Monday, 28 January 2019

Celebrating Meskel: Ethiopian New Year

In Ethiopia I enjoyed Saba’s hospitality, seeing her new home with her family Gaby (husband) and Leo (son), excellent food and the Ethiopian celebrations in Meskel square. The political situation in Ethiopia has improved hugely with the new prime minister allowing democracy.

I have followed Saba’s different homes around Addis I enjoyed staying in her latest home, her German father’s house. Built in the 70’s with a large open plan house with huge picture windows across the city and a vast copper fireplace. It has ample areas for sitting, a smaller dining room. The house has public spaces, and no rooms for studying or having guests.  Saba and Gaby have a challenge ahead in modernising it but will end up with a lovely house.  They have put down wooden floors to replace the carpets, taken out a bar and made a TV room. They have created a study.  The walls are decorated with her father’s pictures including a fine collection of Ethiopian crosses and an icon. They have painted the bedrooms white and hung their own pictures there. I enjoyed sitting in the garden, especially in the mornings, with nice views over Addis. alt (2,200 m) The plants reflect the local subtropical highland climate with a huge cactus like tree and roses, which grow so well there and in ALERT grounds.

On Sunday we relaxed and enjoyed showing Alex the city centre with the palace and my favourite the 1960’s modern national bank building that looks like a space station. We visited the botanical gardens, high above the city with beautiful afternoon views.  The yellow mescal flowers were blooming and Alex photographed us there.

I stock up on coffee in Ethiopia and Saba took us to a supermarket to shop for coffee. I bought some new brands as did Deanna Haage, a colleague based in Kathmandu. Alex loves shopping and bought interesting scarves made from Malian and Ethiopian fabrics and leather goods in a local craft market.

We had excellent meals in Addis, Sunday lunch of burgers in the trendy converted warehouse with an East London vibe, followed by ice creams at a new shop, Leo recommended strong chocolate and hazelnut flavours, a winning combination.  We eat with the leprosy group in a Greek restaurant where I had tasty pieces of braised Nile perch.  After our hospital work we sipped triple fruit juices in Kaldi café, these are a combination of avocado. mango and water melon layered like a cocktail. We had supper in the Italian club which is covered in Juventus memorabilia and had aubergine followed by fish. On the first day I had Ethiopian lunch in the hospital with spicy lentils and vegetables (Ethiopian fasting food) and bread. At Saba’s home we had Ethiopian and Italian food, and fine French patisserie to celebrate Meskel.

We celebrated Meskel, Ethiopian New Year, in Meskel Square with an Indian leprosy doctor friend Joydeepa.  This is a religious celebration like Easter and each locality has a bonfire and people give each other yellow meskel flowers. From the NTD conference we had tickets for the VIP area and I enjoyed walking along the empty streets. We joined the crowds and struggled walking thorugh them, we never reached the VIP area. People squeezed up and made space for us to sit with them.   Priests and religious people in traditional white clothes blew on goat horns and banged drums and processed around the square. Everybody lit and held up taper like candles. it was a beautiful sight, with the candles forming gentle curves of light along the square. The fire was lit by two Ethiopian popes There was a large firework display and we celebrated the New Year, everyone was very relaxed and happy, there was no aggression.  it was lovely sharing this event with Ethiopians. it was both a local and national event.

Ethiopian politics has improved hugely with the new president Abiy Ahmed allowing democracy. He has released many people from jail, including the father-in- law of my Now London based post doc Edessa Gobena.   He has ended the long dreary war with Eritrea going since 1998. All my Ethiopian friends feel happy with him and the new direction he has taken the country in. Gaby sends him social media messages every day to encourage him.  The week we arrived there had been demonstrations about rights of the Oromo people.   Some people saw this as a test of his authority, he has a gentle peace loving persona but he was able to crack down on protesters and show his authority. I hope that this political improvement is long lasting Ethiopia has long needed a more open political system.

My visits to Ethiopia are so enriched by Saba’s warm hospitality, I connect better with the country and my work has an extra dimension. I enjoy the good food and seeing the Ethiopian politics evolve in a positive direction.

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