By Peace Corps Volunteer
I’ve been exercising twice a day just for kicks, and when I’m lying on the floor unable to move after an Insanity session, I’ve been thinking about the things that should be brought back to America from Ethiopia. Here are my Top 5:
1. Buna Ceremonies: A buna ceremony is when someone invites you to have coffee made in a traditional jebena on a charcoal stove. Only women make coffee. They roast it, pound/grind it and then cook it while you’re there. There are three cups that all have a name and you have to drink the third in order to be polite and wish the house good health. The woman making it doesn’t eat or drink until everyone else has had theirs. The woman is also responsible for getting up and walking over to pick up your cup. It’s rude if you get up and give it her since you’re a guest. You can hand it to her with two hands to show respect. There is usually also homemade bread and popcorn she passes around. It can be a formal invitation for just the ceremony, but they also make buna after lunch and usually every night. During the ceremony, you’re constantly told to “play,” which means talk, unless you know the people well. They are, in a word, fantastical. Not only do you get good, fresh coffee, but you also get an excuse to sit with people for three whole cups. It’s an excuse to just sit and stare at each other and, when necessary, say stuff.
2. Shai-Buna breaks: These are mandatory at both 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You and your homies head out to the buna house (essentially a coffee shop) and take a half-hour rest that is, frankly, just delightful. It breaks up the day even more than your two-hour lunch did and you get a jolt of caffeine. Yes, please.
3. The shoulder bump: People here greet everyone (except shamuglies [older men] and arrogates [older women]) by grabbing their hand and then bumping shoulders, teenage-boy-style. I love it for many reasons, the main one being that it’s like a half hug when a full hug would be weird but you want a little more than a hand shake. My 36-year-old counterpart greets her 14-year-old son this way. Love it.
4. Greeting people by saying “How are you?” five times: When all you have to do is just say “How are you, are you fine, do you have peace, do you HAVE peace” and the answer is always the same question in response, you avoid all the awkward actual answers. It’s like a whole conversation where you totally make the other person feel good, but you never really have to go there (unless you want to start in on asking if their family is fine, etc.). You connect but can keep on walking to your program. (Calling everything you do a “program” is item 4.5. Try it, it’s pretty appropriate and makes going to the post office seem super important.)
5. The Gorsha (and eating from the same plate): The gorsha, or hand feeding, is an experience everyone should have. Having a large amount of food shoved into your mouth as a sign of respect or love just seems American, doesn’t it? It has to do with food. It’s large. It’s partly against your will. I can’t believe we didn’t think of this first. On a side note, eating from the same plate means you can eat more if you’re ambitious and hungry, or less and someone will pick up your slack. It makes eating a team effort, and I work way better on a team, don’t you?
Bringing it Back Emily was a Peace Corps Health Volunteer living and drinking coffee in Bale Goba, Ethiopia. She returned to the States in September 2014 and will go back to her work as a nurse with an entirely new perspective.