Tag Archives: tea

The Terrible Awful. Getting Sick in Country.

10 Aug

I have the Goonfahn.

Now before you get all Ebola outbreak crazy on me and try to find the local equivalent of 911 (there isn’t one, sorry mom!), you should know what the goonfahn is. It’s terrible. It’s awful. It’s the common cold.

Tropical diseases tend to lend a sort of street cred: Malaria (ooh!), typhoid (ahh!), shitting your pants from amoebas or bacterial dysentery (3 times!). But the common cold? Buck up, Sarah. But seriously, I am going to prove to you that getting sick, just normal sick, nothing fancy, is automatically 12.3 times worse than it would be at home.

Here’s what I would do with a cold in the States: shoot some DayQuil and go on my merry way feeling about 75% normal. Here’s what happens with a cold in Ethiopia: shoot some DayQuil (courtesy of a care package), and stay bed ridden for three straight days cursing the gods, nature, and all things beautiful.

I’m thinking I got this bout of death from the mass of teenage girls I spent time with just about 2 weeks ago (suspicious!). One of the cutest, and most disgusting, parts of Ethiopian food culture is the gorsha, or feeding someone with your hands from your plate. Three gorshas are a charm, and mean someone loves you. I got a lot of love that week. I think next year they need to enforce a hand washing rule.

Good thing I didn’t have anything productive planned this week (sorry thesis). Here’s how this one snuck up on me.

Day 1 – I start to get a sore throat, but I’m already out and working so I order a ginger tea. A fellow volunteer is staying with me that night to catch a flight in the morning and we talk late into the night. Mistake.

Day 2 – I wake up unable to speak. My family calls at the usual time and I whisper through 12 minutes of conversation (normal talk time 30-40min) probably causing them to think I’m dying, hang up and go straight back to bed. Wake up and make tea, watch Vampire Diaries, nap, repeat. I feel guilty because at this point I only have a sore throat and I have zero energy.

Day 3 – Sleep in until 11am. No more guilt. Full blown achey, heachache, stuffed up, feel like an elephant with my head in an aquarium vengeance. I muster enough energy to head the 15 feet across the street to buy some bread. The store owner asks the typical Anchi dehna nesh? “Are you fine?” and I respond that “No, I am not fine, I am exhausted and I am sick with the goonfahn!” With a confused look, he continues to repeat the question until I finally answer appropriately. “I am fine!” cough cough. He hands me my bread with the parting words Ayzosh yaine lij  “Stay strong my child.” The conversation is so stereotypical I have to laugh/cough my way back across the street.  You could be literally dying in this country and someone would still answer that they are “fine.”

Day 4 – Progress! The cold has moved from my nose back to my throat, and I am in the super sexy phlembot tuberculosis coughing stage. Overnight however, my sinuses have conspired to attempt to push my eyeballs from my skull. A fellow volunteer calls to check up on me and I tell her to go to hell, her and her perfect health (she has a staph infection). I continue my trend of tea, nap, repeat.

I decide I need to actually make some food since I don’t have any stomach issues (knock on wood!) and my energy is awful. My daily ration of DayQuil, bananas, and crackers isn’t really sustaining… and I’m out of bananas and crackers. I opt for soup, also known as throw a bouillon cube in boiling water and call it a day.

Day 5 – Ok. Today is the day. I have dinner plans with some friends, and I have to at least attempt energy. I haven’t moved more than 15 feet from my house in three days, and tonight I have to extol the virtues of Gondar tourism to a Bradt Guide writer who is coming through town. I put in my contact lenses to at least pretend like I feel normal, though I’m pretty sure my bright red nose gives me away.

Day 6 – Feeling much better kas ba kas “slowly”. Though I still use the goonfahn as an excuse to get out of attending a fundraiser for a leadership group I have worked with. Hey, I might as well get something useful out of this cold.

Getting sick in country sucks, but I’d venture to say that sometimes the cure is worse. I have been lucky enough never to have to go to a clinic for personal reasons, but I also probably push the envelope on “I’ll just wait it out and see.” I’ve been generally fairly healthy during my two years here, minus a few nasty goonfahns, and some normal GI issues. But with the recent death of a volunteer in China, I’ve come to realize I probably should be a little more careful and honest with my medical team. When I came to mid-service conference about a year ago we had to have a meeting with the Peace Corps doctors. My chart was empty. Even though I had had multiple bouts of vomiting, shitting of the pants etc over 12 months, I had never bothered to call. I know that if I was ever in real trouble I would say so, but sometimes I understand the worry that going to hospitals in these countries is scarier than waiting it out.


The Bunna Ceremony

10 Dec

Even though I have only been living here for just over two months (has it really been that long already?), there is one piece of Ethiopian culture I think I have a pretty good grasp on: The Bunna Ceremony.

Legend has it that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia, in the south west of the country. True or not, coffee certainly has a large place in the culture here. I’m not talking “Ethiopian Roasts” from Starbucks, I mean the traditional coffee ceremony (called bunna in Amharic) that every Peace Corps volunteer has sat through at least 45 times by now.

Every special event, celebration, plain old 4pm in the afternoon, or 9pm at night calls for a coffee ceremony.  I will walk you through one as I got to help prepare the coffee from scratch. Now many of you who know me, are probably thinking how in the world did this coffee adverse girl get the luck of being assigned to the nation of the birthplace of coffee? She’s a waste a space. Never fear! I am officially now a coffee drinker. Not addicted yet, though I feel a slight headache coming on…

Though you really cannot compare this delicious concoction with an American cup o’ Joe. Therefore I am not a coffee “drinker” so much as I am officially a coffee “connoisseur,” and with such a now refined palette I will not bring my newly addict ways back across the Atlantic.


Ayu, one of our language trainers

Ayu, one of our language trainers

I think the best habit to come out of this ceremony is the presence of fandesha (popcorn). If you really want to get fancy and impress the neighbors you best make sure you have some popcorn (double points for kettlecorn done over the charcoal) ready. The other traditional accompaniment is a grass floor (not pictured). The “modern” version of this is a little straw mat died green to look like grass. I think this comes from the days when the floors were all dirt (most still are) and so only the fancy people could afford to put grass down—a sign of wealth.

bunna and fandesha

bunna and fandesha

Step 1- Wash the coffee beans that you picked out of your backyard, or if you’re a city girl like me (hey Gondar!) that you bought from your neighbor that picked it out of their backyard. Super fresh.

Raw Coffee Beans

Raw Coffee Beans

Step 2- Roast the beans over a traditional charcoal stove. None of you cheaters with your fancy propane burners! Be sure to waft the scent around the room (don’t know if this is traditional or because I smelled bad and my host mom wanted to cover it up).

perfectly roasted beans

perfectly roasted beans

incense- usually frankincense is traditional

incense- usually frankincense is traditional

Step 3- Grind the beans (by hand!) by crushing them with a mallet. While this is happening, be sure to “techawetchi” meaning talk about what’s going on in the town. Sanctioned gossip, all right! The word literally means “to play.”

Upper Body Strength is Key

Upper Body Strength is Key

Step 4- Boil the water in a jebenna and add scoops of ground coffee to steep. The jebennas are clay jug like things that considering I will not be brewing my own coffee anytime soon, will probably serve as beautiful flower vases. Machine espresso is also popular here (thank the Italians), but clearly everyone knows the best bunna bets in town are always jebenna bunna bets- the traditional way.

jebenna- I will probably bring back about 10 for souvenirs- hope you like it mom!

jebenna- I will probably bring back about 10 for souvenirs- hope you like it mom!



Step 5- Add three spoons of sugar to a tiny cup. Maybe this is why I can drink it black. A quirk of our training region (the ARSI region) is that most people traditionally prefer bunna ba wetat, or “with milk.” Apparently not as popular up north.

Residual Sugar

Residual Sugar

Step 6- After a very finely tuned sense of timing (for me, the jebenna boiled over), you know the coffee is brewed. Serve 3 cups. This is very important, it is rude to quit after the first 2 because each is drunk to a specific toast. Cup 1 is for family, Cup 2 for friendship, Cup 3 for health. Don’t worry, they’re small.

3 Cups of Bunna... someone should write a book

3 Cups of Bunna… someone should write a book

All in all a bunna ceremony can take from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how much news you bring to the table, or how tired you are.  Along with the gorsha (feeding someone with your hands), the bunna ceremony is another traditional sign of love and friendship.

So I’m taking orders for Ethiopian roasts- but I will only entertain requests that come with care packages. I should have a PO Box in about 2 weeks! Keep your eyes peeled coffee lovers : )

Gobez Food Combinations

16 Nov

There are few food items here that are the most genius, clever, delicious combinations of tastes I have ever seen. Recipes and habits I will most definitely be bringing back to America, and cannot believe do not already exist there outside Ethiopian restaurants are as follows:

LowzShay- Peanut Butter Tea

Yes. You read that correctly. There is a tea with peanut butter in it that tastes exactly as you would imagine. Like melted peanut butter with tea. It is one of the most delicious concoctions ever invented and I don’t understand why Starbucks has not picked up on this yet.

Oatmeal Goop

I don’t know what this one is called, but it basically like cinnamon oatmeal in a drink form. It tastes like Christmas. It’s some sort of oat flour tea mix that is thick but you drink it from a mug. Did I mention it tastes like Christmas. Seriously, Starbucks, get on it.

Kaysir Wot- Beet stew

I don’t know if you’ve caught on yet, but the majority of food in Ethiopia is some kind of soupy, mushy liquid food. This is not a bad thing. Especially when you have beets, potatoes, garlic and spices all together in a heavenly mix. I’ll even give props to the berbere here (the infamous spicy almost curry-like spice mix used in basically every single Ethiopian dish ever).

Chocola Tibs- Roast Meat (usually ox)

This dish is literally a bunch of small bite sized bits of red meat charred to a crisp over charcoal. Let every man rejoice. It is served over a hot charcoal plate, sometimes with spicy peppers and tomatoes, and you eat it with injera and dip it in berbere powder (duh).

Tagabino- basically spicy humus

Tagabino is made from chickpeas and … you guessed it berbere. With onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes, we have all the staple foods here covered. It is cooked down to an almost playdough like texture and basically tastes like spicy humus. It’s awesome, not least because it isn’t as soupy as most wots. Plus it’s vegetarian so you can get it on Wednesdays and Fridays when there is no meat for the Orthodox fasting days.

Special Ful- Mashed Beans

This dish is a crossover from the Arabian Peninsula, but with an Ethiopian (read berbere) flair. It is basically garbanzo beans mashed with onions and garlic. But what makes it special you ask? It comes with scrambled eggs (and berbere) and sometimes even avocado! Plus it’s served with a baguette type bread, which is a nice break from injera.

Mar- Honey

Ya calm down- we have honey in America. But this is the real deal. It comes in huge vats and you buy it at the marketplace with the bees and honeycomb still floating in it and everything. Just a little protein, no worries! It is unfiltered and straight from the hives meaning it is thick and delicious. I will never eat honey that I can see through again. Worms, shmerms.

Somehow with all of this goodness I am dropping weight here. My worries of a carb filled diet were pretty accurate, but everything is so natural and the combination of new foods, stress, and probably a lot more walking have meant I’m slimming down a bit. Chiger yellum! (No problem!)