Ethiopian Culture / Ethiopian Identity / Family / Holidays / Immigrant Life / Travel: Ethiopia

Eating Alone

Long long ago, as mortals have done since The Fall, so did Mary the mother of Jesus. She died. Sources better informed than I ( = sources informed) tell me that the filseta fast that I currently find myself a little over halfway through has been held every year since then-ish by Orthodox Christians in remembrance of the events immediately following her death.

Legend has it – well, actually not legend but one of the restricted-access books of the Bible not to be found in your hotel-variety Gideon’s – that while the disciples of Jesus were carrying off Mary’s body for burial they were intercepted by the Jews (the bad guys in this story) attempting to confiscate the body. You see, they didn’t want a repeat of the public relations disaster that was the disappearance-reappearance-disappearance-with-TBA-reappearance of the human remains of Jesus of Nazareth. During the struggle that ensued between the disciples and the Jews, somebody, most likely one of the latter, got one hand sliced off by an angel or some such supernatural occurrence. The rest of the Jewish posse took this as a sign to clear out, which they did post haste. After witnessing this miraculous event
(with a hint of déjà vu, I like to imagine – anyone remember the incident of a Roman’s ear getting loped off in a certain garden in the wee hours of morning, following a fated kiss ?), the disciples felt at a loss about what to do next and…and…frankly I too find myself fuzzy right about now as to what happened next. I can’t remember if they
buried Mary and then prayed for two weeks or if they prayed for two weeks then buried her. What is certain is that they buried her, because they did discover that her body had disappeared (ascension assumed) when they went back to the gravesite some time later. In any case, the two weeks of prayer is what is commemorated by the filseta
fast.

Fast forward a few thousand years
later, and here I am, less than exemplary follower of Christ and even less so of St. Mary by Orthodox standards, marking those two weeks by forsaking all animal products. Translation : here I am, less than exemplary follower of Christ and
even less so of St. Mary by Orthodox standards, marking those two weeks by fantasizing hourly about roast chickens, burgers and inkulal firfir bemitmita. Even though I have it pretty good. Can you really call it forsaking when you can get a fasting version of just about
everything ? Fasting macchiato anyone ? How about fasting pizza ? Doughnuts ? Go nuts ! Somewhere in there abstaining got bumped in favor of substituting. It’s only our deplorable non-advancement in the field of bio-engineering that makes it not (yet) possible to have fasting doro wat or kitfo. But just give us time. Being seven years behind the rest of the world has to come with certain downsides, after all.

So here I am, fogging up the outside of a butcher shop window, in a manner of speaking, since most butcher shops don’t have windows here, and feeling defeated by the fact that the filseta is known as the easy-peasy fast, a mere two weeks that even little kids can and do undertake just for fun, nothing like the two-month pre-Easter challenge. Well, ladeda, good for them. For me it has been no different than the dozen or so times that I have tried vegetarianism, one of those times continuing right on after the Easter fast (the one time in my life I completed it in its entirety I believe). By that I mean, whether fasting or trying on vegetarianism, it’s never really been for the reasons I claimed at the time: the animals, the environment, whichever member of the Holy Family into which I got baptized at eighty days of age, my health, the sense of community and shared experience one gets when fasting back home, etc.

Case in point : on this fast dedicated to St. Mary, the first time she even crossed my mind, busy as it was dreaming of key tibs, was when Meseret Defar tearfully held out the portrait of Virign Mother and Child to the cameras after her Olympic win. Man, did I get choked up; to think that the woman was fasting during the Olympics …I stood in awe.

So, when you take away all those more respectable reasons, to what real motivation do all my dietary fashions point to then? Could they be somehow related to the never ending quest to turn my inner Liya Kebede into an outer reality? Is that the real shared experience, the sense of community? I mean, if a season of fasting right when you are visiting back home, right when weeks of sitting on your ass and eating
nonstop are going to show results, if that isn’t a Godsend then –

…some days later and one bout of food poisoning later…

So this is how the wrath of God comes down, eh ? In an at-the-time delicious bowl of pasta with tuna and tomato sauce that, about four hours later, transforms your body into the emitter of the most disgusting and constant fluids and your mind into the sayer of any
prayer to God that will end your agony, even if that means death ?

Yes, death. That is what it feels like. Henceforth I will always claim to have had a near-death experience. Maybe I will submit my story to one of those books with real life stories of people who saw the light at the end of some tunnel, except in my case there was not even a flicker much less a damn light and the only tunnel in question…well, let’s not go into what was at the end of that.

If I ever doubted that God had a sense of humour, I don’t anymore. For one thing, I got to fast for real, that’s for sure. As in, not eating at all, not even being able to stand the sight of food or of other people eating and then, when I finally could eat, being restricted to
plain white rice to the point where I started to gag on it. Because that’s what I needed more of in my life, after a year in China, rice.

And now, as a born again eater, all I want, and I don’t care if there are only four more days of this fast left, is to sink my teeth into some flesh. Some tender, marinated, steaming spicy flesh.

…On second thought, maybe I’ll stick to shiro. Can’t go wrong with that.
Even the ferenjis swear by it.

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