Friday, October 16, 2015

Foreign Service Christmas

I love Christmas. All of them. There's the Christmas you normally think of; there's Ethiopian Christmas, which I will discuss in detail at the appropriate time (January); and then there's Foreign Service Christmas, which I am celebrating now.

Foreign Service Christmas is the day your personal effects finally get delivered to your house at your new post. You get to open dozens and dozens of boxes all at the same time - big ones - and it doesn't matter that all of the contents are things you previously owned because you haven't seen them in months (or in the case of long-term language training or a PSP tour, years) so it still kind of feels like a surprise. Also, you're pretty much guaranteed to like everything you get because you picked it all out. At any rate, if you do open a box to find an ugly ill-fitting sweater there's no one but yourself to blame.

It's all for me!
I am especially delighted by this Foreign Service Christmas because I've been getting by from suitcases and the welcome kit for six weeks now, which is a personal record. Everything so far has arrived undamaged and in one piece, even my piƱata! I am only slightly disappointed that the delivery I thought was my UAB (air shipment) and my HHE (general personal effects) turned out to be my UAB and my consumables shipment instead. That means that most of my stuff remains firmly in the clutches of Ethiopian customs for an undetermined period of time. But it's okay, because tonight I can celebrate with a frosty Purple Haze and sleep in my very own sheets, and tomorrow morning I don't have to get up early and feed the cat because his autofeeder will do it for me. This is much, much better than my situation this morning. I am happy.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Wenchi Crater Lake

My first trip outside Addis was an embassy-organized excursion to Wenchi Crater Lake, about 4 hours' drive from the city. The caldera of an extinct volcano now has a lake in the middle with waterfalls and hot and cold springs, and the views are lovely. Almost 30 of us went on a 5-hour tour down from the rim of the caldera, around through a lush spring-fed valley, across the lake to an island in the middle with a monastery on it, over to the other side of the lake for lunch, and back up top to head home.

There were horses available for most of the way (except a tricky section where the road was washed out) but I walked the 10 km down to the lake. If a six-year-old could do it, so could I, and it's tough to take good pictures from horseback. Up was a different story: at this point in my altitude adjustment I can handle one flight of stairs without falling apart but two is still a challenge, so I was not about to try a 1.5-hour upward climb. Not that my unathletic self would have tried it at sea level either. Yay for knowing my limitations!

The scenery was lovely, dramatic and green from the end of the rainy season. I learned some things about the local area too. The springs there are the source for Ambo, a popular water brand named for the nearest town. Over 2000 people live in and around the crater growing barley and ensete on the steep slopes. A great trip!

Friday, October 2, 2015


Sunday was Meskel, a big Christian holiday which celebrates the finding of the True Cross by Saint Helen. This is not a story I learned in my Presbyterian Sunday school, so here's the tale as told mostly by Wikipedia:

Helen, or Eleni as she is known locally, was the mother of Emperor Constantine, of Constantinople fame. While on pilgrimage to Jerusalem she dreamt that building a bonfire would reveal the location of the crosses Jesus and the two theives had been crucified on, which had been buried and lost. This she duly did, and the column of smoke from the fire curved down and touched the ground at the place the crosses were buried. In order to figure out which of the three was the True Cross, a deathly ill woman touched each in turn until she was miraculously healed. After that the True Cross was apparently hacked to bits by religious souvenir hunters as there are pieces of it kept as relics in churches all over the place, including Ethiopia.

The celebration of Meskel is a big deal here in Addis. There's a big religious procession in Meskel Square, in the center of town. I didn't make it out there this year but I was lucky enough to get to see the practice session a few days before. Here's a short clip:

Untitled from Meredith Cheerfulstoic on Vimeo

Another key part of the festivities is the building and lighting of bonfires, called demera. There's a big one in Meskel square but also smaller ones all over the place set up by families or neighborhoods for their own celebrations. They are traditionally decorated with small yellow daisies known as Meskel flowers and set alight as part of a feast with music and dancing. I went to one with some friends and it was a lot of fun. I sampled some homemade tej, or honey wine, attempted some Ethiopian dances (much to the amusement of the assembled guests), and carried a torch to help light the fire. I love holidays!

Demera before

Demera after