After my sleepless night, I waited restlessly in the foyer for someone from the university to come and collect me and my baggage and bring me to the new place. The carriage duly arrived and having earned my freedom from the hotel and bade a teary farewell to the teenage staff with a promise to call back for a coffee some day, we travelled down the road as fast as the wind. I was very appreciative of the two who had come to collect me but I was equally looking forward to the solitary day of nesting which lay ahead, to unpacking the luggage that had lately been so painstakingly and lovingly arranged and rearranged on another continent by my sister Siobhán as I thought of some new indispensable item that simply had to be included, maybe to lay down my head for a few hours, and to make something to eat by my own hand for the first time in almost a month. Bliss 🙂
Well, do you know what happens to the best laid plans?
As soon as we rounded the corner of the compound, I was descended on from every angle by women and children of all different ages. Assured of my safety by this public display of affection, this was my University chaperones’ cue to leave me to my neighbours with a promise to call later on to see how I was settling in.
The introductions began and I struggled to repeat, never mind to retain, all the names which seemed so unfathomable and unlikely to the Irish ear. A drink of “talle” was produced which I gathered to be some type of home-brew. All eyes were on me as I replayed my death-bed scene in the hotel in Addis over in my head. I first took a miniscule sip and dreaded to think of the inevitable after-effects the unpurified water and fermented grain which had been brewing in a bucket out the back for a week would later have on my bowels. I declared it to be “consho”/beautiful and in an unusual move threw caution to the wind, downing the glass (while whimpering a silent prayer to the powers that be) much to the delight of the neighbours.
I had passed the initiation test- I was in!
A healthy appetite is applauded here not unlike Ireland before everyone started eating salads and only having three spuds with dinner. And so that afternoon I was made to visit every house in the compound and was force fed “injera” and coffee in each one of them whereupon my poor appetite was greeted with suspicion, regret and condolence.
The women remained vigilant at all times that I would not be left alone for even a moment which is rather unfortunate if one needs to go to the toilet! To say that they were welcoming would be an understatement. And if I had any anxieties about living as a lone foreigner amidst all these Ethiopians they were dispelled almost instantly. It seemed homely and warm, the type of place where you could leave the key in the door, where you don’t quite know what children belong to which house and where the kettle is always on the boil.
That night, six cups of Ethiopian coffee later, I could stand on my head but I couldn’t sleep a wink. It was all a matter though as I was not a bit tired and I was so so happy.
(P.S. Sensing a sudden spike in my father’s blood pressure, I would like to state for the record here on this blog that I never leave the key in the door, I always lock the door, I’m just saying that I could if I wanted to but…I’ll stop digging the hole now!)