This month, why did the US talk about invading Ethiopia? It then imposed economic sanctions. Is America morally superior to the rest of the world?
Find the word ‘sanction’. It is inside this word:
Walk a Mile in Their Plastic Shoes
Could America be jealous of Ethiopians? Of their beautiful animals, climate, people, art? ‘But wait,’ you say. ‘America is rich.’ How can the rich be jealous of the poor? Do they walk a mile in their plastic shoes? What makes you jealous?
Here is a story from the Abun of Debre Libanos Monastery. That leader says, ‘I am a monk.’ He eats 1 meal 364 days a year. 2 daily meals are for humans. 3 are for animals. Yet he is never sanctimonious. Mesfin re-tells the tale in English. Thank you Abunachin.
The Mayor and the Monk
‘In our monastery, we eat plain food once a day, buy nothing and carry no cash. Yet we attract jealousy. Before COVID-19, we asked for a better water supply and pipeline repair. A rural mayor arrived. She said, “You enjoy life. I negotiate with complaining citizens. They ask, ‘Where is the road you promised?'” The woman wore heavy jewellery and drove an expensive car.
I asked, “How is our life better?”
‘She said, “You exploit the power of God and the angels. I serve my people 24/7. Though I have 4 bank accounts, I am unhappy. You monks are cowards. You run from life’s responsibilities.”
‘I said, “During your annual leave, come and taste our life.”
‘The mayor came for 10 days with a 4WD, 3 large suitcases & 2 bags. The monks told her that we did not allow a big wardrobe, daily shopping and cooking for 2–3 hours. They said, “Give us your car keys. You will not drive for 10 days. Bring only what you need to stay with the female monks – the mowe. They will show you your bed. You need 1 cup and dish.”
‘Her bed was built out of mud, with a grass mat and no bamboo pillow. She awoke for midnight prayers barely able to walk. Her first task, at 5 am, was to collect holy water for sick people. Stumbling at each metre down the New York cliff, she tore her expensive tracksuit in the bush and her hair unravelled.
She met customers: Lions that leave you alone if you do the same to them. Criminal monkeys called gemare that throw stones down the cliff. Females with young are fierce and male gemare molest women. Anir wildcats — like lynxes — attack if you follow them. Large snakes lurk. There are guards: Colobus monkeys – gureza.
‘The monks told her, “Thousands of mentally- and physically-ill people shelter around the monastery. Those who come to die stay 10 years instead of 5 days. Wash those who cannot bathe themselves. Give them herbal medicine. From among thousands of small jars, learn what to give to whom – and the correct dosage.
‘They continued with the jealousy cure: “Cook breakfast for the patients. Clean up the mentally ill. Air their blankets in the sunshine. At 12 noon, go to the community kitchen. Share the monks’ work: collect firewood, & bring cooking water and washing water.”
‘All this she did on an empty tummy. She served lunch from 1 pm to 2 pm. Then she prepared the patients’ dinner porridge. At 3 pm, our visitor ate and drank. Afterwards, she prayed in the monastery. Her quietest hour was in the library where she put up with the smell of birana – goatskin manuscripts.
‘Before dusk, the respected mayor shared tasks that included tending the herb garden, sweeping leaves, water, collecting seeds, picking up gureza poo, & sweeping out the monks’ caves. After serving the sick peoples’ dinner, she washed pots & hung them on the wall. Monks cut ripe fruit at 6 pm, the optimal time.
‘Then she prayed. At midnight, the deep prayer began. This was mahilet. At 3 am, a bell rang. Time to sleep – for 2 hours.
‘The mayor asked, “Please give me my car keys.” “No. You must complete the 10 days.”
She waylaid me. “You do not exploit the big invisible power of God. Your hospital serves humankind. And I complain.”
‘She continued: “With my gold & diamond watch, I count the hours. By day, I work in a beautiful office with a secretary. At home, I have 2 cooks and a gardener, never picking up a single leaf. Here, I only saw the exterior of this monastery with its frankincense and 1,000-year-old fruit trees.”
‘The mayor begged forgiveness and asked for permission to depart. We released her. A week later, she returned & donated 500 mattresses. She gave Debre Libanos Monastery a packet of jewellery. “I have got back my life. You work 21 hours each day, sleeping 3 hours and eating once.”
‘I said, ‘Now go and return to normal life.”
“If you touch the ground of Debre Libanos Monastery, it will never leave you.”Abun
Ethiopian Generals’ Chicken Stew Recipe
Last Meal in Ethiopia
Ethiopian Generals’ Chicken Stew was our last meal in Ethiopia. Mesfin cooked it. We used the hens’ eggs in the photo and drank the red wine. The stew is a traditional army dish. When he was 5, his colonel father taught Mesfin how to cook it. This was at military camps in Harer and Jimma. It was peace-time holiday food. Senior military put on chefs’ aprons. They covered their hair with white caps. Utensils were handy in apron pockets. Men tasted the life of mothers for 1 day. Women dressed in beautiful yagerlibs.
Generals’ Chicken Stew at Lideta
Lideta Mariyam is on the 1st day of the month of Genbot – 8 May. Qidame shur was a festive gathering held on Saturday at this time. It was the day when the generals cooked. Children laughed if they dropped something on the floor. They got cake — or biscuits from a stash in their jeeps — for not telling the women. Wives only served red wine and talla home brew. When their husbands catered, it was the happiest of days. Chiefs of staff became chiefs of the kitchen.
Mums teased them. ‘This is not good enough. Do it again.’ The men did. Another boy chicken would bite the dust. The military camp grew fragrant with their cooking aroma.
They ate only roosters. No Ethiopian eats mother animals. Slaughtering a hen or female goat is a no-no. They cannot bring themselves to eat any mother of 5 nor she who lays a clutch of eggs.
Colonel Tilahun and Lieutenant General Aman squabbled and rushed to choose Mesfin as kitchen hand. He loved cleaning up, washing dishes and cooking with the big men. They explained all the ingredients and predicted who would feel ill the following day from eating too fast. Nobody complained.
Doro wat came out of hiding the following day. Women would have spent between 7 and 10 hours on its preparation. It took immense skill. After plucking the chicken, cooks burned off any remaining tiny feathers. They also prepared dulat – a raw organ meat delicacy. Then, no wine was allowed other than dry tej or, honey wine.
Today, a live rooster sells for 700 Ethiopian birr. It is organically reared. Ferenji doro or, farmed chicken is 300 birr. Proper free range Ethiopian chickens do not eat processed food. They eat peas, worms, butterflies, sorghum & maize. Ethiopian roosters are tasty, free of terrible hormones, & low in cholesterol. People buy them and carry them home upside down, like handbags.
Ethiopian Slimming Tip
For best digestion, and to avoid weight gain, eat rich stew slowly. Graze. Enjoy 3 or 4 small serves spread out over a couple of hours. Drink wine.
- 1 chicken – left whole
- Kibbe (clarified Ethiopian herbal butter) – 1 heaped soup spoon (35 ml)
- 5 red onions – each cut into 8 pieces
- 6 tomatoes – each cut into 16 pieces
- fresh ginger – 4 cm. piece, finely chopped
- garlic – 1 head, finely chopped
- cumin powder – 1 teaspoon
- turmeric powder – 1 teaspoon
- black seed – quarter of a teaspoon
- salt – 1 teaspoon
- Gently heat a large saucepan. Brown the chicken using the kibbe.
- Add water to cover half of the chicken. Cover the pot. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the other ingredients. Simmer for 1 hour.
Note: Anybody can eat kibbe. Use it for curry, kitfo, doro wat, shiro wat and all hearty cooking.
Eat with a small amount of the traditional condiment awaze.
At qidame shur, senior military men served people in this order: elders, children, mothers. Women gave gosha (mouthfuls) to the men. They cleaned their hands in lemon water first. Adult men continued to serve, then washed dishes ready for the next round. They used the same ingredients, but fried them. The dish became chicken tibs. It was quicker.
Dads then put children to bed and applied skin lotion to their faces, hands & legs. In the morning, children played at flicking popcorn. Any who fumbled said, ‘Dad’s hands are too strong. My finger is twisted!’ Mothers said, ‘Do not touch them again until next year.’
Farewell Ethiopia, Land of Adults
Our last Sunday in Ethiopia was Ethiopian Easter – Fasika. It came after the western European Easter. Winter rain had begun early, so it was cool. Yet people had eaten lightly for 42 days. At the end of the Easter fast, the holiest took no food or water for 3 days. The devout slept on the floor. On Easter Sunday, came meat dishes. Stored eggs went into gourmet doro wat. This was the Rolls Royce of chicken dishes, glistening rich and ruddy.
Three families hosted us. Women served feasts. One gave Ianet coffee with spiced kibbe. Delicious coffee granules remained at the bottom of the delicate cup, to chew. With lunch and breakfast, we drank talla medicinal home brew that was barely alcoholic, not sweet, and refreshing.
Muslims were still fasting for Ramadan. Eid al-Fitr was 10 days later yet all of Ethiopia shared the joy. Orit Yehuda and Muslim friends prayed and ate together.
We miss Ethiopia, land of adults. Her operatic chanting from monasteries and mosques is precious to the world.
Flashback to 2016
As soon as she landed at Bole International Airport in 2016, Ianet did not want to leave. It was her first visit to Ethiopia. Roadside shops displayed children’s shoes artfully atop a fence. Clouds of pawpaw perched on mountains of avocado. Where were the vendors? Drinking buna? No passer-by touched a single red onion. In Australia, shoplifting was rife. It inflated the price of groceries.
100 Eggs in 1 Basket
2 youths carried a wire basket full of raw eggs – perhaps 100. They negotiated 4 lanes of traffic. In Australia we said, ‘Do not put all your eggs in 1 basket.’ In Ethiopia, boys did not drop the basket.
Grocers sold free-range eggs in brown paper bags for 7 birr each. You could buy just 1. Foreign eggs were 4 birr & 50 cents each. Older Ethiopians did not put those in their mouths.
From before the Italian invasion, Mesfin’s family made egg cartons from koba leaves. Koba was the false banana tree. When the leaf went brown and dry at all edges, it was ready for cutting. Girls wove baskets and hats. Boys made egg cartons. Each had a handle and carried 7 eggs: 6 inside and 1 in the handle. They saved eggs for neighbours, who were without hens. Koba cartons kept eggs fresh, throughout Easter fasts, for 42 or 55 days.
Return to Downunder
We returned to Australia this month. Ethiopia continued to take in refugees. She strove to help her own unfortunates. We learned charity from this. Back home, we could not wear our I CAN’T BREATHE t-shirts in public. The 3 words outraged several Aussies. In Ethiopia, we had worn them everywhere.
Ianet wore her Ethiopian yagerlibs dress at an Australian domestic airport. That caused a drama. The tibeb panels set off the security alarm with their rich metallic embroidery thread. Read about traditional tibeb here.
Wabe Shebelle Hotel
In Ethiopia, security guards — who looked like super models — would run after Ianet with her forgotten handbag. One afternoon, we ate on the balcony of Wabe Shebelle Hotel in Addis Ababa. It had glorious woodwork, large windows and stone floors from the entrance up. In reception, athletes from a remote region waited to fly to Japan to compete. Ianet admired their strength, as well as their beautiful English & Amharic.
Back home 10 kilometres away, we missed the laptop. Ianet had left it outdoors at Wabe Shebelle. We telephoned the hotel. A waiter had already rescued it – before it rained. The petite yerada lij tried to refuse a reward.
We spent 2 weeks in quarantine. This was in an Australian state 4,000 km from our home. Our book got more professional attention. The designer is still busy. In June, Sam, our editor, will proofread it. Then we can release it! The 2nd edition of Lucy’s People: An Ethiopian Memoir will be out soon. We will use a self-publishing service. Watch for news about how to get it – at the top of our Home page.
Featured image: Debre Libanos Gidam © Mesfin Tadesse, 2020
Photos: Debre Libanos Monastery Reroof © Mesfin Tadesse, 2008
Debre Libanos Gidam Stained Glass Window of Qidus Tekle Haymanot © Mesfin Tadesse, 2020
Ethiopian Fasika Feast © Mesfin Tadesse, 2021
Ethiopian Wine © Ianet Bastyan, 2021
Ethiopian Hens’ Eggs © Mesfin Tadesse, 2021
Koba © Mesfin Tadesse, 2020
Saba Tibeb © Ianet Bastyan, 2021