A wedding in Nazreth

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Through a great quirk of chance, the ICS program coincided with the first wedding in my host family in the past five years. Ethiopian weddings are an incredible spectacle, with celebrations lasting far longer than those seen back in the UK. Luckily enough, the main event was hosted in Nazreth (or Adama), a city around 100km outside Addis, offering me a chance to leave the capital for the first time.

[Template "myrtle" not found] After an evening spent socializing with fellow volunteers, we arrived home on Monday to a raucous party. The celebrations had begun (and only a week early!). My host home sits in between a barber’s shop, and a butchers. The barber shut up shop early and joined in the celebrations, out-danced all the family (blue shirt and baseball cap), and then dragged me into the fray.

Me and my host brother Binyam left on the road to Nazreth after lunch on Saturday, (a few days after the rest of the family) to avoid the intense pre-wedding preparation. The Southern road out of the city takes traffic all the way to the sea port of Djibouti, and so it’s well made, but seriously lacking in space. Two lanes carry bulky land cargo, buses, trucks, bajaj, cars and minibuses. Naturally, with a fully loaded container truck, speeds are limited to around 40mph. Following traffic has to make a series of quick overtaking maneuvers, or risk a small journey between cities taking upwards of 2-3 hours.

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We took a quick pit stop after the long journey at a local bar. With the higher temperatures, constant breeze, open areas and cafe tables, it reminded me of places in the Mediterranean rather than the middle of Africa. Adama has a curious history. Renamed ‘Nazreth’ after the biblical city by Emperor Haile Selasie in the 1940s, it was reverted by local government in 2000, but the old name has pretty much stuck with most of the population. It’s also the capital of the populous Oromia region of Ethiopia. We left a little while later, and took a rickshaw (Bajaj) ride to Binyam’s grandparent’s house in another area of the city.

By the time I took photos outside it had started to turn dark, and guests were starting to arrive. The main wedding food was spread along a table inside the house, but the star attraction was the huge rack of raw meat (tere sega) hung in the corner.

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Traditionally, members of the bride and grooms family dress in the matching outfits or colours. The cute kid second from the left shares my name!

[Template "myrtle" not found] Before the bride and groom cross the threshold of the house, a sheep is slaughtered (the significance of which eludes me – I guess it’s for luck?). Unfortunately, someone had forgotten to actually buy the sheep, so the bride and groom were left waiting in their car whilst one was found. Morbid curiosity prompted me to grab a close look once it arrived. For some reason, I expected Tarantino-like blood spatter when the deed was done, but the poor guy just bled out on the floor within a few seconds. Apparently this tradition is slowly becoming less frequent, though the meat lovers of Nazreth probably needed some extra to sustain the party.

After prayers, the meat (pun intended) of the evening began. Almost all the guests joined in with the dancing, which usually involved a huge circle around the bride and groom. Despite my protestations and dire lack of co-ordination, I was pulled in again and tried to replicate traditional Amharic dances without dislocating my shoulders. Apparently I’m not too bad for a ferengi!

In between drinking and dancing, the guests and family ate a meal. I was pulled into a side room with Binyam and his friends, all raw meat veterans, to try some tere sega. Figuring that as I hadn’t been ill so far (and thus my insides must be made of asbestos) common sense flew out of the windows and I went for it. Raw meat is tasteless with a strange squishy texture. Huge slabs of it are cut from the carcass in the main room, then cut into smaller chunks on the plate. With some injera and chili/horseradish sauces, it wasn’t too bad, though ultimately I paid the price a few days later, and ended up visiting the hospital.

After a few hours rest in an Binyam’s aunts house, we took a bajaj ride back to the house, just in time for breakfast. As you can see, the meat wasn’t even half eaten! I guess that’ll be dinner for a few more days. The older man in the photo is over 80 years old and still a dance champion. Other photos are with Binyam, his aunts, the house guard and an uncle.

And with that, we left for home! Nazreth is surrounded by mountains with the road sweeping down towards the town. On the way back trucks laden with heavy goods crawled along so we had to spend an hour overtaking them. The strange monument indicates the Oromia region government offices. An incredible weekend, one that I definitely won’t forget!

Aman