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.
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.
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.
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.