Fantu and Atala
Immediately following the first Drama session, Alazar introduced me to Atala. She works for the Ministry of Education, but is especially interested in theatre and acting, and has been a student of Biniyam, which is presumably how she heard about this project. Alazar asked whether I would be happy to have her join the group; the answer was absolutely yes. Although she is a good bit older than the rest of the cast – she has two daughters, aged nineteen and ten – She was very bubbly and energetic, and also has pretty good English (and it was noticeable that it improved during the time I spent with her.) Her work have apparently given her time off from work to be able to attend rehearsals, although she had not been able to attend that morning.
She then invited me to accompany her to lunch, something I was very pleased to do; apart from anything else, I ought to seize every opportunity to get to know Ethiopian people. Although it had to be said, I was not very hungry. I asked her where we would be eating –we were already heading on the route back to my apartment – and she told me we were going to the Ministry of Education canteen; it was only just around the corner.
The canteen occupied a large, slightly spartan, hall, but fortunately we were just ahead of the crowd; it seems that everyone takes their lunch at the same time. The meal was very tasty, the almost ubiquitous nejira, along with the very tasty bean and pea puree, with added spice, that I have had before (though right now I cannot remember its name.) We were joined after a time by Fantu, her friend, whose nejira was accompanied by something more akin to a spicy Bolognese. Naturally, I was invited to taste it; pretty much all food is shared in Ethiopia, eaten off one large plate. And using only your right hand. Tearing a piece of nejira with one hand is a little bit of an art, but it can be managed.
After this, Fantu invited us to go to one of the juice shops, the best one, she told me (which gave me only mild concern that I had previously obtained freshly squeezed orange juice from the place next door. Ah well; not to be undone now.) I had previously spotted and been intrigued by the multi-coloured glasses of thick creamy fruit, but had exhibited my habitual nervousness about such things, and had stuck to orange. Now was my chance to branch out. And it was delicious. I had thought that the large quantity of avocado might prove too rich, but it made it wonderfully creamy, almost like a custard, which was cut through by the sharper fruit. Atala had the same as me, with the special addition of Vimto (who’d have thought), and which, after I tasted it, I got them to add to mine.
We had an excellent conversation – they both told me they had not spoken English for a long time, but both were increasingly fluent. And had interesting stuff to say – they had both spent some time in China, so had things to say about the relationship between Ethiopia and China, as well as other insights into their society. We then bid each other farewell – they had to get back to the office, I had to get on with my blog writing.
An interesting encounter on my walk home, when a young man fell into step with me and started a conversation; his English was excellent. We chatted amiably, and he told me about a couple of sights to see in Addis – an underground church, the open-air market – and it soon became obvious he wanted me to engage him as a guide. He wrote his number down for me – I kept my phone in my bag – and told me his name was Isaac, and that his father’s name was Abraham. I told him he ought to be careful! But despite what I said above about getting to know the local people, I do not think I shall be contacting Isaac. I think it would be better to restrict my friendship to those I know a little better.