I feel as though I have stepped back in time as I witness horses trotting along the cobblestone streets carrying heavy loads behind them while donkeys meander through the middle of the main roads. But wait, I actually really have stepped back in time: it is the year 2004 here in Ethiopia, according to the Julien calendar, although it really could be more like the 1900’s.
Ethiopia has its own unique flavour, and feel to it. It is not at all like anywhere I have been in Africa and feels more like the Middle East. There is constant Bollywood music coming from every stone house flooding the streets and a desert landscape with women and men wrapped in their cotton shawls walking through the dry dusty fields with their donkeys at their side. Their language, Armarhic, sounds very much like Arabic and the people here are tall which I have not experienced in Africa thus far – and which I appreciate very much haha.
As most of you know Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and it was the Italians who took it back with them to Europe. The Italians interestingly enough were actually defeated by the Ethiopians in the Battle of Adwa in 1896 and were kicked out of Ethiopia but today there is a large presence of Italians and of course their Italian necessities (i.e. Nutella, pasta, olive oil) can always be found here. In regards to coffee though, here in Ethiopia drinking coffee is not like in North America where you grab your to-go cup and rush out of the crowded caffeine addicted café and chug it down and feel completely bloated afterwards. In Ethiopia drinking coffee, the traditional way, can take up to 1.5 hours. The first traditional coffee ceremony I experienced was with a young 17-year-old sponsor student from Imagine 1 Day (the organization that my friend has been working for during the past year; check out their website for more information and the amazing work they are doing: http://www.imagine1day.org/ as well check out my friend Leigh’s blog to learn more about Mulu and her story: http://hkboyle.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/the-little-girl-who-could/). She invited myself, and one of the other girls who works for Imagine 1 Day, who ironically enough is also from Vancouver. I think it was Mulu, the young girl’s first time preparing a coffee ceremony so the coffee apparently wasn’t that good (this is what Sandy, the girl from Vancouver was telling me), but to me it tasted “different” lets say, or maybe just extremely strong. There are many steps to the coffee making which involve boiling water first, then toasting the coffee beans and then mashing them and then pouring the boiling water over the ground beans. Then the coffee mixture passes from the clay pot on the coals into a cup and is then inverted back and forth between the two for a while. Then at last it is ready. In Ethiopia the number three is very significant on a religious basis representing God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (the Trinity). Many things here are done three times including drinking coffee. The first cup, and the cups are small espresso sized cups – thank goodness -, you praise God the Father, then the Son and then the Holy Spirit. With the last cup you are also supposed to give your blessings to the person who prepared the coffee. With the coffee ceremony it is also a custom to eat popcorn with the coffee which I found really strange at first, but actually the two go together quite well. Mulu did a great job preparing the coffee but I do think she did not boil the water long enough because my stomach did not feel well at all after this.
One thing I enjoy about traveling is learning about different cultures and most particularly how people celebrate life’s moments. I love how people who barely know you will welcome you to sit down and have coffee with them, which does not mean a quick 15minutes but a full 1.5 hours. This openness to others and the appreciation of relationships is very present here and also in other parts of Africa and is something I will never lose admiration for. For we find the most freedom when we give of ourselves as a gift to others either with our time or talents. Freedom will take flight as we allow ourselves to open up to the grander possibilities of loving those around us.