Monthly Archives: September 2012

Happy New Year!

Today marks the Ethiopian New Year (September 11). Ethiopians follow a calendar that is slightly different so the year is now 2005. Melkam Addis Amet!

I was fortunate enough to arrive at such an opportune time and experienced a few of the special customs they celebrate.

The New Year began with my waking to children singing outside my hotel window. They were traveling door-to-door, sharing the joy of the New Year. It reminded me of caroling at Christmastime in Canada.

Fresh cut grass

Fresh cut grass is spread across the floors of homes and cafes, symbolizing happiness.

The hotel was offering a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The ceremony is a lengthy activity, highlighting the importance of relationships through socializing over a good cuppa joe. Mounds of grounds are used and makes for a deliciously strong coffee. Ethiopian’s have coffee ceremonies on special occasions and some enjoy them daily.

Coffee Ceremony Preparation

Preparing the coffee grounds. The jug is then placed on the hot coals.

Pouring Coffee

Pouring the brewed coffee into small “itty bitty” cups as my friend Katy would call it.

Dabo Bread

I was offered complimentary dabo and popcorn at the hotel. Dabo tasted like the cheesy pizza bread at home – a very light fluffy spicy bread. The popcorn was sprinkled with sugar. It was the perfect breakfast snack.

One aspect of the New Year that I particularly enjoyed was at my office. On the work day prior to the holiday, there was a coffee ceremony, sugary popcorn and two cakes (one fasting, one not).  Before we munched on our cake, we sat in a circle and shared our wishes and plans for the New Year. Most employees began with wishing everyone peace, prosperity and good health. I thought it was interesting how each person then shared a plan. For example, taking better care of their mother, or enrolling in a new course at school. The honesty, intimacy and openness of people’s answers made me feel much closer to the staff. It also reinforced a feeling of support and respect. I think these kinds of exercises would be useful back at home – especially at work where it can be lacking.

On the evening of New Year’s Eve, I went to YOD Abyssinia which is a kind of Ethiopian culture house.

Injera with national wat

Sampled many different types of national wat on a bed of injera.

During our meal, we listened to a live band of three. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the instruments were. They played haunting songs and upbeat rhythms. Next, dancers came out in traditional dress (I’ll have to upload a video of it sometime soon). They had the greatest dance moves, like moving their necks as if they had no vertebrae. And after a night filled with different costumes, songs and regional flavours, Katy and I are thinking some Ethiopian dance classes may be in order.

Later in the evening we stopped by a bar and watched some more locals dancing. What was impressive was the men did much more work than the women when it came to dance moves. There was so much energy, much like our New Year’s Eve on December 31. As we were driving home, I saw glowing wood fires, piled probably 10 feet high on the sidewalk. People were singing and dancing around the flames.

Impressions of Addis

Addis Ababa

Dusty, sprawling streets. The roads may be paved but the sidewalks give way to dirt and rubble. Bare feet to leather boots, Ethiopians share the muddy roadside, as the rainy season showers soak the ochre earth. People swathed in coloured wraps, brilliant white Arab robes, decade-worn western brands, and tattered rags swerve left and right, jumping to the discordant rhythm of traffic.

A child leaps forward giggling. Her eyes joyfully fixed on a rubber tire she is rolling forward with a metal rod.

A row of small coal fires sizzle freshly husked corn, wafting sweet charcoal smoke.

A barren plot of land where sixty sheep are lined up for slaughter. A pile of heads already await market, their opaque eyes glazed blue-white.

The sultry aroma of dark roast Ethiopian coffee. Macchiato brimming with bubbling foam.

Compounds with barbed wire fences, the paint faded down the forbidding walls. Stray dogs roam the alleys rabid, abandoned or unloved.

Cool moist mornings. Icy breath forms in front of faces.

The striking African Union building pierces the skyline. Its sophisticated architecture dominating the disorganized clutter of corrugated tin roofs below.

A skinny man loosely holds a rifle beside the ATM.

Someone grabs my arm with an uncomfortably fierce grip. I look up to see a small woman pulling me away from the aggressive rumble of an oncoming caravan.

Genuine smiles from locals.

Addis Ababa is sometimes called the City of Africa or New Flower. My boss aptly named it One Big Village. To me, Addis Ababa is a city of juxtaposition. Nothing is segregated, everything mixed into one. Poverty sits next to modernity. Authenticity beside security. Wintry mornings to sweaty afternoons. Affluence and absence. A rustic metropolis.

Addis Ababa Skyline