Monday, November 28, 2011

Dabbo Diffo in Pictures

Dabbo diffo is an Ethiopian bread that can be found in most cafes. Of all the dabbo (bread) in Ethiopia, dabbo diffo is the largest I have come across. The ingredients for diffo dough are not out of the ordinary: flour, yeast, oil, salt, and sugar. But how it is prepared is likely to be much different than you'd expect. The following series of photos illustrate a common cooking process for dabbo diffo.

Three stones (or various hard objects that withstand heat) are placed at an equal distance from each other and a cooking platform is put on top to rest between them.

Leaves of qoco, (aka false banana, inset) are placed upon the cooking surface and sprinkled with water. Where the bread makes contact with the leaves, oil is applied. Then the dough is poured and spread out to cover the entire area of the cooking platform below.

Another layer of oiled and moistened leaves cover the dough to envelope it completely.

A cover is placed on top of the leaf packaged dough.

A fire is started underneath the cooking platform, between the rocks. The fire is stoked and fanned for about 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes or so, the fire is transferred from beneath the cooking platform to the top of the cover.

The fire on top of the cover burns for about 10 minutes and then removed so that the bread can be checked with a knife. When fully cooked, the bread is removed and left to cool

The final product is a delicious piece of this bread to eat with your shai.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Over a year ago I was living with an Ethiopian family, relearning how to eat with my hands and discovering/pushing the physical limit to the number of coffees I could consume in a single day (~14). Last week I visited my host fam's town to help out with a training for the new group of PC environment volunteers. Meeting new volunteers charged with good will and adventurous spirits is invigorating and something I can always appreciate.

The photo above is of the mountainous hill of Manaagesha. Locals say it once hosted a piece of Christ's cross and held ceremonies that made kings into kings. It was within Manaagesha's forests that I first stood in awe as monkeys swung overhead.. Amazing that I can yawn when I see them today.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


My town' s market takes place 3 times a week. The largest of these markets occurs on Saturday and extends itself to local butchers, vendors from larger cities, and crafts people from neighboring villages. Of the produce, onions and collards are almost always present. Current produce and their going prices in $-USD of the season: potatoes (.30/kg), sweet potatoes (.20/kg), guava (.10/12), corn (.30/3 ears), small bananas (.10/12), garlic (.30/3 bulbs), hot peppers (.10/1 pile), several starchy root vegetables, coffee beans (1.50/1kg), spices, and various grains sold in bulk for milling.

The photo above is of the Saturday market in my town. Clothes and other merchandise are being sold within the stands on the right and the produce is uphill on the left. Although this shot shows what the majority of the market consists of, what is not seen are the crafts people who sell baskets, mats, clay pottery, and local tobacco. Also not seen are those selling goats, chickens, cows, and sheep.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Metu-Gambela Road

Proclaimed by many truck drivers to be one of the best quality roads in Ethiopia, the Metu-Gambela road provides one of the smoothest traveling experiences you can expect to find in country. Recently paved, the M-G has had a huge influence on the towns and cities it passes through or connects. In my town, for example, its construction has led to an increase in traffic, more small businesses opening, and unfortunately, an attractive place for kids to play. Perhaps 10 years from now, I won't be able to identify my town without seeing the km marker.

The photo was taken from within my town looking west down the M-G road- the elementary school just got out for lunch.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Mulu

Having your host fill a glass all the way to the brim is something you wouldn't expect when asking for a drink, be it cold or a hot - but it's a common practice here. Some volunteers have termed the topping off of a drink as the 'mulu', which translates to 'full' in Amharic. I've been here long enough to expect the mulu service whenever recieving tea or coffee so actually feel a bit slighted if I don't see the drink on the cusp of brim breaching.

There is a technique to handling a steaming hot drink without spilling it and potentially burning one's self, beyond waiting for it to cool. If it's got a handle, you use it. Easy enough. But if it don't - like if it's hot tea served out of a shot glass - grip it by its rim with the finger tips, as my friend in the above photo demonstrates, and carefully draw it in close to sip. The only remaining question is obvious: Do you have what it takes to master the mulu?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Since arriving in country I've found it rare to be outdoors, somewhere beautiful & silent, and by myself. Though short-lived, it's a pleasure to drop one's self perception as a guest in a foreign land. For me, this phenomenon occurs outdoors looking over hills and valleys more often than not. The photo above was taken from Kundi mountain looking west, towards Gambela, overlooking farmlands, eucalyptus trees and one of the largest tea plantations in country. I was told that during their occupation years ago, the Italians had a fort on Kundi to serve as a military vantage point. Today, the stone walls and foundations can still be seen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Many traditionally crafted bee hives in Ethiopia are hung in trees, are tubular, and made from dry grasses and sticks. They are often inexpensive to make and require little skill or equipment to produce bee products. The transitional hive (aka Kenyan top bar hive), on the other hand, offers bee keepers greater quanties of honey and other bee products, allows easy inspection of the bee colony's health, allows honey to be harvested without the total destruction of the bee colony, and, like the traditional hive, can be made of local materials. Recently a fellow PCV and I transfered bees from a tradinoal hive to a 'transitional' one. The photo above is of a farmer gently lowering his traditional hive to the ground so we could transfer the colony to a more productive environment. The transitional hive, instead of being hung in a tree, is much more accescable, as seen in the photo directly above. Today I checked the hive to see if the bees were still present and was happy to find they were... and they were really busy! The farmers and the agriculture extension worker I work with suggested ant protection so I looked up some natural remedies online, which led me to crushing up hot peppers and eucalyptus leaves and piling them around the legs of the hive platform- we'll be experimenting with ant deterents... A week from now, after we perform a hive check we'll see just how adaptive these bees are.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

South Africa and Back

A little over two weeks ago an eye infection took me out of my small town in Western Ethiopia to Pretoria, South Africa. This is the typical route Peace Corps volunteers serving in most parts of Africa take when thought to need treatment beyond that of their host country's abilities to provide.

During my time in Pretoria, I stayed in a guest house while frequenting malls, eye appointments, the PC office, and various ethnic restaurants I missed the flavours of since departing Washington DC about a year ago. Food/drink appreciated the most: wine, coffee in big cups, sushi, indian food, quality cheeses, South African style beef jerky, and granola. Really, Pretoria has it all - it's basically the US, say many South African Volunteers (keep in mind that Pretoria differs than most cities in South Africa, let alone cities in Africa as a whole).

A couple days ago I returned to Ethiopia and my eye has almost recovered- still blurry, like vasiline over the lens - but getting there (I can read a billboard). My slightly impaired vision will not keep me from functioning normally but I may stay away from sports that require throwing and catching. Heading back to site, I feel born anew, ready to re-engage with the world with a new found sense of appreciation for where I am.

The picutre above is of me and a fellow volunteer @ a baby lion feeding session in a South African game reserve. The lion cub I have in hand is a white lion, a very uncommon phenotype!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Eye Probs : Blogging Hiatus

Due to an out of control infection of my right eye and the ulcer it created, I am in South Africa receiving treatment and recovering...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Happy New Year, Ethiopia!

In Ethiopia, this September 12th marks the first day of 2004. As you might have guessed, Ethiopians do not follow the Gregorian Calender. Ethiopians do, however, follow the 13 month Ethiopian calendar system, which contains twelve 30-day months and a 13th month lasting 5 or 6 days, depending if it's a leap year or not. The Ethiopian Calendar is consistently 7-8 years behind the Gregorian calender because it references an alternative calculation to the annunciation/incarnation of Christ*.

Ethiopians also report the time of day differently than most westerners. Although there are 24 hours in the Ethiopian day, Ethiopians set their clocks to encompass the 12 hours of day and the 12 hours of night, rather than to mark high noon and midnight, as most Americans like myself are accustomed to. Being close to the equator -days being the same length to one another and all, keeping track of time the Ethiopian way seems to make sense. So... assuming you are telling time like most Americans and we put the above to practice: 5 o'clock in the morning Ethiopian is 11AM .. and .. 8 o'clock in the day Ethiopian is 2 PM.

If you're wondering: “Can making appointments be confusing and time made to seem frustratingly ambiguous for an American in Ethiopia?” The answer is “Yes” -and we're not even talking about the cultural differences on handling time in those cases where a specific time is mutually understood.

*reference 'calendar' in an encyclopedia for mo info on the subj

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Bombwa

I live near two large cement water reservoirs on a little hill next to my town's market place. Its water is sourced from a local underground spring. Most of the time, the water table is high enough to provide water service twice a day for an hour at a time. There are no personal plumbing lines so like everyone else with a jerrican, I fetch my water from one of the 6 communal multi-fauceted structures strategically placed around town, called a 'bombwa'.

Life is good when water flows from the bombwa. Some days it doesn't flow though and when those unhappy days add up, it means going to a much less near water source, such as a creek or spring not connected to a bombwa. The last time I went out to fetch water from an alternative source was the first time I ever saw people arguing and fighting over water access. Nothing too serious occurred before the drama was resolved but the dearth at the bombwa that day did provide a glimpse at a vital yet fragile infrastructure keeping my community... quenched.

The photo above shows a bombwa near my house. You can see the bright yellow jerricans stacked and queued while children wait similarly nearby on what looks like a cement lawn armchair.

Behold, The Bald Biddeena (Injera)!

Injera, or biddeena (as it is often referred to in Afaan Oromoo) is by far the most commonly seen food item in Ethiopia. Injera is large, flat, round, a little sour, and crape-like. Frequently it is served with wats (dishes akin to stews or soups, which usually host a lot of onion and birbire spice). Most of the time injera is made from teff, a grain that grows beside wheat and corn around these parts. Other varieties substitute part or all of the teff flour for that of corn or wheat.

Dressing a plate properly with injera is easy. You simply cover the plate and fold the injera inwards where it would otherwise spill over the sides. When wat is served it's poured on top and in the middle of injera. Like most Ethiopian dishes, wats are eaten without forks or spoons. Instead, you use your hands to tear pieces of injera from its outer sides to grab the wat on the middle. With injera-wrapped wat in hand, you're ready to chow down. I suggest checking out your local Ethiopian restaurants to and getting familiar with it.

The photo above was taken from the kitchen of a restaurant in my town that I love. As you can see, the batter was already poured. In case you've looked up the recipe and curious to try making a few on your skillet, the technique is to pour from the outside and spiral inwards. Think crape thin. Cover for maybe a minute then remove injera from heat. The kitchen set up in the photo is not typical - it's better/more efficient with wood fuel. The more common stoves use the '3-rock' system. A 3-rock stove requires three large rocks set close enough together to hold a pot or a surface to make injera on.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Last week I participated in a summer camp for Ethiopian youth. The program's aim was to encourage community service and leadership amongst young people. Half of the camp was geared towards HIV AIDS awareness and developing healthy habits while the other half focused on environment conservation and preservation. Although many cultures were represented, staff and campers alike got along really well.

For the majority of campers and the Ethiopian counterpart staff, traveling far from home was not a common experience or affordable, which is why the field trip to Arba Minch and Nechisar National Park was exceptional for everyone- not just for us few Americans on board. During our time on Lake Chamo, we boated amidst crocodiles, storks, and hippos. I have never before seen such large and potentially dangerous wildlife in their natural habitat with so few barriers between us. In short: it was amazing. The photo above is a group of campers and staff aboard a boat on Lake Chamo heading towards what would likely be an unforgettable experience.

Maybe the only redeeming quality of a road trip in Ethiopia using public transport is the scenery. On the way to Welayita Sodo, a 3 day by bus riding experience, my campward party of 5 traveled from the Oromo Region to the Southern Nations Nationalities and People's Region (SNNPR). In SNNPR, the inset plant is very popular. With exception to its much larger leaves, inset looks very similar to a banana tree, hence its English name, false banana'. Within SNNPR and other regions where it grows well, inset is utilized in a variety of ways by use of both its roots and leaves.

The root of the inset plant is a main ingredient for gamfo (sounds like: 'gum-foe'), a porridge dish served with butter and birbire spice (think paprika), and for q'ocha, a hard gummy tortilla-like bread. Leaves of the inset are used to preserve foods and the spine of the leaves can be dried to produce tough fibers for rope. Above is a photo taken while traveling to Welayita Sodo from Jimma. The traditionally built house in this photo is within the SNNPR region of Ethiopia. It is huge. The 8ft + inset trees to its right are dwarfed in comparison.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I am currently on the road to a summer camp meant to teach and encourage leadership roles to youth. The objectives of this camp is to stir up a few kids with ideas of how to improve their community's health and environment. There are over 30 kids from the Oromo and SNNPR regions of Ethiopia attending and close to just as many staff members. This is a really cool opportuninuty for Ethiopian kids to see their country, learn about ways one can improve living conditions, and partake in a cultural exchange with the many Americans that will be facilitating the program. Impressions so far have only spawned from the time traveling to camp but this I am sure of: I will be tired by the end of it. The photo above was taken in Bedele, looking at the main intersection in town from the 3rd story of a hotel building. If you've ever drank imported beer at an Ethiopian restaurant, you might have drank Bedele beer. The label has a small skunk-like monkey on it. The brewery gives tours on thursdays.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Making & Breaking Bread

Today I introduced my friends and neighbors to rosemary onion bread. I was able to use one of the large earthen ovens without charge and it turned out really well considsing it vanished before it had a chance to cool. A couple months from now I plan to build a small oven on my compound so I can bake bread on the weekends and have pizza with my neighbors (I have yet to find a local source for cheese). Food is shared almost always between people in Ethiopian culture, to the point that it is considered rude to eat in front of someone and not encourage sharing that food being eaten. In the smaller towns, such as where I live, one feels the pressures to share with strangers at restaurants. The photo above is the rosemary onion bread in its aura of deliciousness before it was consumed shortly afterwards.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Town & Compound

I won't make a wiki article out of my town here but I think it is important to at least provide the basics. I live in a town of about 4,000 people. Elevation is about 1700 meters and the average annaul rainfall is around 1500 mm. There are really just 2 seaons: wet and dry. The wet season started around April and will last until Late September. It hails occasionaly.

Most of the people that live here are hillside farmers. The coffee is great and the honey is the best I have ever had. My town does not have a bus station so to get anywhere, one must be viligent and flag a bus down if ever s/he wants to get anywhere else. The electricity, mobile service (no LAN lines), and water are not always availabe; frequently one of these resources will be missing for a few days and when it comes back one of the others are gone.

I live in a compound, a fenced enclosure surrounding rentable rooms. I have two rooms to myself so am fortunate enough to be able to keep food out of my bedroom and rest assured rats won't cuddle up next to me in an attempt to play little spoon. Within my compound I have started a garden space and have worked on the hillside a bit, constructing primative stairs and introducting erosion control by means of transplanting trees and grasses. Above is a photo from within my compound at dusk looking north and over the hillside just mentioned.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I pity the fuul (that I eat for breakfast)

Fuul is one of my favorite breakfasts in Ethiopia. Eating fuul is basically eating bread dipped in a spicey bean paste. Currently, the going rate for a serving of fuul and a couple of bread rolls for dipping is 6 bir, roughly 40 cents (USD).

The following fuul recipe can be attributed to Wande, a friend of mine who runs one of the more popular breakfast houses in town. You can see his hand in the photo above preparing to remove a ready-to-eat fuul from the charcoal stove.

- - -

Fuul / Fuulii
Total preperation time: 25 ? 67 min, depending on the quantity served.

Birbire (substitution: peprika or chile powder and the like)
Salt (optional)
Butter (optional)
Bread - for dipping into the fuul

- - -

Bean Prep (20-60 min, depending on amount of fuul desired):
Add 1 part bean, 2 part water, and a couple teaspoons of salt in a pot (for 2 people or 1 hungry person, try 1 cup of beans and 2 cups of water). Boil the beans until the water has mostly left it and the beans look like a thick stew, where bubbles look like they are making an effort to escape. This may take up to 30 minutes.

For a large pot- reteraunt style, it takes about an hour. Bean paste prep can be and is usually done the night before fuul for breakfast is to be made.

- - -

Fuul prep (5-7 minutes):
Fuul is made on demand so it can be eaten as soon as it's finsihed cooking. After the bean paste has been made, individual servings follow the procdures below. Use a small frying pan and stir frequently to avoid burning.

1. Peal and chop a medium sized onion and brown it in a small frying pan. Then,
2. Add 2 tablespoons of oil
3. Add 1/2 tablespoon of birbire (peprika can substitute)
4. Add 3-4 tablespoons of water
5. Add heaping spoon fulls of bean paste until desired consistancy of fuul is reached. Personally, I like it thick.
6. When the fuul has reached desired heat and consistancy salt to taste and throw in a dallop of butter 'cause you're done! Eat that fuul!

For the Special Fuul (Fuulii Special)
After the fuul has reached desired heat and consistancy, throw in an egg and scramble it in there. Avocados would probably be great, too. Experiement a little and you can claim a fuul for your very own.
- If you make it, let me know what you think!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Blog to Blossom

So it's been about a year and I haven't made a post till now. I think life just made it an all of a sudden possible thing. Let me first say that I will be making these posts using my cell phone. That's right, all internet connections are using mobile internet out of my site. I cannot reveal my exact location but you could probably find me if you took the time to look. All you'd need to say is : where is the ferenji (foreigner)? And eventually you will be led by hand to me or someone who could likely lead you on a f- relay to to western Ethiopia- its funny. Anyways, you can expect updates and photos from me here that you will not find anywhere else- catering to an English speaking audience so if you understand me, be excited!