Sunday, May 10, 2009

Memories of Ethiopia

Two of the photographs that I decided not to post on the Guest Blog by my friend Dave, evoked several powerful memories of the time that I spent in Ethiopia.

After seeing them, my first thought was of the children that I had met in the rural areas outside of the city of Asmara. I had worked, with other GI’s, on several projects (including building a windmill) that benefited the local village population. Many other US military people did much more than I did for the people of our host country.

The children would gather around us (and as Dave says “they loved to ham it up in front of our cameras”). Although they never begged, we would give to them tokens of our friendship; usually small change and sometimes even an Ethiopian dollar (40 cents US). We would also bring items to these children such as paper, pencils and clothing from the Post Exchange at Kagnew. Many of these children had never left their village and had never seen the city of Asmara, just 30 miles away.

To the rural population outside of the city of Asmara, an Ethiopian dollar was a lot of money, considering that their annual family income was about $60 US (in 1967) or less. They bartered livestock (goats and sheep) for grain (mainly Teff) and other food stuffs. In drought years the grain was sparse and the livestock were very lean (little spare food or water to give them). But there were always hot peppers that would grow in any soil and under the most adverse conditions. These peppers were a staple in many Ethiopian dinners.

Ethiopia is where I acquired my taste for spicy foods. There was a local dish called Zigny (Zigne) that made Curried foods seem tame. Zigny was a stew that was seasoned with many spices that were roasted to make a powder called Berbere (Beri-Beri) which predominately was made up of local hot peppers. Just looking at the powder would bring tears to your eyes.

The most common Zigny was made with goat meat. It was served in a community pot placed in the center of the dinning area (usually a two foot tall table) and often accompanied by an equally spicy lentil dish. A flat sourdough bread called Injera (made with Teff flour) was used to scoop the Zigny from the pot. As in very many Mideast and African countries no utensils were used; you ate with your right hand only (never your left).

I had been honored several times, by locals that invited me to their homes for a Zigny dinner (one time we brought a live goat as a gift for the host). As my friend Dave said the people there were amazingly friendly and looking for nothing in return but a pleasant conversation.

Unlike my world traveling friend Dave, I’ll never return to Ethiopia; perhaps I should have never left!

The Beach Bum

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