The Circle of Life
Eighty days have passed since little Assema was born to Haile Michael Yacob (Phil’s taxi driver) and his wife Bezuaye. Recently Assema was christened in an orthodox church in his neighbourhood. We were invited to the christening celebration held at her Grandmother’s house. As ever the journey on a Saturday morning was eventful and took longer than anticipated. We passed long queues at meat souks as many people were taking their last opportunity to buy meat ahead of three days of fasting. I’m told it is to remember the three days and nights that Jonah remained in the belly of the big fish. Rich and poor queue together. As orthodox they consider it essential (even if the poor cannot afford meat usually at other times).
Haile met us at a landmark we all recognised and led us to the home. Passing through the misshapen corrugated iron gate and over the mud we entered a shelter which extended the home by a couple of metres. Laid out on the counter just inside were a variety of typical dishes under plastic or sheets of newspaper to keep off the flies. We entered a fairly small living room where several adults wearing traditional dress were sitting around the edge (I was glad I had put a thin shawl over my clothes as it seemed to be fitting). Half a wall was covered by an enormous poster of St Assema holding a cross. Also prominent were two other religious portrait posters of St Michael, and Mary with Jesus. A single candle was burning on a wooden unit. Beside this stood a small lamp that sported almost fluorescent purple glass flowers in a sort of bush formation.
I sat next to an old man wearing a cream calico covering and drinking the traditional celebratory alcoholic beverage. He turned out to be the priest. He knew no English and I had to think quickly to greet him and respond appropriately. (An older man requires a specific respect word). We smiled and nodded a lot. Haile introduced his wife Bezu who was wearing a traditional red trimmed dress and a rather incredible hair style with intricate plaiting. She was holding little Assema who had more thick black hair than I have ever seen on a baby before. He also introduced his son Caleb who had a skin condition on his face which Phil diagnosed and advised appropriately.
After bringing a bowl and jug of water for us to wash our hands, Haile ushered us out to select our food. The unexpected addition to the usual fare was something that could loosely be classed as cold tempura vegetables - a welcome variation. The serviettes were two pieces of soft toilet paper which serve the purpose of wiping your fingers, as cutlery is never provided. Phil had been served first which is cultural and when I returned to the room the priest was in full flow with his prayers. He then blessed each of the Ethiopians with his wooden cross on the forehead and both cheeks and left.
There was much arriving and departing of family members and neighbours while we were eating. Each received the same generous welcome as we ourselves had experienced. Haile intimated that it was a community effort to produce a celebratory spread of food such as this. A comment that was supported when he felt a need to offer us soap to wash our hands after we had eaten and there was a pause while a bar was borrowed from somewhere nearby.
We left in our car with Haile sitting in the back directing us, as he required a lift to a pharmacy to buy the antibiotic Phil had recommended for Caleb. One of the narrow unmade roads was crowded with many people and battered taxis. “Someone is dead” Haile announced as Phil deftly manoeuvred our Corolla around almost impossible obstacles. I mused upon the circle of life and wondered what little Assema would experience as she grows up in this unique city.