September Celebrations

September Celebrations

Flag day – a new National Day – 26/09/11 or 15/01/04, will we ever get our heads round the Ethiopian calendar?

My first day of work coincided with Flag day –  only I didn’t know it was happening. From our well-placed balcony with views of the Stadium we’d seen preparations takingplace the day before as crowds clad in the national colours of red, yellow and green perfected their routines.  Even with the early morning march past our flat, numerous groups carrying banners proclaiming something, still the penny didn’t drop that my first day of work might not actually be happening.  Like all newcomers to the school year I’d been up early, polished and prepared only to find the office doors locked on arrival. Ah well. Luckily someone spotted the uninitiated one and told me to go home!

From then we took advantage of our proximity to the action and followed, cameras in hand to the stadium. We’re not really sure what it’s about, other than it’s a National day and probably is some way a government initiative to promote national unity.  Note the scant skirts of the girls fronting the group in the photo– not a fashion I’ve seen a lot of elsewhere whilst here.

Then there was Meskel, a big national holiday here that celebrates the finding of the true cross. The story is that Queen Eleni (St Helena) had a revelation in a dream. She was told to build a bonfire and follow the smoke to where the true cross was buried. So now Christians in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church light
bonfires to commemorate the event and in Mekelle process up a nearby hill by torchlight on the night before Meskel. This year, celebrations were apparently
much muted following the death of 9 famous Tigrayan singers in a car crash on the way to perform in Sudan. They were brought to the local hospital where our Co VSO Health workers are placed and the funerals took place throughout Mekelle on the day of Meskel, making a very sobered city. They had been leading figures in the liberation struggle against the Ethiopian Derg dictatorship in 1991 and the response to their death here is reminiscent of the reaction to the plane crash that killed much of the Manchester United team back in the 60s (interesting possible diversion on the equation between football and war), or for music think impact of the death of John Lennon, or of a Bob Dylan or Bob Geldolf band.

Anyway, having only just arrived in the city, we missed most of the Meskel events, though we did see the processions in the city centre the evening before, a very colourful and noisy combination of the ecclesiastical and the pagan, with crosses, sumptuous robes, singing, drumming and dancing.

For the celebration we were invited by our charming landlord Hailom for Meskel lunch. Another embarrassment: this year the day itself fell on a Wednesday, when Ethiopian Christians fast (no meat or animal products – every Wednesday and Friday, plus Lent and Advent, a total of over 200 days a year). They had slaughtered and eaten a sheep the day before, so when we sat down to eat, our hosts were eating vegetable dishes while we gorged ourselves
on different meat dishes prepared the previous day.

Ethiopian food is all served with a form of bread called Injera, made from local grain. It is served rolled up (one irreverent Ferenji described it as like eating a bandage, as in appearance it resembles grey, perforated crêpe). You unroll it onto your plate, put the different meat and vegetable sauces on top, and eat it with your fingers, using only your right hand. It is considered impolite to lick your fingers, so by the end of the meal the inexperienced Ferenji (at least in my case) ends up covered in sauce to the elbow.

The Meskel Bird. One of the joys of being here is the variety of birdlife. We’d been told about a dramatically bright red bird which is only seen at the time of Meskel, thus the name. This weekend whilst out and about in the country we were fortunate enough to see it. A bit more research tells us it’s not in fact a migrant, but the male assumes the bright plumage only during the mating season. Twitchers note its bird book name – “The Northern Red Bishop”, captured in the distance on camera.

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  1. Thanks For sharing Barbara – Good luck when school starts! Jim

  2. Nicki Cother

     /  12/10/2011

    Now, how often did you turn up at school here, found the doors locked and then told by some passer-by to go home? If ever you had a day like that, you certainly wouldn’t have been taking in the local sights. More like a long and frustrating chat to the local authority requesting assistance with a faulty boiler, only to be told it could be sometime before it got fixed! Lovely to read about the events so far and the pictures – please keep them coming. Glad to see you are using a table cloth in the kitchen 🙂 Some standards should never slip! Nicki.x

    • This is for you Nicki, and everyone at Aldermaston – a Monday morning– the office opens officially at 8.30. Sometimes it’s a bit late, but is usually open within 10 mins. On this occasion we hung about for 15/20/25 mins before some of us drifted off for a morning bhuna (coffee). Returned, still not open, so took myself off to visit a few people in different offices which were open. (The Education offices cover about 5 different sites, and still counting). Returned at 10.30 and ours still wasn’t open, decided enough was enough and headed home. Seems two people are key holders and they were both out on training in different places on the same day! Planning ahead is a concept yet to be fully appreciated, and seems there’s a huge lack of memos round here If only I could write Tigrigna!

      PS – You don’t want to know what the table cloth is concealing….

  3. Liz Lee

     /  12/10/2011

    Sounds amazing, what a challenge. Love all your information and pictures.
    We now have a new bishop in Reading ( lives in Tidmarsh) he has just come from Ethiopia. He gave a fascinating talk about the country last Friday.It sounds as though Ethiopia is a beautiful country with a lot of poverty and problems that go with that. So keep up the good work.
    Hope your achilles is now better, John.
    Liz Lee

    • Hi Liz. Thanks for the comments and glad you’re enjoying it. Yes, we spoke to Janice Proud before we came – they weree her 9 years I think. About to test the achilles on a treadmill thanks, but it’s been a lot better since your ministrations and has been up and down some pretty steep terrain without complaining too much. John

  4. Cathy Jones

     /  20/10/2011

    Thanks for your laterst news.


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