12 October 2012

so a ferenji walks into a bar…

If only I knew how to translate the punchline, I’d be more than happy to share the rest of the joke. This was essentially how the final hours of my Friday started off. I expected to be writing about how I taught real* Ethiopian students for the first time today, introducing baseball equipment, Scrabble, skiing, hide-and-seek, and key phrases such as “Go Phillies!” to four separate classes of 8th grade students (if you’re following closely, that’s roughly 200 new Phillies fans Phans). While that’s certainly nothing to snuff, there will be plenty of teaching experiences to come, but what followed is a bit more unique.

I have made it a regular occurrence to end each week with a visit to a great little bar that my compound brother, Babel, introduced me to when I first arrived in Bekoji. I like it for several reasons: it’s quiet and laid back, it’s away from the main thoroughfares of commerce, and the serve my favorite Ethiopian beer, Dashen. I have found it a great way to unwind on a Friday afternoon. It has become the sole location where I write in my journal, which has gone from a daily to a weekly practice. After today’s incredible exhausting-in-a-good-way morning, I was undoubtedly bound for another visit to what I have dubbed, “Babel Bar.”

When I turned the corner toward my little hideaway, I noticed a hum coming from inside. The place has been quiet upon each of my appearances, so this kind of stopped me in my tracks. Before I came to a complete halt, I was already visible through the front door, and was motioned to enter by a man on the other side of the room. I was hesitant, but shuffled through the crowded house nonetheless. I kept my head down, but could not miss the rather serious tone of the party.

I quickly greeted the owners, and made my way into the second room, making obscure hand motions in an attempt to bridge the communication gap. It seemed as though room #2 was a spillover of the first room, so I continued on to room #3, which is usually a part of the establishment’s typical seating selection. Today, however, there were three or four men in the company of an older woman in a bed, who appeared to be sick and/or possibly dying.

My flight response was in full bloom, but it was too much to turn around and head toward the front door. Instead, I went for the fourth and final room, which happens to be the kitchen. It was empty, which made it the “safest” option I’d encountered thus far. I sat down on a bench and uttered, “chigarellum?” to one of the employees. He responded with an inviting, “chigarellum.” No problem. Great! I’ll just keep my fanny parked right here if ya don’t mind!

Long story short, by the end of the evening, I was given three traditional cups of coffee, cookies, some kind of raw bean, a delicious injera dish, and did not have to pay for a single one of my beers. My flight from the front door to the kitchen in the back transformed me from a customer into a guest of the family that ones the establishment. I suppose it’s fitting given that I did teach one of their sons about baseball today, as he is a student in one of the 8th grade classes at my school. Perhaps that makes the punchline, “…and experiences Ethiopian culture at its finest.”

1 comment:

  1. The heart of a house is its kitchen. You made your way there, and fully into the heart of the family. Just by being who you are, and following the inner guidance of what was right to do, and to not listen to the inner voice of fear to flee.