My trip to Saesie, Tigrai, Ethiopia
Dear Family and Friends,
At 6am Gebremedhin called me to let me know he was waiting for me at the gate of the convent. “Hold on sweetheart, I’m going to grab a roll before we head out”. 7am we are on the bus to Dagohamos. Gebrejohannes was late and so we missed the first bus to Saesie and we had to catch the bus to Dagohamos and transfer to the Saesie bus in Dagohamos.
When we arrived in Dagohamos and had at least an hour and a half of a layover. During our wait we went to a nearby restaurant and had coffee and rolls to wake up. The sun was coming up and the warmth from the sun felt wonderful to sit in and have my macchiato.
Around 8:30 the Saesie bus arrived and we loaded up ourselves and my small bags onto the bus. While we are loading Gebremedhin’s brother showed up to catch the same bus. It was his oldest brother Hailu. We greeted each other and chatted as we all waited.
I was very excited to get to Saesie and nervous of the long hike down the mountain. I didn’t want the sun to get to high in the sky otherwise it would have become too difficult to do this hike in the hot sun. We wait and wait…. Many more people load the bus with their purchases from the markets. Again, many more load the bus. The bus capacity sat about 12-14 people. At this time there was at least that amount on the bus. Now people were also loading their purchases on top of the bus. I asked Gebremedhin (G/M) when the bus was supposed to leave for Saesie. He responded around 9am. I looked at the time and it was 9:30am. He then shared that the bus won’t go until the driver feels he has enough passengers to make it worth his time to go to Saesie. “Well great” I thought, “We could be here for a long time.”
A 12-year old boy, who had been sitting on the bus quietly all of a sudden flung himself out of the bus and attacked this elder woman, maybe around 40-50 years old. He started hitting her and yelling at her. I was surprised at such a thing and I didn’t know what the problem was. I didn’t realize that G/M is a high figure of Saesie and he and his elder brother got off of the bus and were breaking up the fight. G/M held the boy in his arms while the boy cried and cried. He talked to him and was comforting him while the elder lady told Hailu the problem. I could tell by the body language that G/M was calming down the boy and talking to him. The boy acted as if he was agreeing with G/M so G/M let go of him. As soon as he did the boy again attacked the woman. The woman in her defense hit him back repeatedly. G/M then grabbed the boy and wouldn’t let him go. The boy really cried at this time. The elder woman repeatedly hit the boy on his head and yelled at Hailu and G/M about the boy. When the drama was over I asked G/M what the heck happened. He said the woman stole the boy’s mother’s shawl at the market and he wanted it back and she wouldn’t give it to him. At first I felt for the elder woman, now I really felt for the boy as he reentered the bus sobbing uncontrollably.
About 20 minutes had passed and now the driver came. All the people loaded on the bus, some going on top of the bus. People were seated in the walk ways to. The bus was fully crowded. I sat by the window, G/M almost on my lap, and Gebrejohannes (G/J) on his lap. My arms and face were squished up against the window. On our way to Saesie the driver stopped several times more loading more things and people on the bus. I felt claustrophobic being crammed inside. Not only were we a can of sardines driving on dirt roads that jostled the bus around, these are people from a village and they smelled!!!!! I felt sick. The sun was up high in the sky and the heat on the bus became choking. I pulled some of which I knew from meeting in Adigrat. He has a very large family, very similar to mine. It reminded me a lot of mine. His home was filled with holy pictures all around. I sort of laughed inside when I saw it. Immediately they started the coffee ceremony which is custom to their culture as a welcome.
G/M’s older sister Mulu came to greet me. She had her youngest daughter on her breast. She openly nursed the child in front of everyone. I was a little taken back by it but I reminded myself, I’m in Africa and I tried to not stare at what I only saw on the National Geographic channel.
G/M brought in a huge platter of popcorn and cookies to start the coffee ceremony. His sister-in-law Tsega (Hailu’s wife) made the coffee and Mulu (the older sister) finished feeding her baby and brought in her homemade village bread hambasha. Everything was fantastic. G/M, G/J, and I were all very hunger from our long walk and we ate heavily.
I was quite full but Hailu brought in a platter of their fresh honey from their hives. I was spoon fed a lot of honey from G/M. To the point I started to feel sick from the high content of sugar. Then his mother brought in lunch. We started with tholo (barley and water mixture that is formed into soft balls) with their indigenous red pepper sauce (berber) stewed with sheep. We dip the soft balls into the berber sauce and eat that for a while. Then the bowl of the stewed sauce with sheep is poured out onto the injerra and we use our right hand only to tear off a little injerra and use that to scoop up the stewed sheep mixture. Ethiopian culture is the entire meal is put onto a large round platter. We all scoop up the food with the injerra and feed each other. It is a beautiful culture and is a very loving way to take care of each other. I love watching the family make sure all are fed well. I was fed by many of them. This dish was then followed by a stew of cabbage, potatoes, onions, and carrots. It was poured on the outside of the tholo and again we use the injerra to scoop it up and eat it. It was fantastic. We all ate and ate.
After lunch I took several pictures of the family. (I will post them to the blog when I come back). He has a beautiful family. All of them worked so well together, like harmony. All very gentle, kind, and soft spoken.
His home is nestled on one of the cliffs of the mountain looking down onto the river and valley below. The house is made of stones and cement with a tree trunk roof and dirt. Inside the home is one main room. It was quite large in size. I would say about the size of my entire first floor of my home in North Bend. Half of the large room is on floor level. The other half is a good 2 feet above. The floor is dirt and covered with fresh grass. (I learned that the fresh grass spread all over is a welcoming custom). In the main floor there was one couch type area right next to the front door. The couch was made of cement and that was covered with a blanket. The upper level was all cement and covered with rugs made of straw and that was covered with grass. There were 3 large tree trunks that supported the main frame of the house and 3 made sky lights that were open to the outside. The skylights brought in natural light. Also they helped when the coffee was being made and they became ventilators to the smoke that filled the room from the fire to cook the coffee.
At the end of the large room is a door that leads into the kitchen area. This is nothing like what we consider a kitchen. The area is open, the ceiling is the completely open and all food is cooked on fire. The only thing that looked like an oven was the injerra cooking pan but even that is cooked on open fire and while cooking the injerra is covered with a straw lid. Off to the side of the kitchen was what looked like a one room pantry and then from there was his parents’ bedroom.
wanted to mention that his family takes care of the priests that run the church now. G/M’s mother and sisters all cooked the dinner for the priests and took it to them on Saturday night. The majority of his family went to mass on Saturday night and stayed all night long until about 3am. The family then brought the priests back to their home and put them up for the night. Along with sleeping with his family we also had about 3 priests come and stay, which by the way were put into a bed.