time, I’ve come to realize how much I really have integrated into life here. Hearing the questions other tourists were asking their guides, I felt pretty knowledgeable. We knew where to go, when to go, and who to schmooze. I ran in to many many friends and acquaintances. It really is a community holiday, and on some level I’m really part of the community now.

so many visitors

so many visitors

priests at service

priests at service

Through New Eyes

9 Feb

After a year and a half in any place you tend to loose the wonder. Normality settles in. Daily life. When I first moved to Ethiopia I had a million blog ideas – the food, the clothes, the music, culture everywhere! But recently I’ve been struggling for topics, thinking I’ve covered a lot of what goes on here. Turns out, I had just stopped noticing.

Having family or friends come to visit is great not just for the vacation, but afterwards. To remember what was exciting and new about a place you have grown comfortable in. Though can I ever really say I’m comfortable in Ethiopia? Probably not. Cue water being out for a week.

I can say that I had stopped looking for new things. Cows in the street? Boring. Women carrying things on their heads? Routine. Kids running after me yelling who knows what? Ignored.

But having my family visit opened my eyes to the things that give this place flavour. The quirks of daily life in Ethiopia may be routine, but they are certainly interesting. My mother kept commenting on the change of clothes. Driving from urban center, through rural villages, back to urban center, there are people along the road the whole way. But in the towns you see jeans and pants and suits. On the road you see traditional dresses, green farmers shorts with buttons and frayed headwraps. Just driving from place to place was an adventure for them, and I had forgotten to look out the window.

My dad could not get over the fact that road construction was all done by hand. And by women. Mixing cement, swinging pick axes to break up the tar, and using wooden stretchers to carry loads of heavy rock, there is no automatic machinery in sight. Most of the heavy labour is done by women… in dresses. They are shipped in from the rural areas as day labourers. In fact, many of these construction workers are at a high risk for exploitation and health issues, but again I had forgotten to see the problems – I was ignoring the catcalls.

My middle brother could skiskista (shoulder dance) with the best of them. My younger brother tried all sorts of new food I never thought he would. I used more Amharic the week they were here than the past month on my own.

Having my family here reminded me that I’m here for more than work. Yes, running projects and supporting local programs is a big part of my job – the biggest really. But just living, interacting, and having conversations about my life and people’s lives is still 2/3 of the Peace Corps goals. I’m on the downhill slope now – past the half way point with less than a year left. But as my programmatic work gets busier I have to remember the other stuff, the daily life, the routine, and the sharing. Sharing with my Ethiopian friends, and sharing with my family and friends across the ocean.

So if there are any topics you want to hear more about – comment below! Remind me what’s weird here, what’s interesting and different because sometimes I forget that having a goat in my bathroom isn’t normal.