I was unsure what to expect for Christmas here in Ethiopia. The country is only 50% Christian, but the capitol (where I was for Christmas) is dominantly Christian. I assumed (safely) it wouldn’t be like DC at Christmas, but didn’t know. As far as commercialization, of course there was a bit, but far less then I had expected. One of my FAVORITE things about Ethiopia is the lack of westernization, including—no McDonalds!! YEA! I am sure they are trying, but for now—there is none. I am sure a McDonalds could be maintained with the Expats and richer Ethiopians, but for now I am so glad they aren’t here. Along with that, there is less western influence in the culture. They love their culture, and are proud of it, so change will be slow. However, the few ferenji places and places that cater to that rich 1% of the population (possibly less, I don’t know the exact amount) did have Christmas trees or at minimum pictures of Santa. I saw many signs that said “Mary Christmas!” You can’t really blame them for that misspelling, as Mary was Christ’s mother; but it made me laugh. I saw about eight Christmas trees, including the little one at my house. A former GOAL employee left one behind, about 2 feet with some hideous decorations and some annoying lights that play music and twinkle to the beat. We put it up anyway—just rarely plugged it in.
Anyway—Christmas here is about family, about going home. I let all my staff take the day off on Friday (they already had Monday off) b/c many of them had a 12 to 14 hour bus ride to get home. We didn’t have much going on anyway. Sunday, January 7, was Christmas. I ventured out because it was an absolutely GORGEOUS day. We have had some chilly weather the last week or so, down to 10 and 12 degrees Celsius (50 to 54 Fahrenheit), brrrrr! (I know, I should be stronger, Utahn and all—but I assimilate quickly to new climatesJ). Sunday was gorgeous, actually HOT—it was nice. The temperature reached 27 (80). The town was dead, but not as dead as I had expected—plenty of grocery stores and shops were open. Possibly Muslim owned? The one MAJOR thing I noticed was sheep.
Here, before you slaughter an animal it must be blessed. Once it is blessed, they spray paint a cross on its back or head just to keep them sorted. I have learned the traditional Christmas meal is lamb. So, there were dozens, actually hundreds of lambs in lines waiting to be slaughtered. One thing about Addis is, you will see Land Rovers, Mercedes, BMWs, even two Hummers (owned by someone who works at the American Embassy, shocking!!), but on top of that, you will see herds of cattle, goats, and sheep wandering and grazing in the city. They may walk right past the UN compound, and often cause traffic jams. Luckily, on Christmas, there was hardly any traffic, so most of the herds just stood around in the street. There are certain places you can take your animal to slaughter, where long lines of sheep waited, or near markets there were large gatherings of sheep (spray painted, generally with hot pink for some reason) to be bought and taken home. All day, you could almost hear the screams of the poor lambs as thousands died in the name of Christmas dinner. Ick.
I was invited to spend Christmas with a friend of mine, Henok, and his family. They are of course carnivores; I’ve decided all Africans are. In fact, many of my African friends tell me if you truly want to call yourself African, you must love meat. I suppose I can never convert, not that they would take me. So I go to Henok’s home and am greeted by pans of blood (saved for the dogs), and a lump of innards outside the gate (for the wild dogs in the streets). In fact, all over the city innards are dumped outside people’s gates; it’s a major holiday for street dogs too! The lamb is cooked in different ways, and served with different sauces with injera (Ethiopian flat bread). The family knows I am “not a big meat eater” so they had prepared shuro (one of my favourite dishes, a spicy chickpea sauce). When you eat in Ethiopia, the injera is laid out on a large platter and the different dishes are put directly on the bread. Everyone gathers around this platter, if there are many of you, you turn to your left so your right shoulder is inside, because you eat with your right hand. You tear off a piece of injera and grab some of what you want. SOOO—when you don’t eat what everyone else eats, they must make a separate platter. Thus, it was kind of weird at Christmas dinner as Henok’s family sat around one large platter covered in different lamb dishes as well as a chicken dish, and I had my own little plate with injera and shuro all alone in a different spot! They of course took the time to mock me, purposely eating loud, especially when working on bones—just to see if they could get me to react. I was trying my hardest to not react, and generally I do fine, but when I hear people sucking the bone marrow out of bones (which by the way is VERY healthy), I just can’t handle it. I would cringe, despite my best efforts to not offend. Luckily I am friends with this family, and they don’t care if I cringe—but it was good practice for when I am out with others and must stay straight faced. We then ate cakes, talked, and they told me stories. For Christmas, and other holidays, families spread tall grass, and different herbs whose names I don’t know, on the floor in their homes. I am told it is just because of the greenery and smell it brings to the home. In general, that is all the decorating that happens. Presents are not traditionally part of Ethiopian Christmas, but as you can imagine, are creeping into the culture.
Enough about Christmas—hopefully the lamb stories weren’t enough to warrant a separate ‘gross section;’ if so sorry. I must get back to work. Tomorrow I leave for the field, Silte to be exact. I will be there for one week, then back for a few days, then off to Borena!! YEA!! I hear it is GORGEOUS!! I have a friend coming to town to visit me, some of you know, Natasha Ivans. She is currently finishing up some work in Sudan and is coming through Ethiopia for a few days. She gets here (fingers crossed) on the 13th, which will be nice. I know Tasha from Boston, but she is also a Utah native. I am very excited to hear about her work in Sudan as well as share my new life in Ethiopia with someone.
Okay, cheers to everyone—