Melkam Fasika! (Happy Easter)
It all began with a ring. Orthodox Palm Sunday is apparent by the number of people wearing headbands fashioned from palm fronds. Some were simple, but others had more elaborate designs at the front. A few of our Y’tesfa Birhan girls arrived at the Wednesday meeting with thin pieces of palm, and these they made into rings. One of the girls called me over and slipped on to my finger the ring she had just made.
Meskerem, my faithful Teaching Assistant attends an Orthodox church and enjoys comparing her experiences with mine. She wanted to know what the English word was for confessing sins to a priest, with him then responding with the number of times one should move from standing to kneeling with the head touching the ground, then back to standing again. I am told that the following day many people suffer painful knees after doing this penance, sometimes for over an hour depending on the severity of the sin.
Meskerem also likes to enlighten me on fascinating cultural practices. Recently she showed me a cut leaf from the Aloe plant - there are many growing in the Bingham compound. It was oozing a substance that she assured me was great for rubbing in hair, clearing blackheads, and effective as sunscreen!
I don’t know why, but whenever we load a van with Easter ingredients to deliver to the poorest families in the Y’tesfa program, it seems to rain. Yesterday (Ethiopian Easter Saturday) was no exception and we anticipated the thick mud that awaited us as we sought out the small hidden dwellings on the river bank. We had already delivered to three families in another area and now we were searching out the least slippery-looking rocks to aid our descent towards the river. I was holding a large plastic egg box full of eggs in one hand, whilst with the other hand I was holding onto nearby pieces of wood or rusty metal to steady myself.
Each family greeted us warmly and wanted to serve us Ethiopian coffee. We had previously drunk two cups of the hot, sweet, strong beverage (which often has pieces of crushed coffee bean floating in it) when we reached Tadelech’s home. She had already begun roasting the green beans, so we settled down on the covers that were laid out on the floor as a bed to enjoy, after the beans had been roasted, ground, brewed and served, a third cup. Her older sister, who sews clothes for a living, began to roast some corn. One of her two younger siblings sat silently watching us. The girls explained that they had heard from their mum, who works as a housekeeper for a family in Beirut, and that she was keeping well.
Despite the humble circumstances each family has a small television. These were turned on as we arrived, usually to a channel showing cultural dancing. In one family a very young boy, wearing only a tee shirt, was transfixed by what he saw on the screen and began moving and singing to the music. Later I received via “WhatsApp” a video of Jasmine, my granddaughter, dancing along to a piece of music whilst watching her reflection in the TV screen. Both children’s imagination was captured by music and they responded; however, that was where the similarity in circumstances ended.
Addendum from Phil:
This morning, Easter Sunday, we awoke shortly after sunrise. Going to make breakfast, I peered out of our second storey window which looks out over the neighbourhood behind Bingham. Two unusual things met my gaze: firstly it was quite foggy which is very unusual, but secondly instead of doing his usual morning skipping exercises the man who lives up the road was hacking up a dead cow. After fasting for 8 weeks, a great deal of meat is needed on Easter Sunday.