First of all, Ethiopian coffee trumps all coffee everywhere, forever. Being born and raised in New York, coffee has always been a pretty big deal in my life. But fellow New Yorkers, you haven’t tried coffee until you try Ethiopian coffee! They freshly roast and grind it at usage, and often times mix in fresh cinnamon and other herbs/spices in the process. Coffee is a huge part of the culture here, being that coffee originated in Ethiopia. When visiting new places, the hosts of the residence/organization often preform a coffee ceremony to welcome you. In the U.S. coffee is used as a stimulant to get us through the day, to preform tasks faster and efficiently. In New York especially, coffee is hardly enjoyed; it is merely a drug that has seduced too many into addiction. It is nice to see how coffee here is used to bring people together, to talk, slow things down, to express culture and togetherness.
This aspect speaks to a larger culture or life-style of Ethiopia. Life isn’t so rushed here. You can tell by the way people behave; the way that a random person on the street will notice my stuttering Amharic and will lend a hand in translating, or how the restaurant staff leisurely brings out your food, extending lunch for another hour or so, or by the way strangers on the road are excited to converse with you, despite the language barrier, that life here isn’t the overly fast-paced and invidualistic New York life-style that I have grown accustomed to. Life here is community oriented, more mindful, and unhurried. Something that definitely made me uncomfortable in the beginning, but I am growing to appreciate.
This is not to overlook the rush-hour traffic, or the cars that drive at incredible speeds regardless of pedestrians (I feel like I’m in a real life Grand Theft Auto game). Also not to be overlooked, the young men that follow us at night eagerly waiting for us to slip-up, in hopes of swiping something.
But generally life and people are a different ‘fast’ here, more deliberate and attentive.
Traditional Coffee Ceremony:
Ethiopian food is quickly climbing my list of favorite foods. Typical Ethiopian food consists of Injera, a round bread-like food made of Teff (a grain grown in Ethiopia), which is eaten with various side dishes that are comparable to Indian curry and sautéed vegetables. These dishes are flavored with a spice-powder called Berbere. Not only are these dishes delicious, they are highly nutritious. Injera is gluten free, high in calcium, fiber and other essential nutrients.
What I love most about Ethiopian food is, like the coffee, it truly brings people together. Injera and its side dishes are traditionally eaten on a large, colorful, woven plate that is shared with everyone at the table. At first, I thought this was peculiar; why share when we can all have individual plates? But, soon I realized that that was my individualistic mentality. How often do you literally share a meal with the people around you? This type of eating forces people to interact, with each other as well as the food, at so many levels that New Yorkers are just not used to.
A facet to Ethiopian meals is the “goursh”, which is when someone feeds you some of the Injera. This is seen as a sign of endearment, connection and love. Another facet to Ethiopian meals: you eat with your hand, your right hand to be exact. You feel the food with so many of your senses; it allows so many parts of you (your sight, your touch, your taste) to absorb and process the amazingness that is Ethiopian food. When was the last time you had said your meal was an experience that incorporates your community, mind and body equally?
Everyday Life…So Far
I wake up weekday morning to the sun beaming into my apartment room, and hearing children recite rhymes and lessons in a nearby school, which is a great way to wake up. However I can’t lie, at first sleeping was a bit rough. The first couple mornings I was woken up by loud roosters that cock-a-doodle doo’d well before dawn, 3AM to be exact, and incredibly loud dogs barking. Two mornings I woke up to a bird that perched onto my windowsill, chirping into my room. Once I grew accustomed to the Ethiopian wildlife sounds, I slept soundly.
The IFP Ethiopia program has thus far kept us busy 24/7! From the minute we have arrived we have left our homes at 9AM and returned around 6PM. We have gone to museums, historical landmarks, palaces, churches and even a resort. Among these places we went to Haile Selasse’s palace, Menelik’s Palace, The Red Terror Museum, Kurifto Resort, Addis Ababa University, and the Human Rights Center. We were introduced to Lucy (one of the world’s oldest skeletons), entered the grave site of Ethiopia’s political activists during the Red Terror, walked the rooms of Haile Selasse and his wife, and drank coffee and learned from women who are apart of a self-help group here. In addition to these site visits and seminars we have the opportunity to have Amharic lessons every day. Our days are jam-packed with activities that allow us to immerse ourselves in Ethiopia in various ways.
All of these activities have taught me so much about the local and national history, politics and governance, and left me with many questions. Ethiopia is the only African nation that withstood colonization, which gives it an interesting identity. Ethiopia prides itself over defeating Italy twice in their attempt to rule Ethiopia. Being that I am incredibly interested in post-colonial IR, this identity is an interesting one for me. How does westernization, modernization, capitalism, and neoliberalism affect a nation that never was colonized? Can there be colonization without formal historical colonization? Is Ethiopia’s authoritarian state a product of an anti-western aid sentiment that arose out of this non-colonized identity? Can there be alternatives to democracy, including a one-party system like Ethiopia that is successful economically, politically and socially? Will this anti-western aid stance, or this pro self-sustenance stance prove to be successful in the future? Using gender as analysis, other developing states struggle with their pre-colonized, feminized identity and their post-colonized, hypermasculine identity; can Ethiopia be seen as a queer state based off its non-colonized and pro-self sustenance identity? How then do Human Rights fit into this framework? I can go on and on! I hope with my work here, and my interactions with the people I can come to some conclusions, and if not find some resolution with the questions!
I’m excited to learn from Ethiopia and offer some of my insights and skills in return. I look forward to experiencing more and opening my mind to new political, economic and social ideas!