What Connects Us

Well, I think an easy place to begin would be about the food. Not that my trip was all about food, but it’s what connected us in many ways. I could go on and on about the food and the coffee. Ethiopia’s major export is coffee. To sum it up – they have really good coffee. Bunabootet every day.

We’d always start the day with macchiatos. I am not sure what they do to the macchiatos, but they are good. A small little espresso cup with steamed milk and espresso. I was game. I usually had two in the morning along with bunabootet (coffee and milk). The normal coffee and milk reminded me of the coffee one might receive in Europe, more so in France: thick and dark. That is why it was normal to have warm milk with your coffee. Whole milk. With sugar straight from the sugar cane. There is nothing artificial or processed about any food you received in Ethiopia. Dear me, I loved the sugar.

Coffee is very symbolic in Ethiopia. It is not uncommon to have coffee ceremonies wherever you go. When we would visit someone’s home, coffee beans were roasted over an open fire and then ground with a metal rod in an wooden type of pestle.

The coffee grounds would be placed in a special pot and brewed in a house over an open flame. The strongest cups would be served first with popcorn. Yes, popcorn. Then you might have two other cups following. Each cup not as strong as the first.

Teft is another crop used daily in Ethiopia. Teft is a small, black grain, used in making enjera or injera.

the bright green is teft

Enjera is this fermented pancake used to eat your food with. By itself it’s vinegary and not really tasty.

But when you have it with shiro or doro wat, man is it good. Shiro is ground chickpeas which when mixed with this berbere, creates something similar to a really spicy, refried bean texture. Doro wat, uses the same berbere with an onion and garlic base, chicken and and a hard boiled egg. I have no pictures of my meals…I think I just forgot to take pictures of my food because it was so good and messy.

Pastii – basically fried sweet dough ball. I know it’s something more than that, but holy cow, good, good eats. Served with spiced tea in which you would dunk the fried sweet dough ball. I pretty much ate that with abandonment.

Ethiopians love their sweets. Part of the reason is because what makes things sweet comes directly from their fields. Did I mention I loved the sugar? Well, I did.

All coffee houses had these. Orange cake, orange cake with frosting. Most shops were also bakeries. Any place that baked bread in Addis was a hot spot. Sometimes it would take 4 or 5 tries to find our lunch bread before heading to Sendafa.

We also had a day where we got away from everything and went to Mt. Olive. It’s called something else, but I think Dr. Frew was trying to translate it into something we could understand. Debre Zyte is also home to Genesis Farm. I was often caught off guard by some of the similarities between Ethiopia and the U.S. – farming, no matter where you are, is often very similar.

Places like Genesis give people the opportunity to have fresh produce and milk products. Fresh cottage cheeses and yougurts. Similar to a co-op.

I was lucky enough to try the strawberry yougurt while I was there. I didn’t think too much about it, but one of the things we were not supposed to have were fruits and vegetables without peels, raw. But the yougurt was much like kefir in consistency and having the good bacteria, so I wound up being fine.

I think one of the things I was most taken by was everyone sharing their food. Goorsha is an act in which someone feeds you from their plate, mainly done with Ethiopian cuisine. Depending on who fed you, you could wind up being stuffed silly with food.

I feel like no matter where you go, sitting and eating together is a universal way to connect. It was a time to reflect and relax and make new friendships for me while I was abroad. It’s no wonder my new friends became like family to me while I was apart from mine.


What is there to say?

A lot.

Before we came home, I was talking to some of my team and I was stuck on how I was going to explain this to people. What do you say to people when they ask you how it was? Like, I will never look at a port-a-potty with distaste again? That my quads are the strongest they’ve ever been? That when you drive in Addis you hold your breath because between the people and livestock on the roads, there are also vehicles going in every direction imaginable?


There is way more than that.

Like, I have a second family and in the 9 days total we were there, I never ever imagined to feel as I did when we left. That sobbing puddles would happen. That the guard checking my passport before entering the airport would pat my shoulder because he just watched me say goodbye to a most wonderful person.

My life was truly touched in the most inexplicable way. I was blessed to meet these women and children living with HIV/AIDS, but, also with hope and peace. There was something about them I wanted to have. In the midst of dirt and despair, I saw light and joy. I saw gardens flourish, I saw women giving more than they received. I saw seeds planted from years ago, from many teams ago, abundant and full.

What can I say?

There is more, but I am not quite there. For now this is all I can say. All I can explain. In pictures. And words.