21 February 2008

A word about Ethiopian birthdays: When you tell people, "Tomorrow is my birthday," what you are really saying is, "Tomorrow I will throw a party for everyone in honor of my birthday." And said party will come along with an expected, very specific protocol. You will be expected to bake a large round loaf of bread to be cut and served as might a cake for the analogous American occasion. You will have the singular birthday honor of serving people sliced oranges and bananas from a plastic platter, offered forward to each guest individually. You will be obligated to purchase birthday candles to decorate the table, a very specific type of candle available at a very specific store in town that you will use to proclaim your age to everyone present. And, of course, you cannot hold a celebration in Ethiopia without the customary coffee ceremony! Furthermore, your cell phone having been stolen the day before your birthday is not an adequate excuse to release you from your birthday obligations. My advice: While in Ethiopia, reveal the date of your birth to no one. (I am beginning to understand why most people in Ethiopia "can't remember" their birthdays.)

A word about stolen cell phones: When word gets around town about your misfortune, a vast number of community members will want to spring into action to help you. Among this vast number will be the rather attractive young clerk at your favorite local spice store with whom you have become friends – which, sure, you won't mind a bit at first, but then you will discover that he has called his friend at the government telecommunications office to reprogram your stolen SIM card, which has ultimately shut down the SIM card obtained for you by the organization under which you are working, consequently leaving you without cellular communications for an additional two weeks. You might also begin to wonder how said spice store clerk has the power to be able to just "call a friend" at telecommunications to reprogram your SIM card. Or why he always has a spare cell phone and SIM card to loan to you when these things happen…

A word about rather attractive, though slightly meddling, young spice store clerks with whom you have become friends: You will chalk everything up to his good intentions and still find him rather attractive.

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