Letter from Ethiopia #4

By Dandew Serbello - August 2001


Our Feeding Habits

Dear Readers, as I write this letter I put myself in a big oriental restaurant where you can have a good command of meals containing rich variety of items of food that usually go with the prevailing weather condition or the seasonal occasions to be marked by preparing special dishes. I gather people in the western world get so bored rapidly, which I wish people of three thousand years old country could catch the epidemics. We walk slowly in a track where the rest of the world rushes for progress. The people of the western world or even the east may not eat the same type of food year in and year out. You may imagine that paupers and beggars in the streets of Addis are subjected to the routine of eating the same kind of food throughout the year. But a closer look will show that this is not the case.

Without much effort they get all kinds of leftovers containing balanced diet. People carry the residuals to where the beggars conveniently position themselves and empty their handouts into their containers sometimes literally beyond the “carrying capacity ”of the less fortunate. That must probably be the reason why we see little ragged but healthy plump-cheeked toddlers running around in the streets playfully, while our own children remain feeble and prone to colds and other petty health problems despite our too much care taking.

Of course those children do not eat balanced diet of their own free will. I am saying this because even a well-to-do person in many parts of Ethiopia adheres to a strange feeding habit that the world would laugh its head off if informed about the ridiculous way people get starved amidst plenty to eat. Mention should be made here that during the famous 1974 famine thousands of people were dropping dead with their cattle standing by their sides. They could have slain them earlier, dried the meat, store it and use it until they reached the capital. This is partly because of their affinity to the animals, which are considered as close members of the family. There are other reasons as well such as outlooks. Let me tell you what my relatives did to me the other week.

We went to visit a lady approaching maternity and saw a number of ladies invited to a special ceremony of “porridge eating” day. This, as most of you probably know, is, under normal circumstances, crashed barley flour or oatmeal usually prepared for breakfast. But in this country it is eaten mostly at the time when a lady gives birth to a child. It is served on a bowl like plate, with a small bore hole dug in the middle for placing the rich mixture of melted butter and red pepper as well as a little honey in some cases. Women in the neighborhood and close friends are invited to “taste” the porridge before the lady delivers the baby.

The worth of the oatmeal is usually measured by how much the grain was sun-dried and how much water it absorbers and of course the quality and the quantity of butter added also matters much. What is stranger is that this type of food is demeaning to men and it is not normal to invite them. Some men make a big fuss out of it claiming that “Genfo” or porridge is too soft and pasty to be eaten by men who are supposed to feed on some hotter and tougher stuff. For all I know there are softer edibles much preferred by gallant men even swallowed raw. I need not go much into those details, which may not be suitable for foreign consumption. Modern day Ethiopians, intellects or not, use Genoa for their breakfast, whether during lactation period of a lady or any chilly morning like today.

There are a lot of people abstaining from eating chicken or goat meat or any meat of an animal rose at home or even any seafood excepting fishery during Lent period. Why are we Ethiopians for the most part short and diminutives physically as you can witness by seeing our footballers in the field? Even big and well to do people who can afford to dine at the most expensive hotels or restaurants show an exaggerated belly or bottom and very thin limbs sometimes you wonder how they could carry the body weight. I guess that will be good food for thought. See you at the party.

Yours,

Dandew Serbello from Sidist Killo



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