The first couple of days in Yeri are sort of overwhelming. Though far from the “faranji phenomenon” of “you! you! you!” fame, Tyler and I are the objects of some intense interest. For some reason, the stares indicative of this interest make me want to hide in the tent; Tyler handles this much better. Everyone wants to shake hands with us, and I see that grabbing your right forearm with your left hand as you shake with the right and give a small bow is a sign of respect.
We soon fall into a rhythm of waking up to the sound of barking dogs and mooing cows and those fucking roosters that crow madly just outside the house, but all is well when we hear the clank of pots and the staccato of onion-chopping and soon here is Hirut saying, “Miles, Tyler, Girma, k’oors (breakfast)!” At night we brush our teeth and check the satellite phone for text messages–thanks much to everyone who said hello and sent updates–and then read a bit before drifting off to sleep, with the sound of Girma’s radio and the sound of crickets chirping and, if we’re unlucky, woosha (dogs) barking madly at a jib (hyena) or two somewhere off in the distance.
Early on I learn a card game–“cartas”–from Hirut and Girma, which we then play in a group on the benches in front of our house with a lot of the guys from the village. Many hours are spent playing cards. Not only does this help all of us get to know one another some, I also quickly learn how to count to 100 in Amharic, as well as words like “alleh” (there is/are), “yelum” (there isn’t/aren’t), “ishee” (okay), and “bizoo” (more). I realize that since almost everyone we play with/against is Majangir (the main ethnic group, along with the Shabo, that is from this area) and so speak Majang–which Tyler, Girma, Hirut nor I speak–along with Amharic, they could easily cheat if they wanted to.
A random picture of Girma–who normally, when not spending three weeks in a random village with two faranji dorks, works for the Ethiopian government promoting and managing rural agricultural development–looking pretty suave.
Hirut, with Abbebish’s daughter, looking like a babe.
I also quickly learn that the men have it a lot better than the women. The women, on a daily basis, take care of cooking, cleaning the clothes, raising the kids, getting water from the spring (which is quite a hike) and sometimes making pottery to sell on Yeri’s Market Day, which happens every Friday (more on Market Day later). The men tend to the crops, hunt and, in some cases, practice beekeeping.
Here is Hirut cooking a meal and also prepping bread dough and then wrapping it in banana (or false-banana, enset) leaves for cooking/baking.
According to Girma, a lot of men in the village have two wives, contrary to Ethiopian law, including Ephraim, the mayor. Things are sometimes different in the villages. He posits, though, that, contrary to what we might think, a wife might like for her husband to have a second wife, if only because it would decrease the amount of work she would have to do.
All told, the men seem to have a lot more leisure time than the women, and spend much of their days while we are there playing cards and soccer. We don’t really have much contact with the women of the village, with the exception of Abbebish, who becomes friends with Hirut (they are both of the Amhara ethnic group, long politically dominant in Ethiopia, and so both speak the same language, Amharic) and is at our house a lot.
Here is Abbebish, her husband, and their daughter and infant son.
Here is Abbebish’s brother-in-law–who said he’d soon be leaving for university in Axum (in the north) to study mass communications–along with her daughter.
Much of the village is Protestant, and the sound of singing during services often drifts out over the darkened town. Click here to hear a recording. We sometimes hear the raised voice of the preacher shouting at his flock, who answer “Amen!” in unison.
One interesting part of the village are the little houses where kids, male and female, go to live when they turn 18 and move out of their parents’ house. (Sounds like a recipe for a lot of late-night fun, if you know what I mean, but that’s just me.) They remain in their own little “studio” until they get married and then build themselves and their new family a house.
Most of my days are spent reading and writing,
going on afternoon walks into the bush with Tyler
(one time accompanied by a group of smaller kids who motion for us to turn around when the sky grows especially ominous),
playing soccer and cards, and helping Tyler a bit with his language studies (he has decided to catalogue Majang, Shekkacho, as well as his original focus, Shabo).
Tyler takes a couple of walks on his own and, on one, comes upon a few of the guys I play soccer with installing in a tree canister-like bee pods(?) in which bees will eventually produce honey.
On the same walk Tyler also runs across a mass of butterflies clustered on some charred pieces of wood. Strange and beautiful.
I also go down to the spring
to get water with a jerry can (which we use a pump to purify, plus a UV-emitting SteriPEN, just to be safe),
wash my clothes on the rocks (and we are the only men who do laundry, I notice),
and take showers–standing on a rock and using a cut-in-half plastic water bottle–behind the plants a bit further downstream.
The only differentiation among the days of the week comes on Sunday and Thursday (church) and then Friday’s Market Day (d-r-u-n-k). Market Day is an interesting experience the first time, in that we are completely unprepared for the alcohol-powered furor that breaks out and fills most of the day/night; we imagined that it would be a little local commerce and nothing more.
Many people come into town from the surrounding bush to buy/sell bunna (coffee), maize, peppers and other foodstuffs, but also to snag some t’ej (honey wine) or a stronger grain alcohol that looks like muddy water and tastes like shit. The first Market Day we experience is marked by the large number of shit-faced women making tons of racket–singing, dancing, yelling, quarreling–late into the night. (Interestingly, hardly a peep from the drunk menfolk–seems they were reprimanded recently, setting the stage for the women to go apeshit en masse.)
Tyler and I are yelled at by an inebriated old woman who demands that Girma tell us to give her one birr. Girma talks her out of it, and he and Hirut get a kick out of our discomfort. The Queen of Yeri, as the four of us take to calling her, is quite fond of the drink, it seems, and we see/hear her each succeeding Market Day tottering through the village and singing at high volume, in one instance working “Let’s dance, faranji!” into her lyrics.
The nights in Yeri are fantastic. Fireflies flicker in the air amidst the smell of fires burning inside the slumbering houses. A headlamp occasionally bobs down the path and it is impossible to make out who it is that passes. Silent flashes of lightning sometimes escape from clouds stacked up on the horizon. On a few nights, the moon (“ayen” in Majang) hangs over the dark outline of a tall tree in the near distance, and a triangle of planets/stars (“marion” in Majang) beside the moon somehow evokes for me a biblical scene–the three wise men visiting Jesus, perhaps. Stargazing is a fruitful exercise here, given the dearth of light pollution on basically the entire continent.
Tyler walking on the path from the center of the village to the soccer fields.
Tyler expounding on Structuralism while pausing among the maize.
Sunset over the outskirts of the village.
A cute picture of Dagim and a kid from Yeri–with Girma on the left–holding hands.