Food with friends: Injera 101

If I had to pick one great thing about Ethiopia (and there are many, many great things to choose from), I’d have to say the food. Now granted, I’ll eat pretty much anything after living off ramen and toast the past few years in college (I can see mom’s face now), but I think even the pickiest of eaters would have to agree that Ethiopian food is pretty darn good (there are even a few restaurants in Boston and New York, for the folks back home!).

Lunch crew!

Lunch crew!

Ethiopian food’s basically centered around one staple, and that’s injera, a spongy sourdough-tasting flatbread. Ethiopians eat injera with wat, a generic name for a variety of stew-like sauceswith meat, vegetables, spaghetti, and even eat injera with injera for breakfast (plain injera is used to scoop up injera that’s been mixed with spicy berbere sauce — gives a kick to your morning!). Dishes are traditionally served family style: wat is poured on top of a few layers of injera and then scooped up with pieces of untouched injera ripped off the edges of the tray.

A little firfir to wake you up in the morning?

Wat comes in many, many forms, but the most popular are chiro, a orange-colored sauce made primarily from powdered chickpeas and onions (think soupy hummus), messir, a red lentil-based stew, and minchit, minced beef in a spicy, oily sauce. A popular thing is to order beyeaynit, a sampler of different veggies, types of wat, and rice.

Chiro and messir

Chiro, messir and a half-hearted beyeaynit

Traditionally there aren’t any desserts in Ethiopian cuisine, but thanks to globalization and a brief period of Italian rule there are an abundance of quite tasty pastry shops around Addis to satisfy my sweet tooth. There’s even a famous baklava spot in Piazza, a bustling area known for its silver shops (and Italian architecture, if you hadn’t picked up on the name). Ethiopians also get their daily dose of sugar in liquid form — two, three or even four spoonfuls of sugar is acceptable for a tiny glass of tea or coffee!

Who doesn't love baklava?

Who doesn’t love baklava?

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Happy camper (in case you forgot my face)

Speaking of coffee, in addition to being home to the origins of humans as we know them (heard of Lucy the hominid?), Ethiopia’s also the birthplace of everybody’s favorite caffeinated drink, which is also one of its biggest exports. Ethiopians are serious about their bunna, whether grabbing a cup at the local bunna bet (coffee house) or serving it at home during the traditional coffee ceremony, where fresh green coffee beans are roasted over a fire, ground, brewed and served in tiny traditional cups.  I prefer my bunna in machiatto form, with a thick layer of cream in the bottom, but cappaccinos, espresso and all the other fancy drinks you’d order at home are popular here too. There’s even a Starbucks copycat, Kaldi’s, that’s found in Addis nearly as many times as Starbucks is found in New York!

Bunna bunna bunna!

IMG_0165Last, but most certainly not least, there are the famous local alcohols, tella, a home-brewed beer (haven’t tried it yet), and tej, honey wine. Everyone will tell you tej is dangerous stuff and I understand why — its so sweet you’d never guess it’s up to 13% alcohol, plus it’s hard to measure how much you’ve had in the traditional beaker-shaped glasses (it looks like a science experiment!). I got to try it in a cultural restaurant my co-workers and I visited to celebrate Mehret’s last day before her return to the UK (we miss you!) and it was quite tasty indeed.

(Slightly crooked) tej action shot!

So that’s the run down (or at least a crash course) on the world of Ethiopian deliciousness! If you haven’t tried it yet, I implore you to try a restaurant nearby — promise you won’t be disappointed!

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Daily mid-afternoon tea and snack served at work — am I spoiled or what?!

 

 

 

Daisy and Laba

If there’s one thing that’s true about Addis, it’s that there are stray dogs everywhere — under cars, on the side of the road, by themselves and traveling in packs. There are a couple of favorite neighborhood strays that people will feed their scraps to, but for the most part they’re left to their own devices.

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Ammani and crew

It was to my great surprise then to come home to two VERY cute puppies on Thursday. My younger brother Ammani found these two little ladies whimpering and shivering in a downpour and by some magic (don’t ask me how, they already have three dogs on their hands) convinced his parents to let us keep the puppies until we can find them a new home. Are they sweet or what?

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With bathes and lots of milk they’ve perked up to be pretty happy pups. The only problem is that nobody wants female dogs here — spaying and neutering isn’t really a thing due to high costs, hence the overabundance of street dogs, and nobody wants to be responsible for litter after litter of puppies. We’re hoping to find someone with a soft spot for these little bundles of fur (it’s not their fault they’re girls, right?)!

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Laba, showing off the feather-shaped spot on her forehead

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Daisy, catching some rays

We’ve decided to name one in Amharic, one in English — the big fluffy one (she’s twice her sister’s size!) is Daisy, and the pretty little one is Laba, named “feather” for the shape of the white spot on her forehead.

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Who wouldn’t want to share a home with these fluffballs?

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Adventure-bound!

Kisses and snuggles from this dynamic duo to all the folks back home! And if, by some crazy chance, you have an Ethiopian friend in need of a pup or two, let me know!

Entoto

Two weekends ago, my friend Mehret and I decided to brave the rain and take a trip high above the city, to Ethiopia’s original capital: Entoto, home to the original royal palace and the beautiful St. Mary’s Orthodox church (Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity is the leading religion here and is vaguely reminiscent of Catholicism).

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The site is perched nearly 2 miles above sea level, crowing jewel for the world’s 5th highest capital city. No wonder they prescribed me anti-altitude sickness meds before I came here (though I haven’t needed them so far)!

DSC02875 DSC02879DSC02873The church follows traditional Ethiopian Orthodox architectural design, most marked by the unique octogonal shape of the building. St. Mary’s is made all the more beautiful by its vibrant colors, the shrines and smaller churches surrounding it, and the breathtakingly gorgeous view. High in the mountains, it becomes cool and peaceful as the clamor of the city is left behind — it’s easy to see why this was identified as a spiritual place.

The original palace is situated right next to the church and was famously home to Empress Taitu, a strong-willed woman who chose to rename the capital city, then Entoto, after the beautiful yellow flower that grows only during the Ethiopian New Year in September. Under her direction, the Ethiopian capital city was renamed “new flower”, or perhaps more familiarly, Addis Ababa.

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Interestingly, the church is still actively used by followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox religion. Right now is a fasting time, in preparation for the upcoming celebration of Mescal in September. Strong believers may choose to live at the church as pilgrims during the fast — sleeping outside, avoiding animal products and waiting to eat until after 3pm. With the rain and the cold (the temperature ranges from 50-70 degrees in the span of a few hours and it rains, every, that’s every, day), I have to hand it to the tough old ladies camped out in front of the church!

Meheret exploring the palace

Mehret exploring the palace

After visiting St. Mary’s Church, Meheret and I visited the nearby St. Raguel church, a church carved by hand INTO the rock of the mountain.  They were holding Sunday school on the grass on top of the cave, and the harmonies of the girls as they sang hymns echoed beautifully against the worn walls of the cave.

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The site is also home to a more traditional church, which looks deceptively plain on the outside — inside, the church is painted with scenes from the Bible, saints and martyrs, and a few portraits of the Ethiopian king, whose picture got snuck in because he claimed his power was sanctioned by God. The electricity wasn’t working when we visited (this is a regular occurrence in Ethiopia), so we viewed the church by torchlight, adding a spooky vibe to the cryptic atmosphere.

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All in all, quite a lovely experience! Entoto was the kind of place I wouldn’t mind paying a return trip to, if only to experience the sense of serenity the spot exudes. I wouldn’t mind going back just to see the view of Addis again!

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Blue skies and ancient mysteries

I mostly spend my days as a research assistant sitting at a desk on campus at Addis Ababa University, but last Wednesday my bosses were kind enough to let me out of the office and instead tag along while they spoke to the doctors in some of the health clinics in Sodo, a rural district a three hour drive south of the city.

Health center in a gorgeous location at the top of a mountain

Health center in a gorgeous location (on the top of a mountain)

What a change! It’s been pouring in Addis on and off since I got here (it’s called the rainy season for a reason), but to the south in Sodo the pollution clears up to reveal a gorgeous green, warm and sunny (!!!) landscape. Check it out:

Squinting into the sun (but check out that view)

Squinting into the sun (but check out that view)

Most of the people in Sodo are farmers, growing corn, false banana (looks like a banana tree but it’s actually the roots that are eaten), barley and other crops, plus raising lots of goats, cows and donkeys. Many people live in round, traditional-style houses like this one:

Traditional houses in the countryside

The health centers in Sodo are pretty comprehensive, with rooms allotted for emergency care, ambulatory services, maternity care and pediatrics, a pharmacy and a laboratory for testing, among other services. My bosses just recently started a program to train primary care doctors in the heath centers to recognize and treat (or refer to a specialist) patients with priority mental disorders (psychosis, depression and epilepsy). It’s pretty cool stuff; I’m exceptionally grateful that they let me watch them at work!

Pharmacists, hard at work

Pharmacists, hard at work

Maternity clinic!

Maternity clinic!

Health center in town

Health center in town (love all of the greenery)

On the way back my boss decided to surprise my co-workers and I with a stop at Tiya, the local tourist spot and a UNESCO world heritage site. After paying six dollars admission and taking a short hike into the fields, we came upon dozens of ancient carved rocks from an unknown date in the Ethiopian megalithic period. Nobody’s quite sure who put them there or why, but the leading theory is that they’re markers of ancient tombs (spooky, huh?).

Official UNESCO sign

Official UNESCO sign (Amharic writing at the top, if you’re wondering what it looks like!)

Me, Daniel and the rocks

My co-worker Daniel and I striking a pose

All in all, quite a fun venture out of the city. I didn’t want to go back to crowded, rainy Addis — hoping the sun comes out here soon!

How cool are these?!

How cool are these?!

 

Livin’ it up: Addis style

Due to popular (read: mom’s) demand, I set up this blog in order to post updates and photos while on co-op in Addis Ababa. I’ve been rather busy so far, but here are a couple of photos:

The house! (It's big)

The house! (It’s big)

I’m staying with an absolutely lovely family, the Wondwossens, up on a hill on the edge of the city. The view is awesome! I live with my host mom, Ende, dad Wondewossen, brothers Mike and Emmanuel (nickname Emmani), sister Bethel and cousin Abe, plus three very cute dogs (and the live-in maid).

View from the top floor. You can see the whole city!

View from the top floor. You can see the whole city!

Chutie, showing his good side

Chutie, showing his good side

I work under two psychiatrists who are doing mental health research at Addis Ababa University. It takes me two mini-bus rides and between an hour and an hour and a half to get to work, depending on traffic. They’re building a subway system in Addis right now so even though work’s actually only abut five miles away, traffic’s exceptionally slow due the construction all over the city.

The public transport system (the bus, not the donkeys).

The public transport system (the bus, not the donkeys ;))

Oh, and the web address for this blog comes from the Amharic word for foreigner, ‘ferengi’, which you hear a lot as a visitor to Addis.  And the title for this blog comes from coffee (the national drink, it’s SO much better in the land where it originated) and the food ‘injera’, a sourdough-tasting spongy flatbread specific to Ethiopia (photos to come!).

The Italians took over Ethiopia for just a few years in the 1920’s, so learning to say ‘goodbye’ is easy: ciao!