gathered around one plate

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 the  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. 

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, “Take coffee or tea.”

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 ‘a la carte’ 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. 

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.

konso

The work that I came to see is in southwest Ethiopia is in a hard but beautiful land. Our partner organization, WA, was warned that the Konso Woreda was not an easy place to work and that many had failed before them, but they decided to try. All of the mountainsides are terraced with layers supported by rocks. Household compounds are surrounded by wood fences and include a round home or two with thatched roofs, a cooking area, and a small chicken coop or two. These compounds are often grouped in villages, though some are found as solitary fortresses dropped in the middle of terraced fields. Most of the men are gone from the villages as they tend to their main farms for days, or possibly weeks, at a time in the rift valley, a five plus hour walk from their homes. I am here during the middle of the big rainy season, and so I am surrounded by green and the weather is idilic – warm but not hot, some rain, and cool nights. But during the dry seasons, it is not hard to imagine how the heat will return, the land dry up, the vegetation disappear, and the colors be reduced to shades of brown. It is in this land of contrasts between the dry and rainy season that people here carve out a living and a home. And, in the midst of it all, they smile and they laugh. 

I am standing in front of a set of latrines being constructed at an elementary school. (I have not downloaded photos yet, so this one and the car photos are thanks to WA staff.)

thanks for praying

 

For those of you who pray for me, thank you. Tuesday midmorning, I was in an accident. No one was hurt in the accident, and it could have been much worse. As is, the Land Cruiser landed on its side turned around 180 degrees. I have often wondered what it would be like to crawl out of a vehicle on its side, and I found out. After the police report was filed, the gathered crowd helped to right the vehicle and get it out of the ditch. A missing bolt was found, and we were on the road that afternoon. From the moment of the accident until we left, people surrounded us with help and concern – from lending hands to get out of the Land Cruiser to righting the vehicle to asking about my health to helping the police officer, we could not have been surrounded by more caring and helpful people. While not physically hurt or emotionally shaken by the accident, I am reminded that the travel I do by road is by far the most dangerous part of my job and my life. Thank you for your prayers.

      

first impressions

n every relationship there is a first impression – cities and countries included. Today, day one, has my mind flitting from image to image as that first impression of my relationship with Addis Ababa, and Ethiopia, begins to form. These are a few of those images:

  • An airport that I was able to glide through and a visa that only cost $20. The crowds upon exit did not crush me or force me through an uncomfortable river of taxi drivers. 
  • Over breakfast I was blessed to share a table with three Ugandan parliamentarians, all women, here for a conference. You never know who you will meet before you are caffeinated. But the coffee moments later was strong and wonderful. 
  • At the hotel and office, people have been kind and friendly, but not in an intrusive or overbearing manner. 
  • On each floor in the office was a station for hot beverages that had three thermoses: tea, coffee, and hot milk. Small tea cups are found in plentitude – a Starbuck’s tall would be an extra large. 
  • Two flights of stairs make my heart go: Kaboom…Kaboom…Kaboom.At 7,700 feet elevation, my body needs to do a bit of adjusting. (Thankfully it does not go: KABOOM…KABOOM…KABOOM, thus bringing me some hope that I am not 100% out of shape.)
  • The coolness of the altitude makes for an incredibly easy transition from Nashville spring.
  • Ethiopian foods rich with flavor were served family style at the canteen (lunch room). It is good to be in a place where one’s right hand smells of the richness of local cuisine.
  • Sim cards for cell phones are hard to come by, and East African sim cards (e.g., Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, etc.) do not work here. Tomorrow I get to borrow one for my stay. But even that will probably not work where I am going first part of the week. A government controlled market.
  • Tea starts with spiced water and is outstanding. 
  • On my hour long walk this evening I did not run into another white face. I also received wonderfully little attention. 
  • Children cannot resist returning a smile when you look them in the eye. 
  • There is not much traffic on the roads. Side streets remain unpaved. Taxis have blue bodies and white tops. 
  • Some women wear pants, primarily jeans, but a women’s calves do not seem to be shown. Sleeveless tops also seem to be out. 
  • Over coffee and cake, the group of women I was with laughed beautiful laughs.
  • My skin is coated with the film that comes from a desert city (end of the dry season) which is not exclusively sterilized by pavement and sidewalks and air conditioners. 
  • The local beer I had tonight, St. George’s, was a not bad, but certainly not something to write home about. But, the shield on its logo was something not normally seen on a beer bottle. 

Those are some of my first impressions. Yes, they are fragmented and hop from one thing to another, but is that not the joy of a first impression? First impressions take time to get one’s mind around and to attempt to unpack. They are filled with emotions and hidden observations. It is part of the m