Ethiopia the Ovary

submitted by Brad Allen, Team Member of Team Ethiopia 2012 In December of 2010 my wife and I went on a 3-week European vacation. We did the typical things when planning our trip; we looked online, read reviews, booked our hotel rooms and winged it. I didn’t know what currency was used or what languages were spoken, let alone how to speak those languages.

Fast forward to early 2012 when Amos approached me about going on an immersion trip to Ethiopia. Once I agreed, I thought we would do the same things I did to prepare for Europe. Boy was I wrong. I didn’t realize there would be so many events leading up to the actual departure date. We have read and discussed books, watched movies, studied maps (truth: I looked at them, I haven’t studied them) and have had several meet-ups.

Fortunately, our fearless leaders don’t have the same philosophy of travel that I do. They want us to know what to expect and to know some background on the people we are about to be immersed with. So when you need to learn about a particular group people, the best way to do it is to hang out with them. And what makes a meet-up better than meeting people who’ve lived there? Eating their great food.

Our first interaction with “real Ethiopians” was at the Spot. Amos’ Mom and Aunt cooked an authentic Ethiopian meal of injera, chicken wat, and several other dishes. We learned that you eat family style, seated in a circle with a big plate in the center and you share with everyone from that one plate. The plate was layered with injera on the bottom (think of spongy pita bread, but better than it sounds) and several meats and sauces on top. You use the injera to grab the meats and sauces like a wet paper towel picking up a pile of crumbs on the counter. Then, straight down the gullet. You never eat with your left hand; the left hand is only used to drink or arrange stuff on the table. This one “rule” we learned will save me several dirty looks or even maybe some fights when we are “in country.”

During the second meet-up, we had a Q & A session with several Ethiopian immigrants while participating in a traditional coffee ceremony. First we listened to these immigrants, including Amos’ father, tell their stories of life back in Ethiopia: how they grew up, how they lived, how they learned and how/why they left. It was awesome because Jerman and Sagu had known each other since school age and they were joking and carrying on and having a great time. I think the best part of the night was when they were telling us the history of the country. I didn’t realize this, but Ethiopia is like the “Ovary” of Mother Earth. Coffee was born here, one of the three “wise men” was from there and traveled with frankincense, which is native to Ethiopia, and some of the oldest stories and fossils can be traced back to Ethiopia. There are also rumors that the “Holy Grail” is located in a secret temple in Ethiopia.

During the Q & A , Nigatwa (Amos’ mother) roasted green coffee beans over an open fire, then ground and brewed it in a native coffee pot. Disclaimer… I drink coffee, err I drink Starbucks, I am not sure you can consider it coffee. I think if your coffee order has more than three ingredients and you’re unwilling to say it out loud if a woman is around, you can’t call it coffee.

Let me tell you, the stuff Nigatwa brewed was intense. It was flavorful, it was strong, and I didn’t sleep for four nights. But it was great, it was real, it was pure, it was just like it’s supposed to be, and I am pretty sure it didn’t have 2,000 calories like my “coffee”.

To wrap it up, because I feel like I have written a research paper rather than a blog post, I am more excited now than I was when I signed up. Not because we are getting closer and I need a vacation, but because I will enjoy my trip more. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. I am glad we are learning about an incredible group of people, because now I will enjoy them more….with my right hand!