A Tale of Two Christmases
We’ve been celebrating Christmas for nigh on a month. Term ended on 19th December, and in the run up to this Chris had inevitably been heavily involved in a school Christmas play. We had various celebrations including a huge “gibsha” (feast) for all the ex-pat and Ethiopian staff at Bingham, attended by a couple of hundred people – out on the school field of course, in the lovely warm sunshine. It was traditional Ethiopian food followed by a coffee ceremony; no turkey – there’re aren’t any in this country. (I chatted about turkeys to Haile and when he looked puzzled I showed him a picture of a turkey. He laughed loudly. Live full-feathered turkeys do look ridiculous don’t they?) Neither were there any mushrooms – unlike in our apartment.
When we returned home one evening after another meal out a group of apparently quite vigorous mushrooms had succeeded in pushing out a bit of our sitting room ceiling and were flourishing in their new-found freedom. They were growing quickly, and Chris wondered (assuming the weren’t some sort of Triffid) whether we would have to hack our way out of our bedroom in the morning through a fungal forest. Our ceiling is very high and there was nothing I could do, so we put in a “work order” knowing the problem would be fixed while we were away in the UK. Sure enough, when we came back the ceiling was intact with no mushrooms in sight. However we expect “fixed” means they were cut off and the ceiling patched up. Goodness knows what’s going on above the ceiling. I’ll investigate further if (when?) they reappear. Finding fresh mushrooms to buy here is rather difficult, but this was no way to get them.
Christmas - Take 1
There’s no SLC (“Spiritual Life Conference”) for SIM Ethiopia this year (see this blog post from last year) so we had the opportunity to spend Christmas and New Year in the UK with the family. We flew in early on 20th December and after breakfasting with friends in St Albans we headed off to Chelmsford with Chris in a progressive state of excitement as she was about to meet 6 week old Isaac for the first time. Then off to Norfolk with a grandchild in the back (Natalia – 22 months) to spend nine wonderful days with everyone except Beth and Paul. The carol service in Norwich cathedral was sublime. After trying to upgrade my 85 year old mother from Windows XP to Windows 8.1 (a task I had underestimated) we flew up to Edinburgh for Hogmanay with Beth and Paul. On December 30th we had a quick single course meal finished in time to join 39,996 other people on a torch-lit fire procession through the city culminating in a spectacular firework display. Not having had dessert we headed for the German Christmas market that was still in full swing. Chris had a hot chocolate. Beth and I had a huge barbequed bratwurst each from the sausage stall. Best dessert ever. After a weekend in St Albans catching up with Spicer Street church we arrived back to Addis on 5th January and reacquainted ourselves with just how chaotic retrieving your checked-in baggage can be. To our enormous relief we still haven’t had any baggage go astray – unlike the owners of the enormous mountain of unclaimed luggage in Terminal 2 at Bole airport.
Christmas – Take 2
Nothing really happens on 25th December here – unless you’re an ex-pat and do your own thing (most do). It’s all focussed on January 7th – “Gena” – which is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s date for Christmas. It’s a big public holiday with one major activity – killing animals then eating a great deal of meat. The afternoon after we arrived back we went out shopping and were held up driving down the ring road by a huge petrol tanker going slowly in the outside lane. It was going slowly because several (possibly six) smiling sheep were standing on it’s smooth, curved top. As they didn’t fall off they must have been tethered somehow or other – we could just see them peering over the edge as we undertook – fairly smartish in case we were hit by a flying sheep. On the way home from the shops we followed a Red Cross ambulance up the ring road with a live goat peering out of the rear window. Here at Bingham three oxen met their end (last year it was only two if you remember) and the meat was parcelled out to the Ethiopian staff; I related the gory details last year in this post.
If you know anything about Chris’s dietary preferences you will know that lightly boiled crunchy vegetables generally win out over pretty much anything else (except apples). So you can imagine how she felt when Seble enthusiastically offered us “kitfo”. “Kitfo” is finely chopped raw beef with a little spice and rancid butter. As far as Christmas dinners go,this was the stuff of Chris’s worst nightmares. Seble had kindly invited us to her home for lunch where we met her husband for the first time. She had cooked the seminal Ethiopian Christmas dish – “doro wat” (bits of a scrawny chicken in a sauce largely consisting of finely chopped onions and spices (lots of spices) with hard boiled eggs floating around in it) eaten with injera of course. We had finished this and were thinking about going home when her husband went out and a short while later came back with a big plastic crate of meat. Having no kitchen Seble extracted some extremely lean bits from the heap, on the coffee table finely chopped some for “kitfo” and chopped the rest for “tibs” (small strips). When she offered us “kitfo” I had my wits about me and asked for it to be”leb leb” – lightly cooked; hopefully enough to eliminate tape worm eggs. This she did in a pan over a small charcoal burner on the small sitting room floor. Then she cooked the “tibs” with green chillies and onion and we dined for a second time on little else other than meat. Chris battled through this like a true missionary – smiling, being complimentary and eating enough to just about please the host. I liked it enormously.
We discovered that Seble’s husband had been out of work for several months but had just found a new job and spent his first pay packet buying the meat to entertain us with. The generosity is humbling.
The vast majority of vehicles on the roads here are seriously battered Toyotas, and many of the vans are a model called “Hiace”. I heard it postulated recently that “Hiace” actually stands for “High Impact African Collision Equipment”. Hard to disagree.