Today is the celebration of the feast day Meskel. This is a very big and important feast day for the people in Ethiopia. The feast is the celebration of the cross. It is about how Christ died on the cross for us sinners and if we follow the cross we will conquer all evil and keep Satan away.
It is so wonderful to be back in Adigrat, Ethiopia. I smiled as I entered the town last night. I sighed a big sigh of relief when I saw the mountains and countryside and the people all walking about. Just as it was preparations for Easter, all the people had been fasting for the feast day. Carnage again was heard everywhere. The village people were killing their sheep and goats to prepare for their big feast day. I smiled when I heard it and remembered Safia and I and how we felt so sorry for the animals.
Feast days with the sisters are delightful. We had a lovely lunch. Following lunch the priest, major and minor seminarians, the white fathers, and several other people were invited to the priest’s big barbeque. Safia and I heard about this BBQ when we were there the first time. This is when they prepare several animals, drink scotch, and have a merry time.
We arrived at the BBQ where a dead goat was being gutted, sliced apart, and body parts were placed on an open fire of coals and wood. Every bit of the goat, except the head, was cooked. The brains, intestines, heart, kidneys, ribs, everything went on that fire. The sweetbreads were the first part of the meal. Platters of intestines and other various organs were placed before us. The Bishop led grace and for our table, Abba Selassie Tesfay cut up the organs and handed them out. He tried very hard to get me to eat some of it. I told him “no way am I going to eat intestines father, can’t do it.” It reminded me of the show with Andrew Zimmer where he travels around the world and tries extremely different foods from different cultures. I’m sure if Andrew Zimmer was here, he would eat it. Next came some ribs, I had some of that. Abba sliced small bits of meat and put them on a plate with small seasalt cakes. The salt cakes are broken into little piles of salt and the meat is dipped into the salt, then you eat it. It was extremely good. I was given a healthy glass of mez(homemade Ethiopian honey wine) to go with it. The mez was strong so I a little drunk.
Later that evening the tradition of Meskel continues. Dried straw is tied together in long torch like poles. There are about 6 of these poles. They are piled together into what looks like a campfire. Each home in Adigrat prepares this special ceremony, then all the village people gather together and have a big party, which I will get to a little bit later.
The ceremony begins with some of the older house girls beating the drums on the right side of the house. As they approach, the guard of St. Lucy’s torches this campfire. Prayers are said to the holy cross and chants are sung. Then one by one, each person jumps over the blazing fire to receive God’s grace, for good luck and a prosperous year. Each little house girl jumped over the fire. One of the sisters picked up Luam and draped her over flames several times sending her blessings and good luck. Then they looked at me. “Come on Celine, jump over the fire.” (Which by the way is jumped over 3 times.) I was scared. The fire was blazing and I was certain I would catch my skirt and netsala on fire. Sr. Deste took my netsala and I jumped!!! Each time I jumped I could feel the flames burst up my skirt and the warmth of the fire slightly singed my skin. Everyone shouted with delight as I jumped my 3 times. I was impressed I had the guts to do such a thing. First I had raw meat cooked straight from the body of a goat, and then I jumped over flames of fire. What’s next in this enchanting land?
Next several of the sisters and house girls picked up the torches and we sang and walked around the grounds of the convent. It was dark, the stars were out, the moon was at its crescent and I was in the midst of all these lovely children, beautiful chants, beating drums, and flaming torches. Boy I love Ethiopia, such a cool place. It is so strong in its traditions and faith.
After we finished the procession around the convent, we went to the school, and gate entrance, spreading the flames all around, sending blessings everywhere, dancing Tigrinya, and singing the chants. Next we headed over to the cathedral, where the big party was at.
Filled in the courtyard were the townspeople and priests. We sang, carried torches, and beat the drums as we approached. The girls who were beating the drums joined with others in a circle around the torches that were a blaze in the center. We gathered our torches and placed them in the center too.
We clapped and sang songs with the drums going. Next we all start dancing. I was asked by the sisters to get in the center and start dancing. I did. I can’t help myself, when I hear those drums, I start to move. Thanks to Lemlem (Ethiopian friend in Seattle) and attending Ethiopian parties I have learned how to dance. Boy oh boy do the Ethiopians love to see a foreigner know how to their traditional dance. As I passed by several ladies they wagged their tongues and shouted at me with delight. Sr. Deste said they are doing this in honor of me because I know how to dance their traditional style. I was so honored by so many people.
I ran into several of my students, we hugged and kissed. I visited with many village people. It was delightful.
I returned to the convent late and very happy. Only in Ethiopia can one see such a thing. This place is amazing.