All I wanted to do was get home and watch Dexter.
I hadn’t been feeling well since returning to Bahir Dar from my trip to Hawassa. I had spent yesterday afternoon at the PC office trying to get some work done, showering, and generally feeling sorry for myself. I just wanted to get home, put my feet up, and watch the best show ever made about a loveable serial killer. (I’m on season six, no spoilers.)
I sort of knew something was going on when, as I walked down the dirt road toward my home that evening, I noticed large fires supporting steaming pots outside many of my neighboring compounds. When I opened the gate to mine and saw my landlady in the middle of the yard making her own fire, I was curious but not curious enough to ask. Dexter awaited.
Within minutes of getting settled in, but before I could turn on Dexter and turn off the outside world, the invitation came.
It was a sneak attack holiday.
It started out as a buna invitation, but I knew there was more where that came from. My landlady, Enguday, offered me a bean/maize concoction and invited me to sit and watch while she and a neighbor made doro wat. Doro wat – I knew this was going to be something pretty big.
The experience became one of the things I love most about my PC service. It was one of those days when all you think you want to do is shut out your surroundings and fold into your own little world, but then grudgingly accept an invitation that turns your whole day – and perspective — around.
I observed as Enguday expertly plucked, cut, and cleaned the chicken a neighbor boy had killed (only men can slaughter animals, per custom). Her neighbor “eat-night” (I have no idea how to spell her name, but that’s what it sounded like) chopped a million onions. Adorable little Mulunesh, Enguday’s niece and helper, ran around following whatever order she was given.
I was told by separate people that it was: 1) a celebration for the first day of summer, which made sense, since we had just gotten our first large dose of rain the day before, or 2) a day celebrating St. Mary’s birth. Maybe it was both. It didn’t really matter, I suppose, at least not to me.
As twilight approached, Enguday started to make buna, and two of my neighbors joined us, a married couple named Dereje and (insert forgotten name). Then Enguday’s older brother came to the party. He was typically Ethiopian in that he was impressed by my limited Amharic skills and tried to teach me much more than I could retain in one sitting. But he was also touched by the fact that I came to his country and was making an effort to learn the culture and would share it with Americans. “An American will take Amharic back to speak in America,” he said, tickled — and moved, I think — by the thought. It made my night.
The celebration continued, filled with beverages (buna, birdz (sp?), which is honey water, and tella, a local alcoholic beverage) and, of course, doro wat. “You like berbere?” Enguday was happy to hear that I do.
After some great conversation, the evening wrapped up. Or so I thought.
It was 9pm and I was about 10 minutes into an episode of Dexter, when a knock on my door came. The party was continuing elsewhere and my presence was required. I tried to decline, but the guilt overwhelmed, and I submitted, “but only for a little while.” Yeah, right.
We ventured to a neighbor’s compound. More food and beverage followed, this time with spicy sheep stew and Dashen beer added to the mix. It was a larger gathering with several young people, and the alcohol flowed. Gojam knows how to party.
Asmaru, the woman who had invited me, floated through the middle of the seated group, beer in hand. dancing. Her carefree happiness was infectious and soon several of the young folks were dancing too. The Injibarra song came on. The energy level increased exponentially. They played it again.
It was during this time that I had one of my moments. I welled up a bit (no judging – I had had a lot to drink by this point), thinking to myself, “I’m in Africa. I’m in Ethiopia. How did this happen? How lucky am I to be able to be a part of these people’s lives, to be able to share moments like these, to have this as a memory forever? It’s amazing.”
After Teddy Afro’s new album was given a spin, it hit 11pm and the party wrapped up. Tired, but heart and mind (and belly) full, I made my way home with Mulunesh and Enguday.
It was a night I wouldn’t trade for anything. Not even for a night alone with Dexter.