After 55 days of abstaining from siga (Meat) and dairy products, Easter arrives with the glad tidings of Jesus resurrection and pervasive smell of siga and tesmi (Ghee).
Enqua tsome l’guam fethehalkum (roughly translated as: We thank you Almighty God for declaring open season on sheep and goats.)
But unknown to many of those who fast, animals such as cats and dogs have also been indirectly fasting in spite of themselves. Some domestic animals do greatly suffer during the fasting operation. Victims of collateral damage!
Imagine a dog or a cat eating dried bread for the whole duration of the Lent just because its owner is fasting. And then one fine morning in the month of May, a sheep or a goat is slaughtered right before the unbelievable eyes of Tarzan, the dog. A piece of bone is thrown at him, while Shashu, the cat, is invited to partake of a chunk of non-kosher meat; Both are very happy. Of course, they don’t know it is Easter, but somehow they feel that there is something special about the day.
Easter rituals start with Ague’se’ana or maybe Hosana (Palm Sunday). People are accustomed here to craft rings from palm leaves. You need special skill to make it.
And then we have H’mamat (Passion or the Suffering of Jesus Christ from the Last Supper until his Crucifixion). Many people abstain from world things like dancing and boozing. The days after Hosana are a bit gloomy. However, hamus tsgbo (Maundy Thursday) seems to brighten things up a little bit. Boiled legumes are given to children and adults alike. One can eat as much as one likes.
All this time, mothers are busy buying new clothes and footwear for the children. The more children you have, the more you worry. Sometimes you wish you had used birth control pills. The nine children you brought into this world are going to cost you a lot of money.
Two thousand Nakfa for a sheep, another three thousand for clothes, not to mention three thousand for shoes. Besides, one has to have berbere (pepper) and ghee to make zigni. There is ‘suwa’ and ‘injera’. All these cost money. And what more, you have to smile during Easter. With your belly glowing hot, your bile running over and your liver burning, you act as if nothing happened. The damage will take long to take effect.
“I am short of two thousand Nakfa,” laments mother. “What do you want me to do? Come on; sell me to the highest bidder? Or sell one of your children?” shouts the father.
And then comes Arbi Siklet (Good Friday). Again, back to square one. Gloom takes over. Some people wear the Christ’s thorn or Spina Christ, a spreading shrub belonging to the ‘gaba’, around their head. Women go to church and repeat Kyrie Eleison until five or six in the afternoon.
Of all the days of H’mamat, Saturday is the most mysterious. To start with it doesn’t have a special name like Good Friday or Maundy Thursday. And you don’t know what to do with it the whole day.
Anyway, it is the day when people go to the cattle market and haggle the whole day with strong merchants who give a hard time during price negotiation. Some buyers prefer to ‘ambush’ the peasants who come to town to sell their livestock. But even these are no less crafty than the experienced sheep and goat dealers in the sheep market.
“Tell me frankly young man. Did you really bring your sheep to town to sell them?”
“Well, what else do you think I brought them here for? To show them the Liberty Avenue?”
The father who goes to the sheep market has come back home with something that bleats even if it looked like a sickly wolf. And then how to get it home is a problem. He paid 2000 Nkf for it, and he has to pay another 100 or 200 Nkf for transportation. Well, he says, I will carry it on my shoulders. But he came to the market on a bike. He has now to think fast. He has never been to a circus before. How can you balance a goat or a sheep on your shoulders, while cycling? You simply carry it piggyback, get its front and hind legs and tie them right in front.
Drum rolls and the spectacle is to begin. Clickety- Click…….Riiiing…..Riiing….. Baaaaaaa……baaaa.
“Mom! Daddy has come with a goat” shout the children.
“Thanks God,” sighs the wife.
“It is highway robbery.” groans the father.
It is five in the morning. Probably the time Jesus rose up from the Dead. There is moon watching down from the sky above. The door squeaks open. The moon covers itself with a piece of dark cloud not wanting to witness the ensuing scenario. And it hides itself; its light is reflected on a shining metal for a few seconds. The night prowler is ready with his knife and rope.
“Tell the boys to get up and help me,” shouts the shadow.
A little while, two young boys join the shadow. The front yard lamp is now on. The sheep smells death and becomes agitated. Tarzan keeps barking. He doesn’t want to be mistaken for a sheep. Shashu also adopts the same strategy. In the night like that when ovine world is under attack, the only means for animals to save their skins is to identify themselves correctly.
Oh! How the sheep should have wished to wait for the night executioner in a dog’s clothing. Well, it is too late now. The trio approaches the victim to accomplish its mission.
It is Fass’ga (Easter) officially known as Tinsa’e (Resurrection). Fass’ga (from Greek paskha, via Aramaic, from Hebrew pesa) is the meat-day par excellence. Good-bye hamli (greens) till we meet again and good morning siga weddi axmi (meat and bones).
But the ritual doesn’t end here. We will start with panettone (a tall Italian yeast cake flavored with Vanilla and dried and candied fruits, traditionally eaten on Christmas).
Buying panettone during all kinds of holidays has become a must in this country. There are now several brands with varying tastes raging from wood to sugar cane. Although some can compete with Italian products, the rest are simply packaged himbashas. Shop owners put up fights to get them form bakeries. A holiday without panettone is like Christmas without Santa Claus.
Noontime and the boys are still playing outside. The father is in downtown probably washing his guts with beer for a heavy lunch. The ladies are busy putting the last touch here and there.
To make a long story short, the whole family including relatives from far away villages do justice to the food and drink.
“Nice meat. Surely it was a healthy sheep, “Says the father slurping, munching and gnawing like a lion.
The children tear up meat from pieces of bones like lion cubs. The mother takes her time to eat like a real lioness.
“I bought it for 2000 Nkf,” boast the father.
The children are waiting for the time when they will have their share of panettone. The women are waiting for the time when they will drink their coffee in peace.
Everybody is happy.
R’hus Tinsa’e! Happy