7 January 2008

Merry Ethiopian Christmas! Signs of the holiday are all around Debremarkos: Women are dressed in their white, traditional habisha dresses. A scattering of cows' hooves and even a few heads are strewn along the roadside in the aftermath of many meaty Christmas dinners.

Abbi – the two-year-old boy who runs around KB's compound in an orange-and-purple-striped t-shirt, bare bottom, and black plastic rain boots, sticking indiscriminately into his mouth any stray items he finds lying around the yard, from rocks to old nails – has even put on pants for the occasion. It has been a day full of food, festivities,…and probably the most work I've done since getting here to Debremarkos.

KB and I started our Christmas tour with lunch at my house. We reminisced fondly on Hank's life as we ate him, covered in spicy, soupy, dark red wot and rolled up in injera. I was there with him in his last moments of life – rather against my will, as it happens. I had gone over to KB's house for the afternoon, hoping that the slaughter would occur in my absence. When I got back home in the evening, though, my landlady called me outside, where I found Hank clutched firmly between our renter's hands. Thoughtfully, they had saved this highly cultural moment for me to witness. My landlady even encouraged me to photograph the action, though I politely declined. Hank, for his part, died nobly, going silently to his slaughter, without all the headless thrashing and blood-spraying I had observed in the deaths of some others of his kind. And just as he brought us all joy in his lifetime, so he continued to do so after his death as truly the tastiest chicken I have eaten in Ethiopia.

The compound was bustling with people for the Christmas holiday, with the renter's fiancĂ©e and my landlady's three youngest sons – 18, 19, and 20 years old – all present. Though people were in and out throughout our Christmas lunch, splitting their time between the homes of various friends, family, and neighbors, we all sat down together for the coffee ceremony. My landlady's sons questioned KB and me about American pop culture, and we laughed (and inwardly groaned) as one showed off his Backstreet Boys ringtone ("Show me the meaning of being lonely…"), one produced a picture of Eminem from his wallet, and one showed a keen interest in learning the meanings behind Celine Dion lyrics.

Our next engagement was at the house of a family friend across town, whose daughter happens to be one of our former language and culture trainers from our pre-service training in Welliso. It was fantastic to see a familiar face, and we filled each other in on all the latest news from our mutual friends now scattered across Ethiopia. KB and I had helping upon helping of alicha siga wot (something like beef stew) forced upon us, along with glasses of tella (local "beer" brewed from barley and looking suspiciously like muddy lake water) and red wine (good, yet always served mixed with Pepsi, which somewhat ruins it, I think). After two heavy holiday lunches eaten back-to-back within a three-hour period, we were both ready to settle into a peaceful food coma and go quietly into the night. But, alas, we had already committed ourselves to one more Christmas gathering…

We spent the evening at the home of our newly-hired Amharic tutor. His very pregnant wife cooked us a delicious meal of chicken fried rice, telling us importantly, "We once had three foreign volunteers working here with us. We KNOW about farenjis." Unfortunately, I was too painfully full to get properly excited about the well-cooked dinner, but I shoved at least half of my plate down out of politeness. Dinner was followed by coffee and popcorn, served to us by a young girl in faux snake skin pants. I lost the desire to ever consume anything again.

Now, nighttime finds me sprawled out awkwardly on my stomach on KB's couch, the will to move having long ago drained completely from my body. It's sort of a comfort to find the familiar aspect of overeating is common to holidays across the globe, but a steady diet of lentils, chickpeas, bananas, grains, and vegetables has not prepared my digestive system for three meat-laden meals in one day. At the moment, I am thanking God that Ethiopian Christmas only comes once a year.


Steven said...

Hi I'm graduating from college in May and have applied for the Peace Corps and hope to get placed in Africa (Etheopia is my top choice!). I just want to let you know I really enjoy reading your blog, and you are a great writer!

Can't wait to see how the rest of your time abroad goes.

Kris said...

The more the posts, the better! Give me more to read so I can ignore my studies. :)