One of the joys of returning to Tanzania, beyond time with the parentals, was reconnecting with friends made last year. Not least of these is a young friend who, with her mom and sister, took an 8 hour bus trip from up-country to visit for a few days. BR is my birthday buddy – we share a birthday 22 years apart. A random highlight of this visit: teaching BR the American pronunciation of a few words. While it is funny to take away the posh, Birtish sing-songy pleasant pronunciation of such words as water, bath, and beer, it is “No” that seems most appropriate when said in a harsh American accent. This was just one of the causes for many smiles and much laughter last weekend.
I remember when I did not like Ethiopian food and would dream of Indian food every time I would end up at an Ethiopian restaurant. Since then, much has changed in my taste buds. Now I enjoy theÂ depth of each dish that comes from the spices and cooking styles used – neither common in the American kitchen. And so, I ate my way through Ethiopia. But, beyond even the specific foods, I now appreciate how Ethiopian food is eaten.Â
Each meal is served on a large platter covered with injera, the airy, tangy local bread. The different dishes are found in piles around the platter, and everyone gathers around this common plate. Pieces of injera are broken off to scoop up sauces made of vegetables, beans, and meats. The meal becomes a negotiation between hands as each person reaches for their favorite dishes. Sometimes you pause mid-air to prevent a collision of hands searching for food, and other times you stop to offer more injera or certain dish to your neighbor. By the end, everyone has had their fill, oily hands are ready to be washed, and each person is asked if he will, â€œTake coffee or tea.â€
The most beautiful part of this is that it is a shared experience. Acquaintance or best friend, a meal like this is a unifying experience. You cannot pull your â€˜a la carteâ€™ plate to your little corner to hide behind your knife and fork. You cannot ignore your neighbor – you might be secretly thankful that his favorite sauce seems to be your least favorite sauce or be hoping he offers you the last bit of your that special sauce you happen to love. Maybe a certain sauce is particularly outstanding tonight and you want everyone to try it – no awkward passing of the plate the table – everyone just reaches across to try it for themselves.Â
And so, someday, I think I might learn to cook Ethiopian food. When I do, we can gather around one plate in my kitchen for this shared experience.
I made it to Tanzania last Friday after stops at two airports – Nairobi and Zanzibar. The night I arrived I came down with some sort of tummy bug which, when combined with my sinuses flushing out the remaining pollution from Addis, made for a not wonderfully pleasant 24 hrs. But did you notice that I said 24 hrs? Yes, thatâ€™s right… while this bug made me miss two dives on Saturday, I was just about good as new come Sunday morning.Â
I just realized that I wrote the above paragraph without saying diarrhea in an effort to make comfortable everyone living where plumbing and anti-bacterial soap are the norm. But, diarrhea is reality here. Matter of fact, somewhere in the back of your head you might be thinking, â€œReally? Can a 24 hr bug really be bad enough prevent her from going diving when she has wanted to go diving for months? Pam just isnâ€™t that tough.â€ Just in case that is what you are thinking, envision this: diarrhea while wearing a wetsuit. Yeah – that was enough for me to call off the diving too.Â
Besides tummy bugs and not diving, I have seen friends made last year, been swimming in the ocean, and just returned from a night in Zanzibar. Life is good and full in this hot and humid land. There will be a few more thoughts on Ethiopia in the future as well as photos, so I apologize in advance for the jumbled posting. I hope you are well.