With one day to go before my arrival in Ethiopia, I thought I would share with you one of my experiences during my flying visit to Addis Ababa a few weeks ago, when I went there to meet with Biniyam and Alazar, my two points of contact.
Somewhat to my surprise, I discovered that Ethiopia operates its own calendar – they belong to the Orthodox family of churches, which has always done things a little bit differently. What was more, I would be there for the New Year celebrations… with the introduction of 2016. When I have told others of this since, all sorts of potential advantages were discussed: the fact that I was seven years younger, for a start, plus any number of decisions to be reversed – Brexit, Trump, that procession of Tory PMs.
But rather more practically, it did provide a social highlight to my stay. I was invited to join in the festivities taking place in the hotel; or rather, in the car park right outside, there being two fires ready to go out there: one for cooking, and one celebratory. There was, inevitably, some confusion about the time, with the whole thing starting about two hours later than advertised. Main result for me was that I had almost given up on it, and had already eaten – a shame when part of the celebration was the sharing of food… I did my best. There was also drink on offer, beers and soft drinks at first, but then the opportunity for the more hardened drinkers to have whiskey. Once again, I moderated my intake (largely because I don’t like whiskey.)
People gathered slowly, thought the children were, naturally enough for such an event, running round excitedly. There was the celebrated coffee ceremony (though I have to say, I saw very little of ceremony – it seemed more like the, admittedly detailed, recreation of the whole process, so far as I can understand: roasting the beans, grinding them, and then boiling the grounds for ten minutes or so. It certainly makes for wonderful coffee.
And then the bonfire was lit, which went up very fast, and faded soon after, being especially for visual effect, specially created and treated boughs arranged in a pyramid. But it did lead to some dancing. In many ways it was perfect, for it avoided modern disco, being more traditional in nature, but not so complicated that one couldn’t pick it up straight away. So I joined in a few times, much to the delight of others.
Eventually, it seemed to be winding down, and in any case I was ready for my bed. I circulated, bidding all and sundry a (to my surprise) slightly drunken farewell.