Seulam: An Ethiopian Welcome

Italy missed it.  The Emperor Haile Selassie created a new legacy.  Agriculture flourished with creative inventions of coffee and teff.  And people evolved with smiles on faces of unparalleled beauty.  Nestled within the Horn of Africa, this land is boisterous and unique; food specialized and faith ingrained deep with the freedom to believe.  Home sweet home, Ethiopia.

Twenty-four hours of transit to a different time zone upon a different continent in a world that revolves in different Time, all set in a calendar 7 ½ years behind the West.  Add one extra month (which proceeds the month of August) in a yearly cycle of twelve and you find yourself in Ethiopia. 

Abraham the driver pulled Lily and me out of immigration, led us to his van and trundled into the city.  It was after midnight on our clock, but Addis Ababa read 6:30pm, and on January 7th, 2010, the eve of Ethiopian Christmas Day, the streets were dark.  Black apparitions passed among the concrete shadows where little burning fires kept the shelterless warm.  Packs of dogs wandered across our van’s headlights, their eyes gleaming with a reflection akin to the haunted, and with a glint of color block office buildings draped with strands of Christmas lighting.  An odd mix.  A complete disillusionment to Western reality.  Breathe in Africa: that moist, dense air set within the exotic power of mankind’s nonsensicality.  Suddenly, I relaxed into the adventure. 

Fast-forward thirty-six hours and our circadian clocks matched.  We’re inside a stranger’s house with a friend from home who calls himself Henry Guterson.  It was a day of exploration like any day in a foreign city: sumptuous foods, crazed markets, the meters of walking and the barriers of language.  Soon we were climbing Entoto Mountain when a spontaneous invitation brought us to a coffee ceremony.  Inside the local’s mud hut, the three of us sat on a sunken couch as the family emerged in abundance: Father (abbat) and Mother (ennat) with seven sons (weund lej) and six daughters (sat lej).  Their friends crowded in too, staring and smiling.  We asked questions.  They asked questions.  We all used our hands and body language.  They understood and we set the groove:  Americans and Ethiopians before a dish of roasting beans called buna (or coffee).  Over red embers, the green beans browned in a splash of water, releasing a wispy tail of steam and smoke that filled our nostrils with a rich earthy aroma. 

“Where you from?” the daughter Yibekal Zewdu asked as she roasted the beans.

“America.  We’re all from the USA.”

Faces erupted.  “USA is good country.  Americans!”

We could see their happiness, their smiles stretching from one ear to the next: A rural family hosting a traditional coffee ceremony for three Americans, passing dabbo (bread), introducing us to their culture with apple-flavored hookah and chat (a mildly intoxicating leaf chewed and packed in the cheek).  A scratchy Japanese show played on their television screen as a dusty stream of sunlight poured through the rafters.  Nestled in a dark corner was a Christmas tree, constructed from a bouquet of fresh branches and garlanded with the ominous plastic colors of the holiday season. 

We sipped our teacups of sweetened coffee.  Shortly afterwards the Father spoke.

His language was in Amharic, Ethiopian’s official dialect among some 80 other indigenous tongues, but we quickly understood with the influence of hand gestures and facial features:  The sun is sinking.  It’s getting late.  If you keep climbing, you better hurry, because after dark there is danger for you.  He ran his finger across his throat, contorting his face with an open jaw.  You must leave.

 Later we got the picture.  There are jup or hyenas roving in packs in the mountains, and they’re always hungry.  So, with a donation for the family’s generosity, Lily, Henry and I took our departure amidst adult handshakes and children kisses.  We stepped outside and were bathed in the exquisite African sun, continuing our trek upon an Ethiopian landscape.  We each breathed deeper with the sense of cultural freedom.  Seulam and chow, my Ethiopian brothers and sisters.  Welcome and goodbye until next time.


  1. Good points, I think I will definitely subscribe! I’ll go and read some more! What do you see the future of this being?

  2. Barbara Brewis says:

    Wonderful writing and photos Cam!

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