Apologies for the loooong gap in posting! A lot has happened in the last month or two, including going back to the US around Christmas, then returning to Addis and moving into a new apartment. Internet has been more of a treat than a norm lately as well. Anyway, now that I’m back and settled in, will try to keep up posting more! 🙂
The trip back to the US was a whirlwind of visits to catch up with as many people as I could squeeze in seeing! Though the days were quite packed, I came away from the two weeks feeling like I’d stepped under a waterfall of love and affection, with each visit emotionally filling me up until my cup was yet again overflowing. From Ithaca to Boston, Brattleboro to Springfield, I got to see so many old friends, and even make dear new ones. For everyone who I was blessed to see and/or Skype with, thank you! And if we didn’t get the chance to re-connect, would love to Skype from here!
As the 28-hour, 7,000-mile journey to the US drew to a close, I felt beyond excited to be back in my familiar country, state, town and house. But I also struggled to know whether I could say I was going “home”. It shouldn’t be too difficult to use that word for a place I’ve come back to for the last 21 years of my life. But for this year at least, Addis is where I’m going to spend the vast majority of my time, and given my strong desire to not just pass through but instead make deep, root-like connections with Ethiopian people, language and culture… and given that I often feel much more connected to peoples’ outlook on life here than in the US… it seems like Addis also deserves “home” status. Anyway, there’s no right answer, but given how strongly I’m considering living outside of the US in the future, the feeling of multiple and shifting home-ship will likely be encountered again for years to come.
I came back to a few weeks of some of the biggest holidays of the year in Ethiopia! The first was Genna [gun-ah] (Christmas, celebrated according to the Orthodox calendar on January 6). In the days leading up to Genna, you could feel the palpable sense of excitement in the air—despite the fact that here, people do not usually exchange gifts for Christmas; the holiday is almost entirely centered around the joy of being together with family. The family whose kids are in my junior youth group (which I realized I haven’t written about yet but will soon!) invited me to their home for Genna, which meant so much to me: they are not very well off financially, yet their spirit of generosity prompted them to share what they did have. I’m blown away by this and other similar acts of giving I’ve seen here, and hope I can someday come close to this level of sacrifice.
So how do you prepare for a Genna celebration? Well, first you walk about 2 minutes outside your front door to the nearest person selling sar, a bundle of long grass that’s sold on Christian holidays, saint’s days, etc.
Then you take your bundle home and spread it all around the entrance to your front door. Restaurants and stores even put it inside too. It smells quite nice, not exactly fresh-cut-grass-in-New-England-summertime smell, but still a leafy and “green” smell.
Then you go change into your traditional Ethiopian dress, the chamis, pass countless numbers of adorable kids dressed in the same, and return the pleased smiles as people realize you’re wearing this prized aspect of their culture. (I can’t tell you how many people, usually complete strangers, have come up to me when I’m wearing this dress and, nodding approvingly, say “Ethiopian culture is beautiful, no?” In an increasingly-globalized world, and in a continent which in many ways is quickly shifting towards Western clothes, music, language and mindset, I love seeing a place where people are so proud of their traditions!)
Wanting to bring something to share with this generous family who’s invited you over, you head to the nearest bakery to buy a cake. (In a somewhat conceding manner, since you spent the last 3 days searching all the nearby shops for the ingredients to make a banana bread…only to have your oven die on you that morning 🙂 ). Since this bakery happens to be one of the most popular ones in town, you join the crowd of 25-30 people who, trying to do the same thing, are mobbing the counter. (I know in the US, holiday shopping can be a crowded, congested experience, but trust me, it’s mild compared to this!) After the requisite shoving and arm-wiggling to ensure people don’t cut you in the “line”, you go to your host family’s house and greet every person with the usual greetings, plus “Melkam Genna!” (Happy Christmas).
After an indeterminate time of relaxed talking, hanging out, etc., the meal is served. There’s no Genna-specific food, but it is almost guaranteed that you’ll taste doro wot, a spicy sauce-stew of slow-cooked chicken. It’s eaten with injera, the spongy thin bread that’s a staple here. As a special treat, a HUGE loaf of difo dabo bread is brought out – this is more similar to Western bread, except it’s thick, faintly sour and almost as long as your arm! It’s also cooked over a fire (which I got to see when I came over the day before). Each region of Ethiopia has its own version of this bread.
Finally, you end with the buna (coffee) ceremony.
Then you go home, so stuffed you swear you will not eat again for three days 🙂