30 Days of Shorba - Ramadan in Ethiopia
Anyone who has experienced the immense bliss of this month knows that it is a truly a gift, and every second of it is precious. This month is about sacrifice, spiritual cleansing and healing. Abstaining from food and water dawn to dusk are the basic requirements, but we muslims also avoid distractions that take us away from the truth. We patiently preserve against our temptations whatever they maybe and work hard at disciplining our ego. It’s a month of whole heartedly giving and forgiving. A month of quiet introspection. An empty stomach and an active mind can do wonders for the soul. This month helps us realize all that we are capable of achieving, and reminds us through prayer and practice we can achieve anything.
Two weeks in, I can say ramadan in Ethiopia has been spiritual. It’s hard to truly reflect on what is occurring around me right now and still be present in the moment. It’s always been easier to reflect on the past and compare it to other experiences, so these feels are still very fresh, but I’ll try to share some of what's happening here.
Ramadan is about looking within, enhancing our relationship with God. God is as much here as He is back home. But there are some places where the external noise is greater, more distractions that make it difficult to look within. Cities like LA where your every sense is exhausted by the noise of the cars, the large billboard in the sky, the nightlife, the shops, and fast paced life. These distractions make it a real challenge to actually see what is around us. God is easy to see here. He makes his presence known in the star lit sky during suhoor, in the green of the forest, in the rain and thunder, in the kindness of people, in everyday language. The pace of life is slower here, more time is available to see and reflect. I feel no outside force trying divert me from my goal of becoming more aware and closer to God.
Everyday is the same in ramadan. After work, I spend they day reflecting, reading, praying and sleeping. Six o’clock comes around quickly, and I head down the street to break fast with a friend from the health center her husband, who happens to be the Imam of the Mosque, and a few other friends. I have only known her three months but she told me I would break fast with her daily, no wasn’t an option and I am grateful for her hospitality!
We sit on the floor, women on the right, men left, there is pillows all around the walls so we can lean back and relax. If there is electricity, the TV is on to the Africa TV channel usually with a panel discussion on the blessings of ramadan from what I can pick up. We hear the Athan and break fast with dates, pray maghrib and come back to eat a large bowl of Shorba, an opaque thick creamy barley soup that has similar texture to mom’s haleem. It has a nice bite to it and I find comfort in it. On the side is fried bread, with a hint of sweetness. If they put it on front of me I can eat a plateful of these.
Amira serves everyone first before she takes anything for herself. If uninvited guest show up, she takes from her own bowl to make sure they have enough. She takes the best pieces bread and puts in front of me and other guests so we naturally pick those up. I try to take snacks and whatever food I can but, it can never compare to how much she gives everyday. May Allah give her more. Ameen.
Ethiopian hospitality is not comparable to anything I have ever seen. I hope I can pick it up in my two years here.
We chat over shorba and later strong black coffee. Taraweeh time comes around fast, and we walk to the masjid together.
At night the grass, wet with fresh rain, feels as if it's never been trimmed. There is a narrow path made to the two doors of the mosque. Flashlight in hand, we walk to the music of crickets, occasionally hyenas, and what I believe to be snakes, but the girls laugh and disagree about the snakes.The mosque is small, the size of the girls section in Tampa, or the size of a high school classroom. It can fit around a hundred people standing shoulder to shoulder. Sometimes there is electricity at the mosque and other times there isn’t. Everyone is used to it. All the women pray in the main mosque when we don’t electricity for the speakers. There is a thick beige curtain that separates a quarter of the room for the women. Light doesn’t seep through except from the top and the small slits at the bottom. Girls constantly close them as the curtains move and they open up.
Yesterday they fell down on us and a young friend sitting next to me covered me up with her cloak of invisibility yelling Auzibillah! Then we ran out together thinking no one could see us. I am not sure why we did this instead of just putting them back up. Thankfully it happened at the end of the prayer because we couldn’t stop giggling about it every time the thought popped back in to our minds. For whatever reason, the urge to laugh is always strongest in places where its considered impolite. I should eventually outgrow this, but not today.
All mosques emit a sense of security and peace, but some more than others. This one feels like home now. Spend enough time in a place and you learn to love even the cracks in the wall that let the breeze in inside a crowded room. Take off shoes, find a spot, straighten the lines, leave no empty spaces. Allahu Akbar, (God is Greater), and we begin. Together as one, always. No need for instructions because no matter where in the world you grew up, if you believed in Islam, you were taught how to pray the exact same way. All the lines in the mosque are filled up by young women and girls. With so many young children and no parents it’s always a nice surprise to hear pin drop silence between prayers, besides the justified giggles.
It has never truly mattered to me where I prayed as long as I was in a mosque standing shoulder to shoulder to a muslim. In the quran it says, “And bow down your head with those who bow down in worship.” 2:42. This is my second ramadan away from home, I am getting used to praying next to new people. Some of my dearest friends have been made in ramadan inside mosques and I already feel a closeness with the people here. Ramadan in Ethiopia has been a humbling and refreshing experience so far. I haven’t been able to take many pictures of ramadan activities, but I got some of the market and our mosque during market day! Enjoy!
Ramadan Kareem, may you find peace in this month.