A COVID Marriage

I, amongst many other people, got married during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has impacted so many weddings in different ways. I’m going to share my personal journey of getting married in Ethiopia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We got engaged in January 2020 around the time the coronavirus became public knowledge. It wasn’t until March that COVID-19 was characterised as a pandemic. In Ethiopia the legal and religious parts happen separately. We never had a specific date in mind for the legal part but were hoping to do it as close to the religious ceremony as possible. The date we had set was 22nd June 2020 about 1 week after school finished for the academic year. My family in the UK were planning on flying out for the ceremony.

At the end of March when the first few cases in Ethiopia had been reported as well as the UK reporting many cases too. The school had transferred to online classes till the end of the academic year. Many of the expat staff returned to their passport countries worried that they would not be able to travel back at a later date due to borders being closed. There were rumours of lock down in Ethiopia – which never transpired since many people are reliant on day to day income, so would have been detrimental and would likely have meant that more people would die from starvation than COVID. With that fear in mind, we began considering getting married earlier so that if a lock-down were to happen we wouldn’t be separated. This was a comforting thought for my parents back in the UK. Unfortunately, by this time the local government offices (kebele) had closed, which meant we were not able to do the legal aspect.

We then started discussing the option of just a religious ceremony – although being the more important ceremony for us it meant sacrificing a lot. I wasn’t sure I wanted to rush the religious ceremony and with family being away it was painful to discuss. We checked what was required in order for us to live together in the case of a lock down. Being part of a Christian organisation, understandably, they wanted both the legal and religious aspects covered. Given that we needed both we decided to wait to do the religious ceremony until we could also do the legal signing. So at this point in time, we had no idea when we would get married as we didn’t know how long the offices where going to be closed for. This also meant we had more time to finish off our pre-marriage counselling course that we were doing with our pastors. (Which we would strongly recommend any engaged couple to participate in!)

At the end of April the offices started to open up again, however, they were only offering essential services which did not include marriages… the wait continued. My fiance visited the offices on a regular basis to ask if things changed, his mother also helped checking in on a regular basis. They even went to the sub-city office, where they said they were sending a letter to the local offices to start offering all services. It still took about another week before this letter seemed to be acknowledged.

It was on Friday 8th of May our local office opened up to begin marriage signings again. We went as soon as we heard and registered, showed our identification, gave some passport photos and paid. We then had to wait 16 days to allow time for people to give notice if they had any reason we couldn’t get married. 16 days landed on a Sunday so we returned on Monday 25th to sign the papers. This day was not advertised to many as it is too hard to explain to people back home that this process doesn’t feel special and is essentially just like renewing a form of identification.

We arrived for our appointment wearing our masks, with 2 witnesses each, all of whom had to have Ethiopian citizenship. My fiance went in to the office while the rest of us waited outside due to social distancing rules. He came back out with a piece of paper which we filled out with all our details and our witnesses details based on their identification. He went in again and eventually I got a call, asking me to go in to sign the papers. Once I had signed them two witnesses at a time came in (again distancing rules) to sign the document too. We then waited outside again while my fiance finished off the process, occasionally running to another building to get photocopies. I was asked to sign one more piece of paper and then some time later he came out and said it was all finished……we were married. It felt weird because we hadn’t shared any vows or spoken to each other much at all.  Since this did not feel like a wedding – I refer to it as our ‘marriage day’. We went back to his family’s house to eat and celebrate. This whole process took 1 hour 30 mins.

Being Christian ourselves, we had made the decision that we would wait until the religious ceremony until we considered ourselves ‘married’. This felt right as that would be when we would make promises and vows to each other.

We already knew by this point that there was no hope of anyone flying in for our wedding with quarantine strongly imposed here and restrictions to gatherings of 4 people. This was upsetting, since I had hoped for my dad to walk me down the aisle – as a result I decided that if he couldn’t walk me down then I didn’t want an aisle to walk down at all, so I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out.

The pastor of our church had gone back to the US. This meant we needed to find someone else to officiate our religious ceremony. We spoke to various different people, some of whom we only knew through other people and were also leaving the country very soon. Finally, we found someone who could officiate who we new personally. This meant we could finally pick a date and plan…. in 2 weeks! Since we had to have a small wedding made my fiance very happy – he does not like big weddings! It was a dream come true for him! The date was June 13th – our 1 year anniversary.

I asked a friend to go dress shopping with me. Since wedding dress shops are so expensive and you can only rent the HUGE dresses here, I opted for finding a generic white dress from a regular shop. It turned out to be surprisingly successful – I was able to find a white lace dress that could have quite easily passed as a wedding dress! I found some shoes to match a few days later with my fiance and was also blessed with 3 pairs of earrings as a gift from the shop owner.

We had decided to get married on the compound at the school, again with rumours of lock down in our local area posing a threat, worst case scenario he could move on site in a different apartment, even the person officiating was temporarily staying on site too. Therefore everyone we needed was on site and it could go ahead as planned. We wanted a nice backdrop for photos so we opted for the lunch tent …. which sounds weird but there is some lovely greenery around, with beautiful flowers and is covered but open (handy since it was the beginning of rainy season). We borrowed decorations from the school banquet events and also an archway with lights and fabric from some friends who got married just over a month earlier. Friends on the compound helped us set up and decorate the lunch tent the day before – sweeping, moving tables, putting up fairy lights, rolling out carpet.

On the day, my housemate painted my nails and we headed off to another friend who has a salon for hair and makeup. She’d decorated her room with ‘bride to be’ and had donuts and fruit available for us to eat as as celebration. Meanwhile, my fiance was at Bingham getting the final things set up – checking the technology side of things, sound check with the singer and piano player (our worship leader from church) and lighting the candles. Also another friend had offered to make our cake for us too – we were very blessed by all the help and support of our community. I managed a short call with my parents once I’d got back from hair and make-up and hour before the ceremony was due to start. This was painful as it reminded me that they weren’t there in person but I was glad to check in with them beforehand.

I walked over to the lunch-tent with my housemate and our photographer (a student of mine). I waited in the hallway while I could hear our officiate talking with our families who had signed in on zoom to watch, telling them a bit about himself and what to expect. Unfortunately, we experienced some technical difficulties and our families could not hear the first couple of minutes (my arrival and welcome) – fortunately this was rectified fairly quickly.

The ceremony seemed to pass by quickly, we sang a couple of songs and declared our vows. We had a small talk by our officiate based on a passage of scripture we had chosen. We finished the service off with the unity candle which was difficult as the wind kept blowing them out! We had a cake to cut after the service which we shared with those who lived on compound who had come to watch from a distance.

After the cake, our friends packed things down for us and we headed back to the apartment for a bit and watched a video my uncle had sent which showed messages from my family and friends back in the UK wishing us well….. This is when the water works really started and the true extent of my family not being there hit home. Even a couple of months later I still find it emotional and hard to talk about.

Unfortunately the zoom video recording came out blurry so I’m still trying to find the courage to try and put something together, which is hard when it’s all still so emotional. It will likely end up being a montage of video and photos.

Travel wasn’t really an option at the time so we stayed in a hotel in Addis for a few nights so we didn’t have to go straight into moving apartments. A proper honeymoon will have to wait. We are hoping to have a small ceremony in the UK at some point, visa and COVID restrictions dependent.

My husband’s family also gifted us a matching Ethiopian traditional clothing too. It was beautiful.

Trust, Patience and Hope

One of the things God has been teaching me during this time is Trust, Patience and Hope. While reflecting on this, I realised how often it is that these three coincide.

TRUST
We are living in uncertain times, we do not know what the future holds. For me I did not know when or how I was going to get married with local government offices (kebele) closed, what it will look like. Not having my family present. Finding out that my mother had tested positive for COVID-19 when she got tested for research. Not knowing what the beginning of the next academic year will look like. Trying to raise more support for the future after some previous sponsors had to stop or reduce their giving due their own personal circumstances.

I have to trust God in each and every one of these issues as they are all out of my hand. God is true to His promises. Trusting in His plans for my life isn’t always easy, especially when it seems like there is so much going on and not being able to do anything about it.
God has come through in so many ways, government offices opened and we were able to register and then get married 2 weeks later, followed by a religious ceremony another 3 weeks later. My mum and my family are all healthy, I had to trust God that He would look after them, especially since I am so far away I cannot do anything (even if I was close I still wouldn’t be able to do anything). My sister’s test came back negative too. God knows our limits – He knew dealing with both households of my immediate family testing positive would be a lot to handle. I am still continuing in the journey to trust him with regard to the new school year and also my support raising.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NIV)

Patience
Week after week we waited and checked the local government office (kebele) to open so we could do the legal government signing, to get our marriage certificate. Online teaching with internet and power being very intermittent. Online training and video calls become problematic too. Staying at home for longer periods of time and not going out meeting friends as much takes it toll. Even more so when internet is turned off for 23 days.
Through all this God is faithful, it is good to take time to slow down and appreciate the little things in life. I’ve learnt to appreciate the space I have around me to still go for walks, to have a way to communicate with people all over the world using the internet – even if it doesn’t always work. To be able to have some routine of going to the office and continue my language learning. I have to have patience that God will provide the finances I need to continue serving here at Bingham Academy.

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him; It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:25-26 (ESV)

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Outside the Kebele – legally married

Hope
Each of the things I have mentioned all have a basis of hope. A hope that things will go back to normal, a hope that I will be able to get married (and did) and celebrate with family and friends even if it is at a later date. Hope that I can raise the support to stay serving in Ethiopia. Hope that the school will continue next academic year. Hope that we can see each other again. God’s work will be done, God’s Kingdom will continue to grow despite the pandemic, despite the restrictions. God is never restricted.
Gods Kingdom (2)“We know that the whole of creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have we wait for it patiently.” Romans 8:22-25 (NIV)

TRUST, PATIENCE AND HOPE

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” – Romans 12:12 (NIV)

How missionary life helped prepare me for COVID

Being a missionary has many challenges in itself. You are leaving behind all that you know and starting somewhere new, unknown with lots of uncertainties. You are away from family and can only communicate when internet and time difference allows. You miss out on family events and celebrating holidays with your loved ones.

Before coming to Ethiopia I was encouraged to do some reading around TCK (third culture kids) who were born into one culture but were raised or lived in another culture.TCK

 

One way of explaining this is by using shapes. The 1st culture, CIRCLE culture, is the one from their birth, the one of their ‘home’ country or more commonly referred to as their passport country, since it won’t necessarily feel like home to them. The 2nd culture, SQUARE culture. It’s the culture learned about through experiences, through language classes, through travel and through trial & error. It’s being MELDED to their original culture. It’s the one that they become a part of yet not.
They can never be a SQUARE, yet they don’t identify as ONLY a CIRCLE anymore. This can only mean one thing, they become TRIANGLES. [1]

There are advantages and disadvantages to being a TCK (which includes most of the students I teach). See the table below for a summary of these. [2]

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If you focus on the list of benefits you can see how many of these traits are important in today’s time of COVID lock downs. Namely resilience, adaptability, the importance of now, empathy, ability to deal with crises, deep relationships. Even as a missionary I have found that these traits become more developed too.

For those of you in lock down you have probably experienced a number of different things: Loneliness, not being able to meet up with friends and family in person, not being able to celebrate life events or holidays with others, uncertain times ahead, lifestyle changes, new ways of communicating. These are all things I have experienced as a missionary.
Loneliness – moved to a new country where you don’t know anyone and having to make new friends since you can no longer see your ‘old’ (current) friends in person.
Life events and holidays – Being away from family means that I miss out on celebrating family birthdays, Christmas, even the passing of a loved one that you can’t be there for your family (although I was fortunate enough to be present for the funeral)
Uncertain times ahead – being financially supported by friends and family I am continually having to trust God that He will provide for me for the following year, it is ultimately out of my control. Even experiencing some times of unrest here in Ethiopia, it can be uncertain, especially when they flair up unexpectedly in some areas for short periods of time, you always have to be alert and aware of your surroundings.
Lifestyle changes – I’m sure many of you have had to change how you work, exercise and educate children. It’s the same here, I’ve had to learn new ways of shopping – not being able to buy everything in one shop, changing the type of food I can buy. Altitude has played an impact on exercise amongst other things too. Living in community changes how you approach certain things too. For example, when planning an event you need to think about the impact it has on the others living around you in the same compound to a greater extent than maybe just informing your neighbours as you would in the UK.
New ways of communicating – Communicating has become more technological nowadays and I’m sure you’re learning new skills ‘zoom calls’ and that comes with new terminology too. Moving to a new country forces you to adapt and learn cultural cues – how to greet people, hospitality, the importance of community, and the obvious learning a new language too. Even at Bingham with the multicultural community we live in we have to learn new educational lingo as well as learning to understand each other when we mix up words from different cultures – even a mixture of American and British English.

I’m sure there are many more – but here is a little insight into how life under lock-down shares some similarities to missionary life.

 

References

[1] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-triangle-third-culture-kid-tck-marina-rabinek/?articleId=6658382859864207361

[2] https://expatchild.com/benefits-challenges-tck/

 

September Holidays

September has two Ethiopian holidays: New Year and Meskel

New Year: አዲስ ዓመት (Addis amet)

If celebrating New Year in September doesn’t confuse you, it was also 2012.
Why is the Ethiopian calendar 7 years behind?…Does it count as time travel?!
The Ethiopian calendar is intertwined with Biblical anecdotes. For example, the first day of the week (Sunday) ‘Ehud’ translates as ‘the first day’ in the original Ge’ez language. This represents that God started creating on the first day.

The calendar is based on the idea of Adam and Eve being in the Garden of Eden for 7 years before they were expelled for their sins, followed by God’s promise to save them in 5 and a half days, or 5,500 years according to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This puts the birth of Jesus at 7 BC. [1]

The Gregorian calendar (most commonly used) was created in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, and it was adopted by several countries under the dominion of the Catholic church, as the Julian calendar was seen as inaccurate.[2]

Celebrations

Ethiopia, a country free from colonialism and from the Roman Catholic Church did not end up adopting the Gregorian calendar, and retained its original Coptic calendar. The Ethiopian calendar has 13 months in a year, 12 of which have 30 days and the 13th month (Pagume) has 5 days or 6 days in a leap year. 

Ethiopian 4-year leap year cycle is associated with the 4 ‘evangelists’ of the Bible. The first year after an Ethiopian leap year is named John, the second, Matthew, the third, Mark, with Luke being the leap year.[3]

Image: Church choir going door to door on New Years Day to help with the celebrations. Doro wot and tibs, are typically consumed. Before New Year you will see chickens and sheep/goat being loaded into cars, strapped to the top ready for the holiday. The day after you will see piles of the sheep/goat skins on the side of the road, apparently for 20 birr each (less than £1)….no wonder leather goods are cheaper here. meskel-flowers.jpg

Meskel flowers grow a lot at this time of year and you will often see the yellow flower used to decorate houses, or worn in girls hair.

Meskel (መስቀል)

This is an annual celebration where the Ethiopian Orthodox Church commemorates the finding of the True Cross (on which Jesus died) by the Roman Empress Helena (Saint Helena) in the fourth century. [4]

According to legend she was unsuccessful on a search for the True Cross until she had a dream which told her where it was to be found. In the dream she made a bonfire and the smoke directed her to the spot where the True Cross was buried.
In the Middle Ages, half of the True Cross was given to Emperor Dawit of Ethiopia by the Patriarch of Alexandria in appreciation of the protection offered to Coptic Christians. [5]

Many Ethiopians gather in Meskel Square (named after the holiday) in Addis Ababa.

The event itself is marked with dancing, bonfires, salutes and biblical readings.
The Demera (bonfire) – often decorated with daises or meskel flowers prior to the celebration. Branches are bundled together and set alight. As it burns the demera falls, some believe that this indicates the course of future events. Once all that is left are the ashes, these are used to mark the shape of the cross on the foreheads of the faithful.

Meskel also marks the end of rainy season, and if rain falls and puts the fire out then the year is expected to be a prosperous one.

[1] https://www.gutenberg.org/files/398/398-h/398-h.htm
[2] https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/gregorian-calendar.html
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopian_calendar
[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meskel
[5] https://afrotourism.com/travelogue/festival-meskel-ethiopia-finding-the-true-cross/

 

Experience Addis Trip

Our travel and tourism students had to organise and lead a tourist trip in and around Addis and invited some of us new teachers to attend as tourists.

We began on the outskirts of Addis at an Orthodox Church: Entoto Mariam – one of the most popular churches in the country. It is also the same site for the first church in Ethiopia, at an altitude of 3000m above sea level. The church was decorated in Ethiopian colours as they were approaching the 100th anniversary since her death. There was also a monastery situated next to the church, the roof made of bamboo and leather. The tomb of Emperor Menelik II’s wife was next to the monastery, she was the one who gave Addis Ababa it’s name, meaning ‘new flower’.

Next to the church was Entoto museum, which houses both religious and artefacts from historical events, which items used by Menilik II and his wife and also the most recent Halie Selassie, the last Emperor of Ethiopia, with a host of gifts from other countries to the emperors and also clothing worn by the emperors as well as military uniforms throughout the ages. No photos were allowed during this part.

On our drive back down into Addis, we stopped off to take some photos of the city Addis has now become.

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After this we stopped by Posta-Bet which is a common area in Addis which sells Ethiopian souvenirs such as, crosses, scarves, clothing, jebenas and other items. I have visited this place a few times prior, clearly frequently enough for one of the shop owners to recognise me….clearly I’m becoming a local!

We visited a couple of other museums in the afternoon. Red Terror Museum and Addis Ababa museum both situated in Meskel square.

The Red Terror Museum is very emotional, it explains the events during the time of the Derg, a military committee, who ruled Ethiopia between 1974-1987. They were responsible for mass killings of educated and influential people, and anyone else who was suspected of supporting an opposition party, were tortured and buried in mass graves. One of the exhibits had display cabinets full of bones recovered from the mass graves and others contained a heaps of clothes. There were pictures covering the walls of all the people killed during this time, and a list of the methods of torture used.
Given how recent these events occurred, Ethiopians have mixed opinions on the museum, as some just want to forget and others think it is important to remember so it doesn’t happen again. This was a very sad, difficult time in Ethiopian history.

The Addis Ababa museum, had a collection of items in that consisted of the development and beginning of Addis Ababa as a city, how money had changed over time, military uniforms worn by different leaders, as well as gifts from other countries celebrating 100 years of Addis being a city, from when it started as tents on a hill.

Our penultimate stop was to another Orthodox Church: Medhane-Alem (Saviour of the world), the biggest cathedral in Ethiopia and the second biggest in the whole of Africa. Unfortunately, we were not able to go inside the church at that time. Around the outside, people were kneeling, kissing the doorway, window frames or doorsteps, similar to what I saw in Lalibela. On one side of the church was a large courtyard area where there were chairs laid out. Even though this is the biggest in Ethiopia they still have chairs outside for their overflow. Opposite the church was a statue of Jesus with a globe, representative of the ‘Saviour of the world’ church that Jesus is seen facing towards.

An Ethiopian experience day is not complete without some Ethiopian food at a cultural restaurant with singing and dancing!

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Aksum

Aksum (Axum) is in the far north of Ethiopia in the Tigray region.
Aksum was capital city of the Aksumite empire, which ruled from approximately 100-940AD, and was named one of the four great powers of the world with Persia, Rome and China. It was also previously the capital of Ethiopia, but remains the religious capital of Ethiopia.
On our whistle stop tour (only in the city for 6 hours) we covered a huge amount of history, both Ethiopian history and Christianity.

Aksum is famous for a variety of reasons, one of those is the monolithic stelaes (or obelisks). There are several stelaes that have survived in the town dating back to 3-4th century AD. All seven giant stelaes are made from a single piece of granite.
The purpose or meaning of these is debatable but are generally assumed to mark graves. The style of them changes and develops with the first being plain and rough, to plain and smooth to then becoming taller and more elaborate with windows on each ‘floor’ and a carved door at the base. The largest one lies on the ground, it is suspected that it fell when it was being erected since the base does not seem deep enough to hold up the 33m tall structure. The largest standing stelae is 23m tall and is beautifully carved with windows and doors of a nine-storey Aksumite building.

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In terms of the religious history of Aksum, according to local folk, goes back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. A huge water reservoir hewn out of rock where she was thought to have bathed, and the potential ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s palace on the outskirts of town, under the mound where local people said it would be. Archaeologists suspect that this isn’t the Queen of Sheba’s palace, based on historical records of her wealth, this palace would not be big enough to account for this. However, when a couple of test pits were dug a bit deeper there was evidence of another building underneath. So this could still be the site of the Queen of Sheba’s palace.

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The Church of Saint Mary of Zion is another important place in Aksum, the ruins of the original can just about be seen next to the existing building which allegedly houses the Ark of the Covenant bought to Aksum 3000 years ago by King Menilik I, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. There is an older building for the Church of St Mary of Zion, houses many royal crowns and valuables, since this is the place where the past Kings of Ethiopia were crowned, and was put up in the early 17th century by emperor Fasilidas.

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Last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant?

The last emperor, Halie Selassie I, put up the modern structure who opened it in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II in 1965. Queen Elizabeth II also donated an ornate chandelier for the church. This church was predominantly built as a place for women to worship as they are not allowed in the older structure.

A lot of Ethiopians travel to Aksum for Timket (Epiphany) the celebration of Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan, which involves a colourful procession of the priests with a replica of the Ark of the Covenant to the Queen of Sheba’s bath where people get baptised. Although smaller than celebrations in other cities, like Addis, where every Orthodox church joined the main procession, each with their own replica of the Ark of the Covenant, to a central location (Meskel square), and then processed back again a day or two later.

Another hidden gem, the Ezana Stone, which records the conversion of King Ezana to Christianity, as well as his victories against neighbouring areas. It was stumbled upon by 3 farmers in 1988. The stone is inscribed with 3 different languages: Ge’ez (written language introduced by Aksumites); Sabaen (South Arabian); and Greek. A trilingual monument, similar to the Rosetta stone.

There is so much history in this beautiful city but so much is still just speculated due to lack of funding in archaeological digs in the area.

Lalibela ላሊበላ

During my parents visit I had the opportunity to travel to a couple of places up north that are full of Ethiopian history, so I thought I would take the time to tell you a bit about each place.

Lalibela is famous for monolithic rock-cut (rock-hewn) churches and is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and a center of pilgrimage. The churches were built by King Lalibela in the 12th century as a ‘New Jerusalem’ for Christians to make their pilgrimage to.

We were in Lalibela a few days before Gena (Ethiopian Christmas – 7th Jan) which is the time when pilgrims travel for months to get to Lalibela for redemption to be there on the day before Gena. The town of Lalibela is buzzing with life and people as the white-robed pilgrims gradually arrive over the days preceeding Gena, with the total number around 50-60,000 pilgrims.
There was something special about visiting Lalibela during this time, seeing it being used as it was intended, although due to large number of people squeezed into each of the 11 churches, you don’t always get to dwell and appreciate all the details that went into creating them. (It was difficult to take photos inside the churches because of this)

Our first day we visited the churches south of the river Jordan:

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Biete Amanuel (House of Emmanuel), photo 1 –  one of the most finely carved churches, believed to be the royal family’s private chapel with the windows emulating Aksumite buildings.
Biete Qeddus Mercoreus (House of St. Mercoreos),
Biete Abba Libanos (House of Abbot Libanos),
Biete Gabriel Raphael (House of Gabriel Raphael) – photo 2
Biete Lehem (House of Holy Bread)

Each of the churches are generally covered to protect them from the harsh Ethiopian sun, but before that since they are hewn into the volcanic rock into the ground they cannot be seen. Very different from other religious sites where it is on display for all to see. If you look at the wall of the churches carefully you can see each individual chisel mark that went into carving this out of solid rock. Each church is made by digging down and carving into a single piece of rock.
Between House of St.Mercoreos and House of Gabriel Raphael is a 35m pitch black tunnel referred to as ‘the pathway to hell’ which when walked through you experience complete darkness. This is to symbolise hell, and when pilgrims pass through it they are wailing and singing for their sins to be forgiven. It is quite something to experience and hear when surrounded by nothing but darkness. Today the tunnel is only open part way and you exit on the ‘stairway to heaven’.

We then travelled to an even higher altitude to the monastery, approximately 4000m above sea level. We travelled most of the way up in a bajaj and saw farmers threshing wheat,  separating the wheat from the chaff.

The views from the top were incredible, even if we were all a little breathless. While we were at the monastery the priests came out and pilgrims who had come to the end of their fast had climbed up to the monastery to pray and be blessed by the priests.

The following day we visited the churches to the north of the river Jordan:
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Biete Medhani Alem (House of the Saviour of the World) – potentially Lalibela’s oldest, 28 columns and has symbolic graves dug for the biblical patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Pilgrims will lie down in these graves which are situated inside the church.

Biete Mariam (House of Mary), – second most popular, since Orthodox predominantly worship Mary. This was also where people were baptised or splashed with holy water.

Biete Maskal (House of the Cross) and Biete Denagel (House of Virgins) – smallest
Biete Golgotha Mikael (House of Golgotha Mikael) – carvings of the 12 disciples and the tomb of King Lalibela himself.
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Each church is visited for different reasons, some for blessings, some for fertility, and forgiveness. Upon arrival at each church, pilgrims remove their shoes and will kneel, kiss the floor or both sides of the entrance before the go inside. Visitors are also expected to remove their shoes, and to be culturally sensitive females should wear long skirts and cover their heads with a scarf. It was upsetting to see how many tourists did not do this simple but respectful gesture.

 

The eleventh and final church, Biete Ghiorgis (House of St. George), was the last to be built and is isolated from the others, but connected by a system of trenches. Standing at 15-meter-high with three-tiered plinth in the shape of a cross – it is the most visually perfect church of the hewn churches. It’s impressive architecture, complete with its own drainage system, is enhanced by the simplicity seen inside the church. It is the only rock-hewn church that does not have any internal pillars. Hidden in the walls are mummified corpses, presumed to be previous pilgrims that died while in Lalibela.

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The crowds you see gathered around the top is to have the best view of the dancing crowds outside the church down in the rock. It was a joyful, spectacular atmosphere.

All in all, Lalibela is a fantastic place to visit, it may seem like you are going back in time in terms of the beliefs and the traditions in place but there is a real beauty that surrounds it. As the Lonely planet puts it “Lalibela is an ancient world frozen in stone.”

Genna (Christmas)

“It’s a bit late for a Christmas blog post?!” I hear you say… well actually it’s not that late. Ethiopian’s actually celebrate Christmas (Genna) on 7th Jan.

That is just one of the differences I have experienced this year celebrating Christmas in Ethiopia.

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Coming from the UK, I’m used to seeing Christmas decorations in the supermarkets as early as October – sometime September! Here in Ethiopia there are very few Christmas decorations around even in December, except a few random baubles in shops and Christmas trees in hotels which are more catered for firenjis. This made it particularly difficult to get into the ‘Christmas Spirit’. So, my housemate and I ended up creating our own Christmas tree out of painted toilet rolls – you use what you can here, don’t judge!

As a school we had a carol concert performed by a range of different ages across the school – surely that would make it seem more like Christmas….. For those of us from the northern hemisphere (not close to the equator) singing Christmas carols outside on the field wearing sunglasses in 24°C heat is just weird.

The last week of school we had our activities week.
In the UK this would normally be at the end of the academic year where there will be a range of excursions to theme parks or different fun activities at school. Whereas, at Bingham our students visit and help serve at a ministry with some connection to the school, i.e. a Bingham parent. (This could be a whole different blog post)

School broke up for Christmas break on 21st December not leaving much time to really process that it was Christmas in a few days. Either way I was very blessed to have a variety of invites to different places on Christmas Eve as well as Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve (24th Dec) – Breakfast/Brunch at a Bingham family’s home who are originally from Europe so the easiest way to describe it is a continental breakfast with various homemade goodness. This was followed by a roast dinner at a different families house complete with yorkshire puddings, sat outside in the sunshine and shared stories of how our different families celebrate Christmas. Following this I joined some other friends to go to the Lutheran church’s candlelit service, similar to part of my celebrations back in the UK. The service was lovely and we had  people from different countries singing songs in their home language – 3 Ethiopian languages, Sweden, Tanzania, Canada, Netherlands, Suriname to name a few. There is something special about multicultural living, it also brings home the message that Jesus came into this world to save not just one nation, but all nations.

Christmas Day (25th Dec) – For Ethiopians this is a normal working day, so hearing kids still at government school next door felt very strange.
First meal – breakfast with an American family also new to the school this academic year, breakfast casserole (don’t think British version of casserole) fruit, banana bread, various oat dishes and great conversation with a short devotional.
Dinner – a group of us all got together for a ‘pot luck’ (bring and share) Christmas dinner in the teacher’s lounge, we had a few decorations and there was a Christmas tree up. This was a mixture of different families and singles all sharing stories of Christmas in our different countries. Laughing at weird family traditions.

Evening – a number of us invited to the Director’s family’s home for food and games, this reminded me more of Christmas at my parent’s house with silly games and good company. Lots of laughs and being enlightened to people’s competitive side.

Post Christmas – Pre New Year – usually filled with family members staying round and visiting other family members, cold brisk walks in the British winter. Dark nights and no clue what day of the week it is!

Ethiopia at this time of year still has it’s usual highs of 24-26°C in the middle of the day but down to 5-7°C evening/early morning. Hasn’t rained in months, apart from a slight chill in the evening it is nothing like the British winter!
It was also during this time that I started seeing more Christmas decorations around ready for Ethiopian Christmas (but after our Christmas).

New Year was incredibly quiet with very little celebration. Mainly because Ethiopian new year is in the middle of September, so again a normal day for them.

Ethiopian Christmas (7th Jan) – compared to other Ethiopian holidays was quiet as it is predominantly a family holiday where people stay at home and eat injera, doro wat, and various other Ethiopian holiday dishes. I had the privilege of joining two different families, for food and of course BUNA. It was a very special time shared with good friends and family. dsc_1846

Reflection on my Christmas: Christmas in Ethiopia is very different to the UK, you don’t get caught up in the commercialism and materialism that surrounds Christmas nowadays in western countries. It helps focus on the real meaning of Christmas – Mary’s obedience to the will of God even if it meant being marginalised by society, Joseph’s trust to still take Mary as his wife, how uncomfortable the journey and accommodation would have been for a heavily pregnant Mary, to give birth to the hope of the world. A simple, beautiful story with many hardships and difficulties but full of hope and joy shared with the unlikeliest of people.
I really appreciate how precious an offer to join a someone’s Christmas when you are alone, away from family. I challenge you to invite someone with no plans to your Christmas. It’s a time to share, a time to love, a time to give.

 

 

BUNA!

For you Coffee enthusiasts!

Coffee (buna) is very important here and a huge part of culture. This blog post will talk you through the Coffee ‘ceremony’: the making and drinking of Ethiopian coffee. The images used were taken on New Years Day (9th Sept) at an Ethiopian’s home.

Step 1: Roasting the coffee beansDSC_1549
The coffee beans are placed on a metal dish over a fire and constantly stirred to help them roast fairly evenly.
This is a typical set up where they have a fire pit to one side and cups laid out next to it. You will notice some fake grass underneath, grass (real or fake) is used for special occasions and is laid on the floor inside houses and always used during coffee ceremonies. You may also notice the pink tray contains popcorn – this is a common combination here.

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Step 2: Boil water in Jebena (coffee pot)
Hot water is transferred to the Jebena (a round bottom coffee pot) and continued to heat.

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Step 3: Grind the coffee beans
The coffee beans are ground essentially with a pestle and mortar. The pestle used is quite heavy so has enough weight to help with the grinding process – it’s harder than it looks to do this well and evenly. The coffee powder is not as fine as you would get from an electric coffee grinder (unsurprisingly!)

 

Step 4: Transfer coffee powder into the Jebena

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Step 5: Heat the cups with hot water
While the coffee is brewing in the Jebena (now back on the fire) they pour hot water into each of the cups, partially to clean them but also to warm them before pouring the coffee.
The popcorn has made a few rounds already now so you’ll notice it has moved place a few times from the photos. (Oh and we had some toffee too)

Step 6: Pour out the bunaDSC_1556

A couple of spoons of sugar are put into each cup before adding the coffee (whether the sugar is always added I don’t know – but certainly for firenji). The coffee is very good but also very strong as you can imagine.

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Step 7: Incense
Incense is added to the now vacant fire and produces some wonderful rich smells to compliment the coffee being drunk.

 

Step 8: This is not the end! (Round 2)
The coffee ceremony can last for a few hours with good conversation and good coffee – this would be heaven for some of you.
In terms of the coffee making process, more water and any remaining coffee powder is added to the jebena and it is heated again for ’round 2′, the cups are collected and rinsed and refilled with more coffee.

Enough? (Becca?)

By no means!

Step 9: Final Round 3
More water added to the Jebena and heated, cups rinsed and refilled.

I will admit that I was already feeling the effects after the first two rounds so did not have a third. Since we are good friends with the host she isn’t offended by this but normally you would be expected to drink all 3 cups of coffee.
I’m not sure what the equivalent would be but I’m sure it’s not far off having 3 x double espressos!

Coffee lovers – could you handle it?

(For any Ethiopians reading – I apologise if I’ve got any of this wrong!)

Daily life – how is it different?

I’m sure some of you are interested in how daily life is different here compared to the UK. I will begin by saying that this will not be representative of how Ethiopians live but will describe how life on the Bingham compound is different from the UK.
The Big 3: Electricity, Water & Internet
There have been some mornings where I have found myself asking these 3 questions (to myself) when I wake up:
1. ‘Do we have electricity?’ (switches light on, yes)
We have had a few power cuts in my first month here already, but once again the compound is geared up for this. We have a couple of generators on site which are switched on during school and evenings till 10pm (or 9pm I can’t remember).
2. ‘Do we have water?’ (runs tap/shower – yes) – this one I don’t ask as much since it as only happened once for less than 24 hours during my time here so far.
We do have a big barrel of water out the front of our apartment for such occasions which can be used for washing (although it’s not particularly clean) and flushing the toilet.
3. ‘Do we have internet?’ (checks phone – sometimes)
We have, for the most part, reliable WiFi on the compound (by African standards), although we have had 6 days without WiFi due to damage (outside of the compound) by a rat chewing through a wire discovered on Monday but was not fixed until late Thursday due to the new year and no one being in the office.
Lesson planning without WiFi means you have to get pretty good at drawing diagrams or pictures! 3G was a bit temperamental to during this time with the events happening in the city. Sometimes the internet (sometimes including 3G) will be switched off.

Drinking Water

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We are very privileged in the UK to be able to drink water straight from the tap. In most other countries this is not the case. I am fortunate that Bingham have large stores of drinking water around the compound that has been filtered and treated with UV. We have two large cans that we use to collect drinking water to drink and cook with which obviously need refilling on a regular basis. During rainy season this does sometimes mean you will get wet whilst collecting drinking water!

Sometimes the tap water from the sink, bath or shower is slightly brown in colour, so you do wonder how clean you actually get in some showers! I even got excited one day when the water came out of the tap and looked clean…. It’s the little things in life.

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Brushing teeth
Since the tap water is not drinking water, it is advised not to use it for brushing your teeth (although some people do). As a result we keep a jug of drinking water next to our sink (left) to use when brushing teeth. You have to be careful though as it’s incredibly easy to rinse your toothbrush off under the tap due to UK habits.

Laundry

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We are definitely blessed on the compound for having access to a washing machine and a dryer (only used during rainy season – otherwise things are permanently damp). This would not be typical for Ethiopian families who would have to hand wash their clothes. The main difference here is that it is not in our apartment but in a little shed at the end of our block. This is closer to having a launderette at university halls of residence.
Obviously we would have to resort to hand washing if we were without water or electricity for too long.

Breakfast

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Normally in the UK I would have a bowl of cereal for breakfast each morning. However, cereals here are very expensive (imported) and the milk tastes strange so I’ve not wanted to pay lots for cereal that may be ruined by the milk choice. Instead, I’ve adapted my breakfast to porridge – which I suppose is still fairly British, with the exception of powered milk! It is not always possible to find sugar at the moment, even brown sugar.
I combine these in a saucepan and add hot water to it after boiling the kettle on the hob. We have a selection of electric or gas hobs but currently we try and use the electric hob as much as possible as there is currently a gas shortage in the country so we try and save the gas for when we don’t have electricity.

Cooking

Cooking comes with its own set of challenges. One challenge is guessing the temperature of the oven. Also the altitilude plays havoc with cooking times too. Even boiling potatoes takes longer as water boils at a lower temperature here. The other is finding out what ingredients you can buy in this country, followed by what recipes you can still cook from those ingredients. You learn to be creative and adapt them where you can. Some ingredients come in rather odd packaging. For example, plain flour in a small black bin bag (middle image), eggs and milk also come in bags (apart from imported milk). Once you have purchased your fruit and veg you then need to bleach it (image on the left), rinse it before cutting and cooking it. Again this is something that everyone has a different opinion of, what to bleach and what not to bleach, how long for, so you have to find what works for you. The final image shown here is a completed lasagne that has lasted us quite a few days after freezing a few portions – which has been great during lock down. That’s another thing you learn here is to store up food and freeze food for those occasions.

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Shopping
In the shops you can’t always guarantee what you will find, some things are regular others could be a one hit wonder so if it’s something you haven’t seen for a while, get a few and freeze if appropriate. The language can be a bit of a struggle when shopping but I am learning to communicate, which helps once you’ve learnt your numbers, and names of different items. 1/2kg (gimash kilo) and 1kg (und kilo) are the most common quantities I use since they don’t always understand wanting to buy 2 avocados for example. Pricing is also tricky and converting to GBP quickly to work out if the price is too high or if I can afford something. Also you become very reliant on reading a number on the screen for your total expenditure.

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Heating
Yes it gets chilly here. Temperatures in the evening generally drop to 12°C here at the moment (can go as low as 5°C I’ve heard) due to being at high altitude. For the most part this isn’t particularly cold compared to the UK but the buildings here are not insulated at all so you notice it more. Fortunately, our apartment is one with a small open fire place in it and working in a school means you often have a lot of paper you need to dispose of which helps when lighting fires. Can take some time to get it going since the wood is slightly damp during the rainy season.

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Leaving and Arriving at the compound
We have some fantastic guards at the compound gate who you greet every time you arrive and leave. If driving a Bingham vehicle there is some paper work to fill out each time too to monitor mileage used.

I’ve not included driving conditions and general out and about around Addis is different, as I wanted to focus on life on the compound.

All in all we are very blessed with the facilities we have, they may seem basic for some UK standards but that’s all you ‘need’. It’s amazing how quickly you can learn to adjust to things you don’t normally have (unless so if you’ve had a bad day – then you notice it more!)

Come Visit!