Posts tagged ‘Enkutatash’

Silence of the sheep

The young brother of a friend’s was graduating yesterday. He didn’t want anybody fussing over him, so we’ve decided to take him out of town and treat him to a lunch & a private photograph session in which he’ll be wearing his gown and cut a cake (whose frozen bottom was stabbing the sister’s tigh with it’s hundreds of mean little fingers even as we drive).

Any hot-blooded Ethiopian would tell you there isn’t a more perfect time to drive out of town, and enjoy the scenery, as the week before New Year: when the hill tops are half covered in a brooding cloud, and their bottom in lush green; when the fields seem to wink at a passer-by with the golden yellow and black flower that heralds the approaching of a new day, with its promises of change and when “Ager AQwarach” (cross-country) buses flood-by laden with holiday necessities to the urban population: charcoal, grasses with various shades of green and luggages that belongs to men and women coming to spend the holiday with their families.

Things have been changing lately, ofcourse. “The fields covered in Adey abeba” has proved one of those things we tell our younger kins as happening way before their time. Just as rare, it seems, as seeing theΒ “Kiremt” (rainy season) kick-in around the beginning of June or hearing the sound of harmonicas play at “TimQet meda”, or the delicious pleasure of eating a “sambusa”, which everybody considered was a “durye migib” (bad-boy’s meal) back then.

So I was far from expecting to see the sides of the streets covered in “adey abeba”. But I wasn’t expecting them to be crowded by herds of sheep wearing bright green & red ribbons neither. The sheep that had ribbons on looked more feminine than those sheep without. But that wasn’t the funny part. The funny part was, the ribbons used to help tell each sheep apart were exactly alike. They used to serve as the demarcation lines for the various construction works being done around the area, these ribbons, and every pastoralist seems to have gotten his hands on them.

“How would they know which sheep belongs to who?” I asked, baffled by the sea of similar-ribbon wearing sheep coming from every which way blocking the road and making our journey slower than that of a snail’s.

“They’d know!” said our driver confidently.

“Why steal the ribbons in the first place then?” I wondered.

“You aren’t from this part of the country” the driver joked “Whatever one farmer is seen doing, the next farmer copies. They’ve made a culture of it”.

Then, ofcourse, the discussion turned to prices and the holiday. We all confessed how this “Addis Amet” hasn’t been the kind of “Addis Amet” we’ve always anticipated. To me personally the New Year “has just happened”. I wouldn’t have known Hamle/2000 E.C. has gone, never to return, if it weren’t for a notice on AAU’s board bearing my name and advising I contact my advisor until Pagume 5. Which maybe a sort of hangover from last year’s anticipation & the social & political disappointments that followed. Just as well!

However, the hike in the price of goods and services hasn’t helped neither. My mother has been telling me only the other day of her plan to swallow the pride and buy “yebegg siga beKillo” for the holiday. Which encouraged my uncle-in-law to confess how, if it weren’t for “Ali-Amoudi’s chickens”, he has no choice but to consider vegetarianism this new year (a life style that felt almost as unmanly to him as having your “kitfo” cooked). These two being at the head of families whose income is equal to or more than 2,000 birr a month, giving them an almost middle-class status in Ethiopia, it’s safe to assume there would be plenty of sheep-free space to stretch the legs while riding minibuses this holiday around. Not that a kicking & screaming sheep will be the worst thing that can happen to you while riding a minibus in Addis these days. So..

Peace & Prosperity to the motherland;

A chance to see another New Year for those of us in Addis;

And Melkam Addis Amet (Happy Ethiopian New Year) to all Ethiopians!

September 8, 2008 at 9:00 am 7 comments

Thank God for aunts!

I’ve never had a toy as a child. Or Crayons. Or a grandma with two teeth who told me bed time stories. Or even a decent bad children story book that gave me nightmares I woke up screaming from. I had a father the neighboring kids were afraid of. A mother who told us not to take anything given to us by outsiders. And a brother whose shoe has left marks on my leg that still showed.

So we weren’t your typical Ethiopian family to whom “one bread was enough for a [loving] family of 9”. Still, what we lacked in the way of family life and freedom, we made up with food and clothings. Lots of it! We were the best dressed kids on holidays and there always was some animal screaming for dear life at our backyard. Every time we went out, children who smelled of “yeEkek medhanit” and looked ashen white for want of proper sanitation or a good ole vaseline, followed us with vulture-like eyes. Eyes that felt more accusative on the sensitive skin than complimentary. I would have gladly traded places with them for an afternoon of laughter and warmth. But, ofcourse, they didn’t know that.

So, naturally, they didn’t trust us. And we didn’t like them. When we are allowed to go play, we usually went to my grandmother’s house in the next village. Where we had uncles and aunts who insisted we should be grateful instead of look miserable in the new clothes, gave us money so we wouldn’t feel bad about not making any on a holiday, and made us compete with their other nieces and nephews on various children’s game, which my brother & I usually lost to our sociable, more likable, and less neatly-dressed cousins.

Except one EnQutatash ..

Children celebrating Enkutatash (the girls all dress in new clothes and walk the streets singing)

Some months previously, a friend of my mother’s had happened on my half-brother trying to polish his barbering skill on my younger bro’s hair. She had indignantly snatched the scissors away, fixed my brother’s hair and cut mine, too, thinking the tom-boyish look would look cute on me “dinBushBush” face. A kindly gesture that was not only misunderstood but disliked by my mom so much that she shaved my head that very evening, and had my ear pierced with an “eshok”, making me scream every time a hand came near it for days. Oh, and, did I mention how I wore a “tiQur” shash to school until my hair grew back and had “MelAtA, aybelam selAtA!” follow me around for weeks?!. I was not only fighting my way in school, but into being a girl again, it seems.

So that was the first “enQutatashtatash” I wore an abesha dress in, and had my hair done by an actual “shuruba seri”. Which must be why I was more restless than usual and was seen by my aunt Yilfashwa, standing by the door looking yearningly out at the girls crossing the grassy backyards of the houses in the neighbourhood singing “Abebayeshwoy”. “Go join them!” she told me. I refused shyly. I went to school with half the girls of the village. But we just ignored eachother when meeting in the school ground. And I was more concious of “pushing myself on people” then than I am now. So I shrugged my shoulder and pretended I didn’t want to.

When they came around to sing at my grandma’s door, I hid behind the door and watched them through one of it’s many cracks. Birtukan, another aunt who loved kids and bossing them around, saw me when coming out to shoo them off with either the bread, or changes, the house could afford. “Go out & join them” she ordered. I mouthed “no” and gestured for her to keep it down. “Go out & join them”, she said dragging me by the hand. I was so embarassed at being ratted out that I put up a good fight. Half a dozen 8-12 year olds unable to make up their minds whether to move on to the next house or continue singing started watching me and my aunt with saucer like eyes. When she finally managed to get me out of the darkness and push me into their midst, I was chocking with anger and close to tears.

Fortunately, somebody complained from inside the house that the “miRQat” doesn’t sound too convincing and I was put in the back burner. It wasn’t long before somebody suggested that I go to the front row with the two other girls wearing “yeAbesha libs”. Would be good for business, they said! And so it was!! We made 32 birr that day. Thirty two! Some of us haven’t even seen so much money, less held. “Even that muslim lady gave us one birr, did you see, did you?” we whispered excitedly, keeping reverent eyes on the green. Never for one minute imagining the new year belonged to neither “Qidus Yohannes”, nor the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. After splitting the money equally, whence I was reminded how I shouldn’t have been given as much as the others save for being one of the leading singers πŸ˜‰ , we made plans to do it with “keBero” next year; wearing abesha kemis and each holding as much adey abeba as the hand allowed.

Never happened!

But I still remember that day as the only time I was allowed to be a child. And I’m grateful for it.

Melkam BuHe y’all!

August 19, 2008 at 12:46 pm 3 comments


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The blogger tries to think outside the box, or wonder why she sometimes can't.

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"I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint." - Antonio Salieri, from the movie "Amadeus"

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