“Here the Muslims and Christians mix peacefully, even marrying each other,” Aout, our new guide explained.
In the guesthouse we were lodged at, I hit the cold bucket shower with a love reserved for puppies, washing off enough dust to create my own desert. Lunch was served and in the late afternoon a traditional coffee ceremony was held.
It was in Ethiopia that the world’s second greatest commodity after oil was discovered a few centuries back. My friend Hailu had told me the story which I re-conveyed to the rest of our group (I may be plagiarising here):
“Back in the day in the region of Kaffa (hence the name, coffee), a young goat shepherd named Khalidi saw that his goats would get very active and hyper after eating the berries off this certain tree,” I began. “He decided to pick some berries and brought them back to his family.
Doing as the goats did, they ate the berries but the taste was too bitter. They then tried various methods, steaming, cooking, roasting. When they roasted them, the smell was so intoxicating that they were driven to find a way to consume this product.
In the end, they pounded the roasted berries into a powder and mixed it with boiled water. It was then that three sheiks from Saudi Arabia appeared, Abul, Tuna and Baraka. They were each presented with a cup of this brown liquid and declared it as Buna, which in Arabic is Kahawa, which in English is coffee, which comes from Kaffa.”
I grinned at my audience. “And that’s why they drink three cups in each ceremony, one for each sheik.”
Aout was impressed with my telling. Today’s ceremony involves roasting the berries in a pan over hot coals. When ready, the roasted berries are passed around and you’re to whip up the scent and breathe it in. Then the berries are pounded into powder (some grind it using the modern grinder) and then boiled in water in a specially designed clay jug. Once ready, the coffee is then served in small cups with a spoon of sugar and mint leaves while incense is burned to create the perfect environment for your caffeine fix.
After dinner, a light breeze blew about. The room was too hot to sleep in so I dragged my mattress out and slept on the veranda. In the morning I discovered a large arachnid that had cuddled me in the night. I checked myself for any bites and, having discovered none, continued on to breakfast. While waiting for the arrival of the next group I asked Aout to show us around town.
We headed out and were quickly surrounded and followed by the local kids. All were shocked to see me walk around barefoot and offered me their shoes. Large-horned Ankola cows plodded along the streets, goats escaped the heat by hiding in doorways and people sat about, drinking coffee and chewing ghat.
Cries of, “Football, China!” and, “Gimme money,” escorted us from the kids.
It was a sad and angering indication as to how NGOs, foreign aid and tourism done without supervision has ruined the people. Now they see foreigners as money machines and without any shame just walk up and demand you give them money.
It pisses me the fuck off.
With the rest of the group arriving we headed out for the long drive to Erta Ale, meaning ‘Smoke of Fire’, the only permanent lava lake in the world.