Tuesday, February 1, 2011

From Ethiopia - Post 2 - Celebrating Timkat!

We arrived in Ethiopia a few days early due to it being the only way for us to secure a direct flight from Addis Ababa to Washington DC on the way home.  We were thrilled to have, in essence, 2 full days free before our arranged adoption schedule (aka. fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adoption chaos!).  We had spoken with one of the guest house staff prior to our arrival and had planned a day trip north of Addis Ababa for Thursday, but decided to play Wednesday by ear.  We were concerned that we'd be too tired from our travels there, or would be delayed, and felt it was safer not to plan anything "big" for the day. 

Another couple who was traveling on the same flights to and from Ethiopia as we were, with whom we had become friends during our court trip, were also planning to do the sightseeing with us on Wednesday and Thursday.  We were to arrive in Ethiopia at 8 AM on Wednesday morning (after having left Pittsburgh on Tuesday morning at 6 AM ).  The snow/ice storm that hit the east coast delayed our flight a little then held us hostage on the plane in DC for a short time while they cleared the inch of ice from the stairs that we were to use to exit the plane; thankfully, however, it did not affect our flight to Ethiopia.  Unfortunately, it completely way-laid our friend's plans - trapping them in Burlington, VT.  Thankfully, with the help of their travel agent, they were able to rebook their flights from Montreal, rent a car and drive to Montreal, and still make it to Ethiopia on Wednesday, but at night instead of in the morning.

We actually were very tired and feeling mighty gross when we arrived, so we unpacked, got showered (er, rinsed off in the speediest way possible with freezing cold water), ate some lunch, and then ventured down to talk to Workineh to see what we could do for the day.  As it turned out, it was a great day to be in Addis.  It was the festival of Timkat.  If you, like me a few short weeks ago, don't know what Timkat is, here is a great explanation from the Ethiopian Embassy's website.

'Timkat' - The Feast of Epiphany

This is the greatest festival of the year, falling on 19 January, just two weeks after the Ethiopian Christmas. It is actually a three-day affair, beginning on the Eve of Timkat with dramatic and colorful processions. The following morning the great day itself, Christ's baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist is commemorated. The third day is devoted to the Feast of St. Michael, the archangel, one of Ethiopia's most popular saints.  Since October and the end of the rains, the country has been drying up steadily. The sun blazes down from a clear blue sky and the Festival of Timkat always takes place in glorious weather.  Enormous effort is put into the occasion. Tej and tella (Ethiopian mead and beer) are brewed, special bread is baked, and the fat-tailed African sheep are fattened for slaughter.Gifts are prepared for the children and new clothes purchased or old mended and laundered.
Everyone - men, women, and children - appears resplendent for the three-day celebration. Dressed in the dazzling white of the traditional dress, the locals provide a dramatic contrast to the jewel colors of the ceremonial velvets and satins of the priests' robes and sequined velvet umbrellas.
On the eve of the 18 January, Ketera, the priests remove the tabots from each church and bless the water of the pool or river where the next days celebration will take place. It is the tabot (symbolising the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments) rather than the church building which is consecrated, and it is accorded extreme reverence. Not to be desecrated by the gaze of the layman, the engraved wooden or stone slab is carried under layers of rich cloth.
In Addis Ababa, many churches bring their tabots to Jan Meda (the horse racing course of imperial day) accompanied by priests bearing prayer sticks and sistra, the ringing of bells and blowing of trumpets, and swinging bronze censors from which wisps of incense smoke escape into the evening air. The tabots rest in their special tent in the meadow, each hoisting a proud banner depicting the church's saint in front.  The priests pray throughout the long cold night and mass is performed around 2:00 a.m. Huge crowds of people camp out, eating and drinking by the light of flickering fires and torches. Towards dawn the patriarch dips a golden cross and extinguishes a burning consecrated candle in the altar. Then he sprinkles water on the assembled congregation in commemoration of Christ's baptism. Many of the more fervent leap fully dressed into the water to renew their vows.  Following the baptism the tabots start back to their respective churches, while feasting, singing and dancing continue at Jan Meda. The procession winds through town again as the horsemen cavort alongside, their mounts handsomely decorated with red tassels, embroidered saddlecloths, and silver bridles. The elders march solemnly, accompanied by singing leaping priests and young men, while the beating of staffs and prayer sticks recalls the ancient rites of the Old Testament.
Although we missed the 2 AM mass and the morning festivities when apparently EVERY church in Addis and the surrounding areas were at Jan Meda, Havit and Isaias from the guest house took Eric and I out to experience some of the Timkat festivities.  We were able to see some of the processions as they left the area.  Seemed as though every new street we turned down, we passed another procession.  They came along and decorated the streets with flags and banners.  It was a BIG deal.  You could tell when a  procession had already passed because the street would be covered with confetti.  It was amazing to see so many people out, worshiping God, and spending the day celebrating their faith.  We stopped a few times to watch processions.  The different youth groups in the churches would do dances and sing songs, while wearing matching outfits.  We got out and joined one of the processions for a while to get an up-close and personal view.  So fun to be out amongst the people.

Timkat procession from Jan Meda back to their church

Tabot in the center of the procession, surrounded by priests and covered by umbrellas

Loved this billboard (and appreciated the fact that it was the ONLY landmark that actually helped me to know where we were while driving around Addis!)

Another procession - we got out and walked with this one for a little while

And it keeps going and going and going!

After walking with one of the processions, we went to Jan Meda and spent some time just walking around the grounds.  It was so much fun.  There were still a lot of people there.  They were still celebrating and laughing and playing games.  Little boys were running games where people tried to toss coins into a styrofoam container.  They had big games of 'heads or tails'.  There were huge groups surrounding an Ethiopian version of a pinata.  We had fun watching this.  Someone, usually a confident young man, would be blind-folded and taken some number of paces away from a clay coffee pot filled with candy, hanging from an Ethiopian soccer goal overhead crossbar.  They would then be turned around, handed a big stick, and would then attempt to walk the same number of paces back, take one swing, and hope to hit the coffee pot.  The funny thing was that the crowd surrounding the game would get involved.  Isaias laughed and told us that half the crowd was trying to mislead the participate, the other half was trying to help.

A tree just inside the grounds at Jan Meda

Timkat celebrations continuing at Jan Meda

Occasionally the priest at the nearby church would spray holy water out onto the crowd as a symbol of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River.  We had to laugh at this a little because it reminded us of our own children at the misting tents at the zoo and amusements parks.  All the kids were standing in the water and would come out completely drenched, all smiles and laughs. 
People running to get sprayed with Holy water

As we strolled through the crowds, people were friendly and sweet.  Thankfully, it was mostly a reprieve from the heartache and pain of the poverty.  Only once the entire time we were there were we approached by a small child, begging for food.  Mostly it was a day of fun and celebration.
These three cuties were so excited to come and shake our hands and show off their English, "hello".  They loved having their picture taken and begged, "again, again!"  They wouldn't stop dancing, so I switched to video. (Watch video below.)  Their mom was so sweet.  She just covered her face in embarrassment that her children were such hams.  I would have recorded them all day though, they were so darned cute!

As we strolled, Havit and Isaias filled us in on the traditions and the games that were being played.  Havit shared stories about how she was not raised Orthodox, that she was raised in more of a protestant church and when she was a little girl, she always felt left out during Timkat because all the other children wore the Orthodox crosses and she was the only child in her class that didn't wear one so the other kids made fun of her.   Eric bought a few beautiful handcarved wooden crosses that a little girl was selling.  We also bought some food that everyone was walking around eating.  They were these shelled beans that were sold in a big bunch.  They tasted like fresh pea pods.  Isaias bought some and shared with us, but Eric really liked them so he bought some more.  Although they were good, I refrained from eating too many because I was thinking, "raw food in Ethiopia, shells or no, I don't want to take any chances".  Eric, on the other hand, thought, "yummy!!!"   Silly Eric.  Silly, silly Eric.  Let's just say that he took this remainder of his bunch back to the guest house and spent the next few days offering them to anyone who might need something with a laxative effect.  :-)

Wish I could remember what these were called.  I won't tell you what we were calling them a few days later.

When we went back to the van to leave, these three ran over to shake our hands and again attempt to impress us with their English.  What sweet hearts!

Sweet boys who came to talk to us as we were leaving the Timkat festival

After we paid the guy who was guarding the van, Havit and Isaias dropped Eric and I off at Avanti's and we enjoyed a great late lunch.  Eric was a little smarter this time and did NOT order a nearly raw steak.  He stuck with the pasta - good choice!  Then, we returned the guest house to unpack, relax and wait for our friends to finally arrive.  It was a wonderful day. We were happy just to have the time to go out and spend the time with the Ethiopian people. How can you not love this?!!! 

1 comment:

  1. I just forwarded this blog post to my little sister. She is in college and writing a speech for her culture and diversity class about Ganna and Timkat. Maybe one of your pics will end up in a powerpoint presentation in a small, christian college in North Dakota!!! :)