Timket and Toothpaste
Somewhere in Addis there must be a big warehouse full of bunting. Red yellow and green bunting. And hundreds of Ethiopian flags. You can tell “Timket” (Epiphany) is due because suddenly bunting and flags appear everywhere. Its strung across roads, beside roads, all over roundabouts, even up the middle of the half-constructed railway lines on the poles holding up the (hopefully not yet live) electric cables. When driving home from church last Sunday we were held up briefly on a couple of occasions by committees of young men stringing up the bunting. With no-one apparently in charge, no seeming order or structure, it all still gets done.
This year hundreds of balloons also accompanied the bunting. And the kerbs of pavements (where they exist) get painted - often red yellow and green but sometimes whatever paint colour comes to hand. Monday was the festival, so we had a day off. The Ethiopian government sent us texts to wish us a happy Timket, as did the Ethio Telecom CEO. Thanks guys.
Here’s the deal. Every Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a Tabot – a wooden altar slab that represents the Ark of the Covenant and is the only bit of each church that is consecrated (the building isn’t). “Epiphany” celebrates the revealing of Jesus as God in the flesh. You Westerners link this to the Magi seeing Jesus (i.e. Christ is revealed to the Gentiles); us Easterners link it to Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of his ministry. So, the Tabot is taken amidst great celebration to some nearby water the day before Epiphany where it spends the night and then is paraded back to its originating church the next day. Wherever a Tabot goes, the roads are decorated. The Tabot is regarded as an extremely holy thing; hence the dressing up, umbrellas, robes, priests, singing, celebrating and if possible getting wet with holy water to renew your baptismal vows. One thing we learned this year – the Tabot is the top of a box that is carried by the priests who actually stick their heads in the box. Being a Protestant is so much simpler, but not quite as much fun.
Chris and I stayed at home this time (unlike last year) and waited until around 2pm when the Tabot from St Philip’s church returned. The ring road close to Bingham was closed (by default and sheer numbers of people – not in an organised way), a huge crowd assembled that we joined and took the opportunity to take some photos of the rejoicing and of our local area. I’ve written quite a lot about these pictures – do check out the gallery.
“Why the 19th of January and not the 6th?” I hear you ask. Simple. 6+13=19. if I’ve lost you, read this.
As last year, St Michael keeps his Tabot until the next day. There’s a St Michael’s church behind SIM HQ so the road outside my consulting room erupted into one huge street party on Tuesday. The Tabot arrived, was placed in a gazebo that had been erected right in the middle of a major road junction, and after much singing and dancing was paraded back to the church. It’s incredibly difficult to have a serious consultation with a depressed patient when this is going on just outside the window (2 min 10 sec of the several hours this all took):
I’m sitting in the front seat of Haile’s taxi on my way to work. We drive past the bus station then into the chaos that is the railway construction. We queue up to get past some scaffolding that wasn’t there yesterday – it’s to allow the building of a concrete bridge over the road. Health and safety goes through my mind as I see this picture of some young men getting boards up to the top. As we go through I notice a plaster on Haile’s right thumb knuckle. “What’s that for?” I ask. He smiles sheepishly. “I cut it” he replies, “it bled very much. I put alcohol on but it’s not stopping”. “Well it’s stopped now” I note, “did you press on it?” (I’ve told him before how to stop bleeding by pressure as he cuts himself quite a lot). “No” he responds, “I use coffee.” “What?” I exclaim, eager to hear what he’s done this time. “I use alcohol; it starts again. I pour in coffee; it stops”. “What, liquid coffee?” “No - coffee powder.” I can’t swallow a laugh. At least it’s stopped.
The next day Haile comes up to the clinic to collect my big suitcase full of medical records to take to Bingham for my clinic there tomorrow. I remember the cut and I’m concerned it could get infected. “Show me your cut – we should dress it for you.” I order. Grinning he shows us. It’s big enough to have needed suturing (too late now) but the coffee has obviously continued to work. However now the whole area is covered in a white powder. “What have you put on it now?” I ask, tentatively. “Toothpaste” he grins. Not bothering to ask why, Sister Aster takes him into the treatment room, removes as much coffee and toothpaste as possible and dresses it professionally. “You should have gone to the Korean Hospital to have that stitched the day you did it” I chide gently. He looks at me. “Not possible. Too expensive”.