Monday, May 12, 2008

Our Fourth Day in Ethiopia

Our fourth day in Ethiopia was on Sunday, which was Easter for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is very interesting. It separated from mainstream Catholicism many, many centuries ago. They do share many things in common with Jews - they have a special way of slaughtering animals for meat, they do not eat pork, the women cover their hair definitely in church and often outside of church, and they sit separately during prayer. In addition, they are much more focused on "old testament" (torah) teachings, then on the Christians' "new testament." Not once did I hear JC mentioned in common conversations, but countless times G-d was mentioned. They also consider Saturday the sabbath a holy day, but not as holy as Sunday. Amharic is also a sister language to Hebrew (and Arabic), so there are many words in common. Every morning at 5:00 the Eastern Orthodox prayers would come drifting in our window. Their holy language is Ge'ez and the haunting melodies, similar to Gregorian chant but with much more eerie and disjointed melodies, was really beautiful. The chanting and windows and doors banging in the wind are the sounds I remember most from our week there.

So, Sunday was Easter, which in the Ethiopian church is the most important holiday of the year. They fast for the 55 days before - that is, they do not eat or drink until after 3:00 pm, and then they do not eat any meat, dairy, or eggs. They also fast most Wednesdays and Fridays and for several weeks leading up to Advent. All in all, there are 250 (!!!) fast days on the calendar. Towards the end of the week we saw more and more cows and sheep being herded through the streets in preparation for the Sunday feasting.

Two sheep ended up in the back yard of the guesthouse on Friday, and on Sunday morning they were slaughtered. Before slaughtering them, the staff milked them and used the milk for butter. That wonderful cardamom they had shelled earlier in the week was cooked with the butter, then that was used to baste the lamb. Treif as treif can be, but the cardamom cooking on the meat sure smelled good. :) By noon, the side yard of the guesthouse had become Feast Central for the Toukoul staff, the orphanage director, and several French adopting families (the director/founder is also French). And us. The martians from outer space, or so it seemed.

We thought we'd go out and be a little social and meet the founder and all that, but BOY did I feel like I was from another planet. The French families were pretty aloof, and we were the only ones who actually had a child with us. They were barbecuing mountains and mountains of beef, chicken, and lamb, which made our paltry, homely passover food all the more, well, paltry and homely. (It's not normally like that, but when one is making do in tricky circumstances, one just makes do!) So here were me and Dean, him with beard and hat, me with hair covered, long sleeves, and skirt. And we were sitting next to the barely clothed French. One lady at the next table was staring and staring. Her brow was deeply furrowed each time and she looked to be filled with great concern. After the 8th+ time (yes, I started counting) I said to her, "Est-ce qu'il y a un probleme?" She didn't hear me, or at least acted as if she did not, but continued to frown at us another 9 times before we left. After that we just went back to the guest house and twiddled our thumbs. I felt like we had a thousand things more in common with the Ethiopians than with the French, and was really wishing I was working in the kitchen and serving the food instead of just sitting there. It was the last day of passover so we couldn't really drive anywhere or anything. It was kind of a funny day. We did get lots more cuddle and bonding time with Raizel and that was good. Dean said, "You can just hear the bonding crackling," and it was true. :)

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