Roadtrip Day 14: A Taste of Local Village Life

Wednesday 17th January, 2018

Todays trip 63 km, 1 hour

Another glorious morning at Lake Tana. We watch the sun rise and then go through the by now familiar morning ritual with a cold shower over the bath. The hose is not quite long enough to allow me, let alone 6 ft 4 Mike, to stand up. The boiler is making noises this morning, but still no hot water. The sink is still blocked, so we scoop water again, and the bathrooms are still filthy. But, as I said before, the view is worth a million dollars!

We have our breakfast of “egg surprise”, where we order either a fried or scrambled eggs, and see what we actually get. And of course bread, tea and an “Ink Boona” (coffee) for Mike.

It is Wednesday, so today is a fasting day. That means no meat or dairy products for Ethiopian Christians.

Today we head back to Gondar and make a short stop at Lina’s family’s village. This is effectively a family compound of about a dozen houses, next to the village of Kola Diba (hot death). The village is headed up by Lina’s parents, 85 year old Asmare and his wife, 73 year old Zenash. A number of their children are still living in the village, with their spouses and their children. And then there are a number of cousins and other extended family.

As we visit one of their daughters is also visiting. She is married to a Falasha Jew and now lives in Israel. The story of the Falashas, the Orthodox Ethiopian Jews, is a fascinating one, well worth a google!

Cello Mariam Village, with the new guest quarters in turquoise

When visiting in Ethiopia, it is customary that the guests get their hands washed by the family of the host. Usually one of the younger daughters will come with a small plastic bowl of water, a piece of soap and a towel, and move from guest to guest. Tradition requires that the most important or oldest guest gets his hands washed first, and then it continues in order of importance.

Another custom is that small children show respect by kissing the knees of their elders and respected guests.

We are welcomed with coffee, beer and lovely freshly baked barley bread, which tastes a bit like corn bread. Everybody who pops in to see, us brings something to eat or drink. I ask Lina how they dealt with food allergies and preferences…. she laughed, “people here do not have allergies, how can you not want food?”

Frank, Mike and our host Asmare

This is a farming area, and Lina’s family have the usual mixed herd of cows, goats and sheep. Asmara also is the proud owner of a lovely white horse which he tries to ride every day.

They also have chickens to provide fresh eggs every day, and beehives to provide honey. I had never before had honey straight from the hive, taking a honeycomb piece and chewing it, sucking out the sugary sirup and spitting out the remaining wax. It tastes amazing!

Beehives in the village

As the children line up to watch us, we watch the Ethiopian version of a roomba with much enjoyment, food scraps are dropped on the floor where the chickens and kittens happily hoover them up. This is very eco friendly!

We are being watched!

The family also grows teff, which is used for making injera, the flat breads that form the main staple of the Ethiopian diet. Teff is officially a grass, its seeds being rich in fibre, manganese, slow digesting carbs, and it has a relatively low GI. It is now considered a super food, excellent for controlling blood glucose levels, and because it is digested more slowly, it fills you up for longer.

To the villagers though it just is their “daily bread”. So a field with teff not only provides for the family, but also provides cash by selling the excess produces.

Teff

The family compound used to be located a couple of kilometres further west, next to the river. But, like many places, it was forcefully relocated during the dictators years.

The houses in the current village are either made of wood branches with a thatched roof, or are brightly painted concrete boxes, with two or three rooms. They have small windows with grills in them, but no glass. The rooms are for sitting, entertaining guests and sleeping in. Cooking is done outside, next to the front door, over a wood and cow dung fire.

The Kitchen

Most of these villages have access to electricity, as they are alongside the main road. And we are definitely within mobile phone range, after all, this is 2018!

But, there is no running water, and ablutions are usually done in dedicated areas around the village. Often a small communal hut above a hole in the ground or a short drop above a ditch. Going there is a matter of closing off the senses and getting the business over and done with as fast as possible. No lingering with a book, a paper or a phone!

The girls are send out each morning with large plastic containers to collect water from the communal water pump, which is a kilometre or so away from the village, in the middle of the fields. This water is used for everything; washing, cooking and drinking. Most villages have access to water in this way. It makes us feel like we are in the middle of a World Vision advert.

Collecting water

All children have chores to do, besides collecting water there is the gathering of the cow dung in the morning, looking after the animals and walking the small mixed livestock herds along the roads and fields during the day, milking cows, gathering eggs, helping with the cooking and looking after the smaller children. No time for getting bored, and that is besides going to school. Literacy rates in Ethiopia have risen sharply and are currently at 52%, a significant increase from 32% in 2004.

Literacy is still lower in the country side, with a lot of children either not attending school or dropping out after only a couple of years, even though education is now compulsory between the ages of 7 and 12.

Young Shepherds and their friends and cousins
Coffee ceremony in the village
85 year old patriarch Asmare still rides his horse daily
One of the youngest additions to the family

We will be staying here in a couple of days, and our accomodation will be in the brand new guest quarters. It is a spacious room with a brand new bed, and is next door to what can only be called “the throne room”. Instead of having to squat in a little hut above a short drop, there is a real white porcelain toilet in the middle of a room the size of our bedroom. The toilet comes complete with seat and cistern. In good Ethiopian style, there is a bucket with water and a scoop next to it, as nothing is plumbed in. But it is definitely a more comfortable seat than hovering above a “hole in the ground”.

We say our goodbyes, and drive back to Gondar where we check into the Jantekel hotel. Not as grand as the Goha hotel, more a three star African business hotel. We have a snooze, do a bit of laundry and some reading before a hotel dinner of excellent pizza, sitting on the hotel balcony and overlooking the main road.

Traffic is building up. There is a greater police presence in town, and we have seen groups of youths walking the street. These young men are supposed to be re-enacting the fight between David and Goliath. They appear very passionate and are waving sticks and guns. The national government is also nicknamed Goliath, and although protests are frowned upon, this is the season for religious processions. The passionate display indicates a strong feeling of dissent from these youths.

Young Davids wanting to defeat Goliath

This is double demerits time Ethiopian style, hitting a cow, a sheep or goat today could really set you back significantly $$$. We see livestock in the most unusual places; a lone cow tethered in front of an apartment block, and goats and sheep carried on scooters or in a bajaj. All ready to be used for the Timkat celebratory dinners tomorrow.

Travel details and Tips:

Accomodation: Jantekel Hotel, Gondar

Tip: Make yourself familiar with any particular fasting days in the country and area you are visiting. It usually doesn’t mean you can’t get what you would like to eat, but awareness of any particular dietary no-no’s allows you to show respect to your hosts.

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