by Joy Casey in Ethiopia
(originally written in May 2014)
Jeff and I have spent five days traveling out west to an area called the Wollega in Ethiopia. Going to the countryside is like entering a time warp of sorts. We are transplanted to an agrarian lifestyle with farming, cattle, and other livestock the bedrock of life.
Market days are crowded and noisy with people walking miles either to sell their wares or to buy necessities.
Cooking is done outdoors over open fires, and laundry is washed by hand and laid on bushes to dry.
Women dress in long dresses with scarves around their shoulders and their heads covered with bright colored cloth. Some carry umbrellas to ward off the sun.
It is not uncommon to see men and women and boys and girls walking with baskets loaded with papaya on their heads.
It is normal to see women working or visiting with babies on their back and toddlers running around barefoot with nothing on but a shirt and sometimes not even that. In the markets and along dusty paths, bananas, avocados, pineapples and papayas are readily available… and so very fresh and yummy.
Hungry and want some fast food? Roasted maize is available for a very small price.
I know I am in “real” Africa when I see villages dotting the countryside comprised of mud houses topped with thatched roofs. Now is planting season, and the fields are being tilled and the dark, rich soil readied for planting in anticipation of the rains that will arrive soon.
Farmers walk to their fields carrying their plow or hand spades. It is amazing to me to watch the oxen pull hand plows and to know that field after field is tilled by the strength of oxen and the man walking behind, guiding the crude plow.
As we sit at a small buna stand taking a break from our work, I love watching the colorful and friendly people as well as watching and listening to the brightly feathered birds flitting among the trees and exuberant flowers. But what always captures my full attention are the beautiful children!
Years ago I fell in love with the children of this great land and the love affair has not waned. I am charmed by the innovation of the children to make toys out of nothing.
Ethiopians are hospitable to the extreme, and Jeff and I are honored when we are invited into a home for coffee ceremony.
Coffee in Ethiopia is not a quick cup. There is an order and meaning to each step, and it is a time to relax and visit. You cannot hurry coffee ceremony. The strong coffee smell mingles with the incense as our hostess roasts the coffee beans over a charcoal fire. When they are perfectly roasted, she carries the beans around the room and the guests appreciatively inhale the rich coffee smoke. Then she puts the beans in a mortar and crushes them while a pot of water is set on the coals to boil. She carefully puts the ground coffee in a beautiful coffee pot and slowly adds hot water until she gets the just right taste and consistency. Then, the coffee is carefully poured into small cups and served to her guests. Three cups of coffee are the norm. We are also offered handfuls of popped corn that surprisingly is just the right compliment to the coffee.
After church on Sunday, we went to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant… one where the locals congregate. This place is known for its meat, and our friends ordered the delicacy of raw meat. The meat is fresh and the men were given sharp knives and they sliced off hunks of meat and ate it with injera (Ethiopia’s cultural bread) dipped in berbere spices. They said it was yum.
Jeff and I declined to go “Ethiopian” and instead had roasted lamb tibs. That, I can tell you, is delicious!
As if all of these sights and sounds are not enough, Ethiopia closes out its day with spectacular sunsets. I love to be outdoors around 6 p.m. and watch the sky turn vivid orange and reflect its benediction on the land below. My work here entails bringing relief to desperate situations, families to orphans, and the Good News to unreached people. But never do I feel sorry for these proud people. They have a rich culture and a society that by and large is centered around family and where relationships are given top priority.
Last night, four of us took a walk around Nekemte in the balmy evening air, and the streets were packed with people greeting each other with kisses, laughing over coffee, friends looking over wares in tiny shops along the street, and people generally enjoying each other’s company at the end of the day. With all our material advantages and technical superiority, I yearn for this kind of camaraderie that takes time for people and values friendships. I am enriched by my experiences in exquisitely beautiful Ethiopia.