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  • Writer's pictureTerri Tomoff

Travel + Adventure = Healing - Ethiopia - 8 - Restaurant Wedding

After the excitement of seeing all the runners, plus visiting other sites around Addis Ababa that morning, our driver dropped Free and me off at one of Free’s favorite restaurants. I was over the moon that Free deposited me exactly where I like to be, immersed into the culture of everyday life as an Ethiopian. Restaurants enable culture to come out front and center, and we were in for a big surprise after our coffee and popcorn greeting upon entering the cool building with dark wooden tables and chairs arranged in neat rows like a marching army.

I think we got to the restaurant a little early for lunch hour as it was sparse of people. But it was here that I got to know Free (she had a thick accent and had to repeat her words a couple of times for me to understand) a little better. She was born and raised in Addis Ababa, and both she and her husband worked while raising three small children. I cannot emphasize enough how happy she and every Ethiopian person I met really are, despite where they are on the economic scale, because it is difficult to make ends meet in most jobs offered in this capital city. Every little bit helps—especially with two working parents.

I also learned that a restaurant meal is the time and place to slow life down in Ethiopia, beginning with ceremonial coffee and popcorn upon entering most eating establishments (and I assume people’s homes?). Often, each cup is served with a heaping spoonful of sugar and a snack of fresh popcorn. Guests typically drink three rounds of coffee using the same grounds. The third cup is said to convey a blessing and showcase Ethiopian hospitality. There is no rush with this sacred ritual. And the funny thing is that I NEVER drink coffee, but I did there and liked it, much to my surprise, though I did partake in these ceremonial efforts each time it was offered to me in my Ethiopian travels (I'm sure that a heaping teaspoon of sugar helped it go down). Just for the record, I haven’t had a cup since that trip in 2018.

Free and I must have drank that coffee and munched on the popcorn for at least 30 minutes (or even longer), which is kind of long in a welcoming, or so I thought. But I watched Free, who seemed to enjoy getting to know me as much as I was getting to know her, and followed her lead to take it all in plus at least three cups of coffee—yikes!

Once we were finally seated at our table and ordered our meals, a large group entered the restaurant. There was a lot of commotion with the 50+ people trying to find their seats in the dining area (I think it was a reserved area) when Free finally realized we were in for a treat—it was a wedding!

Any day of the week is suitable for a wedding in Ethiopia, not only the weekends, because this one was midweek. Free says it is a sign of good luck to be a part of a wedding celebration by proxy, so I went along with it, enchanted, as I admired the bride, groom, wedding party, and the dressed-up guests as they chatted and celebrated throughout our lunch, and theirs too.

Thankfully, Free taught me the proper etiquette of eating Injera/Ethiopian food with only one hand and no utensils). Injera is the most important component of food in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is often both the serving platter and utensil for a meal. Who knew? I had never eaten anything like this before this trip, and now I LOVE it!

When I got home, I researched Ethiopian restaurants in the Washington DC area. I am thankful I live close to a large Ethiopian population in the DC area (Silver Spring) with several excellent Ethiopian restaurants we occasionally visit. Editing this post not only got me hungry, but a trip to Silver Spring is in my future this summer!

Lastly, I was very intrigued by how places address clean hands since most everyone eats with them for most meals. A few places had hostesses at the front of the restaurant who would welcome the guests and immediately walk them through the restaurant to the back - outside. This is where a large trough-like sink(s) would be with bar soap so everyone could wash their hands in good faith. When finished, the waiting hostess would walk the diners to the front of the restaurant to wait and be seated. Vióla!

Photos: 1) Ethiopian bridal party; 2) the wooden soldiers (chairs); 3) injera - Free's hands; 4) Outside the restaurant and a glimpse of our driver's 1999 Toyota car; 5) Me trying my hand at the injera...pun intended; 6) the bar area (they have bands play at night).




This video is 21 seconds long, and the family gave me permission to use it.


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