Ethiopian Terroir

The table is set for 17. The 24-month-old Southeast Indian baby wears a traditional African dress.  Mom and daughters have been cooking all afternoon.  Father and boys have been preparing the house and dining room, including fitting all twelve leaves onto the table.  I have just been through an 80’s music video marathon on YouTube and Boy George’s lyrics, “Lovin would be easy if your colors were like my dreams: red, gold and green, red, gold and green” are revolving around in my head as I seat myself before the Ethiopian flag-colored table runner.  Each end of the table is laden with flat wicker baskets piled high with rolls of injera, Ethiopia’s signature fermented flatbread, normally made out of teff flour.  No utensils are present, because we were all born with them at the end of our arms (this is where the injera comes in, you fold it and use it to scoop and sop up the stews, meats and veggies.

The night’s table is represented by Washington, California, North Carolina, Turkey, Yemen, India, New Zealand and of course, Ethiopia.  But this is just a typical evening meal for the Little’s, one of Port Townsend’s most prominent families.  They have been the recipients of 5 biological children, 9 adopted children (from Taiwan, Ethiopia, and India) with dozens more foster children moving through as well.

We begin the evening with a hand-held prayer then everyone begins to grab rolls of injera, laying them out flat on their plates before beginning to load up on all of the 8 different traditional dishes that have been prepared.  First there is the fit-fit, a cold salad of cucumber, tomato and pieces of injera (this is often served for breakfast in the country.)  Gomen is a dish of greens simmered down in garlic, onions and spices like jalopeno and nutmeg.  The different wats (stews) include misir (lentils), doro (chicken) and tibs (beef).  A dish of cabbage and carrots with turmeric, onions and other spices as well as a bowl of ground garbanzo beans cooked with hot water, tomato sauce and spices are also featured at the table.

A couple of key ingredients for cooking traditional Ethiopian food are the spice mixture berbere (think garam masala, but with 16 different spices! including nutmeg, cinnamon, black and white peppercorns, chili powder and turmeric), and niter kibeh, clarified butter infused with cloves, nutmeg, ginger, garlic and other spices.)  In order to make a wat, onions are first cooked in a small amount of water until softened, then the niter kibeh is added and then the berbere before any other ingredients in the stew.

Ethiopian style is family style and all the bowls were circuited around the table. Multiple times.  Conversation stemmed from topics such as the eggs in doro wat (whole eggs are hardboiled in the stew liquid, peeled and placed right back in), adoption stories, discussion of the Ethiopian government (a parliamentary republic), the pros and cons of foster parenting and the upcoming trip to Ethiopia that the mom is heading up as president of AAI (Adoption Advocates International) in February.

Father and son (Bob and Beshir)

And this is a great chance to segue into a subject that has been brewing in my life for a while.  The subject of going to Africa, most likely Ethiopia.  It began as an awareness, turned into a nudging, became an interest, evolved into a conviction and is on the road to becoming an action – all as the Lord is leading.

Port Townsend has a strong connection with Ethiopia (more than 4 families, including the Littles, have adopted children from Ethiopia, mostly through an agency about an hour west in Port Angeles.  Most of the adopting families have more than 12 kids.)  Many of the Ethiopian adoptees have returned to visit their native country to find their birth families and villages and to do work in the orphanage from which they were brought.  One family that I’ve gotten to be very close with, lived for over a decade in Ethiopia raising their 3 children and ministering to Somalians (Ethiopia is right next door to Somalia, both help comprise the Horn of Africa.) Through spending time with a lot of the kids in Young Life, a stirring in my heart has begun for Africa.

“Go. Go. Go.”

And I’ve never felt that stirring before. And so I’m going with it.  My favorite quote from a missions conference in Seattle I attended a couple of weeks is: “God can steer a car that’s moving more easily than one that’s parked.”  So without knowing which direction or path He will take me on, I’m starting to move forward.  Eating AMAZING food is just a perk, really.

Did you know?
-Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia (although there are 48 indigenous languages) and is comprised of 216 alphabet characters
Goorsha is an act of friendship in Ethiopia and is demonstrated when you break off a piece of injera, scoop up some wat and feed it to a friend.  The bigger the goorsha, the stronger the friendship.
-Ethiopia is the size of Texas
-It is the most populous landlocked country in the world
-Due to previous Italian occupancy, pasta and pizza are now commonplace in Ethiopia, as is hearing, “Ciao!” upon departing.
-Just as a lot of places in the US have problems with feral cats, so Ethiopia has a problem with wild dogs.
-This is where coffee originated
-The Ethiopian calendar is based on the Coptic calendar (not our Western, Gregorian one) and is about 8 years behind our date today, based on differing calculations of Jesus’s life.  They don’t have leap years.

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