Thursday, 26th of September: Get up early, wash in a bucket (there is no running water again), dress for work and head to the bus. Arrive in work and meet all the friendly faces again. There is electricity today thank God and my line manager who I was worried about is not angry with me for being three days absent, just happy that I am safe and well after the protests. I come home in the afternoon and stay on to be part of the birthday celebrations, eating from approximately 1pm til 4pm.
More and more visitors are coming and there are not enough chairs so I suggest I will go back to my house and come back later. Stink eye from baby moma. I slope away and back to my house hoping they will be too preoccupied to bother with me. My little sister calls me from Sweden- excellent! Ten minutes into the conversation, there is a knock at the door. I ignore it. It persists. Coffee time, Ais! Don’t pretend like you didn’t know it was coming! Yes, but this is my little sister calling from a foreign country, I don’t know when we will get the chance to speak again. You must come now. I can’t. You must. Ok, well just wait a little while then. No, you must come now. MY GOD. Premature goodbye to Niamh who tries her best to understand the situation. At the coffee ceremony, one of my teenage neighbours who has moved into a new house arrives and it is great to see her after a long absence. She suggests to take me to the religious festival which is taking place in town. A way out of the compound?! Yes! The baby moma is suspicious but cannot say no to religion so off we go. En route, it is obligatory that I visit the teenager’s new house. We arrive and her next-door neighbour immediately seizes the opportunity to invite us in for coffee. Mother of God! Here we go again! Somehow we get out of there and into the town. The religious festival was…an experience. It was taking place in a field, there were about two thousand people there from my estimation. There is a huge bonfire in the middle topped with two sticks in the shape of a cross. For a half an hour or so we people watched, then listened to the ramblings of a few different priests over a loud-speaker. There was a very small bit of congregational singing and praying, followed by about a half an hour of, in my opinion, tone-deaf singing by a priest. As the bonfire rages, you wait to see where the cross will fall. If it falls in a particular direction it means drought, famine, prosperity, health etc. When the cross falls there is a huge rush of young men into the centre of the bonfire despite the best efforts of the army men with their batons. They are trying to get a bit of the ash which is then smeared on the foreheads of the believers in the shape of a cross. The men seem to get a great rush out of it, chanting and dancing with drums. The women looked on from relative safety. Like a rite of passage, Wainshet’s brother came back with some for us and we were blessed. We hung around for a little longer until the priests were driven out in a jeep. We followed the procession of the embers down the road with singing and dancing from the faithful. We parted company with Wainchet, her brother and his family with an agreement that I would go for coffee in their new house on Saturday. More coffee and invitations. God almighty! Got back to the compound and had to knock to be let in thereby heralding my return to all and sundry. Abebu greets me with a pointed, “you have been gone for a long time” but I melt her Christian heart when I show her the ash cross painted on my forehead. Get out of jail free card. I must then go back to her house for more celebrations. I begin to flag at around 7 o clock and for some reason she takes pity on me and I am released. However, I must go to their house for breakfast in the morning. I agree as there seems no other way out. Her sister tells me we will go to a bazaar tomorrow. Will we? On my way out of her house the others neighbours spot me and ask if I am free to teach Habib some English? This is truly incredible! And nobody knows what it feels like to have to say no. I say no and they don’t understand but I have to be firm. I am very tired and want to be alone. But you will be free tomorrow because of the holy day? Yes, I sigh, you are correct, I will be free tomorrow because of the holy day. Calls of goodnight and sleep well and I love you and I get back into my house. Ignore two calls from the eggplant woman before bed. Will have to deal with that situation tomorrow. Uughh.
Friday, 27th of September: Today is an official guilt-free day off work for the holy day. Really looking forward to the weekend, getting settled back, doing errands having been away and then an unbroken week of work ahead. Abebu begins calling me for breakfast at around 8am so I have been given some respite. But I ignore the calls, pretend to be asleep and effectively hide out in the house all morning writing this blog. What I really NEED is some space and also to wash some clothes. For this last task I would have to go outside thereby sabotaging my first need and alerting everyone to the fact that I am here in the compound available for coffee ceremonies, injera-eating, English teaching etc etc etc! Hmmmm. There is also no running water again but I estimate that I do have enough stored to probably wash one set of clothes, myself and then flush the toilet…
I choose to hide out in the house all day writing this blog (I find it cathartic) rather than venture out at all. Late that evening I get a call from Sami to say that he is passing through Woldia if I would like to go for dinner. He is like my brother and I really want to meet him but how can I possibly explain that right at this very moment my 27 year old self is sitting in the dark with all the curtains drawn in an effort to hide from my neighbours? The question is, can I slip out of the compound undetected or am I willing to explain my days absence? I turn the key in the door, ever so quietly. A keen ear tells me there is no one in the courtyard and I steal away at first cautiously towards the gate and then when I reach the relative safety of the unlit street, I run!
Take a bajaj into town and meet Sami and the others for dinner. We go to a friend’s new restaurant where I haven’t been yet and again I am greeted as the prodigal daughter, that means both with indignation and smothering affection. The fatted calf is killed for me so to speak, we pass a lovely evening together. I am anxious about getting back to the compound.
Bajaj home, creep up to the compound under the cover of darkness. It is unlocked- RESULT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! However there is a desperate creeking as I open the corrugated iron gate. Nobody in sight but I hear some caffling somewhere in the courtyard. Damn you, gate, damn you to hell!!! It is Hayatu. I wave sheepishly and make for my door. He follows me asking all the juicy details of what I have been doing, where I have been doing it, with whom I have been doing it etc. I lie to him, tell him I went to work today and then to meet friends for dinner. He is a good egg and suggests that now I want to go to sleep? Yes, yes I do.
Alcohol Units: If home brew counts then I am gone a way over my RDA 😉
Calories: Too many to mention
Number of priests present at child’s first birthday party: Four
Number of daylight hours spent “in hiding”: Twelve
Age: 27 and a half years