Ethiopian friends

Small world!

If you search for “Bedele” in this blog, you will find a few stories of our stay there in 1988-9. During that time, we got to know several people, some were working in the project I was managing while others, although they worked in other sections of the veterinary laboratory, were neighbours in the housing compound where we lived.

Among our neighbours, Lea and Getahun (not their real names) were the closest and we fondly remember the time spent together up to the present day. We had a few laughs when Lea made great but unsuccessful efforts to teach me how to spin cotton by hand! A few occasions we joined efforts in neighbour activities such as to chase away the hungry mongooses that were after her chickens or scaring the monkeys from our vegetable garden. She also guided us on the food availability options in Bedele as well as keeping us supplied with “injera” (1) and other special breads and local food.

Tibetan woman spinning wool in Pokhara/Nepal. Credit: Clemensmarabu. Legend: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

I still remember the smell of burning incense and roasting coffee of Lea´s coffee traditional ceremony to which we were invited several times during our stay. She would welcome us to her house dressed in her traditional clothes, having prepared for the event by spreading grass and flowers on the floor. Once seated, she would go through the various stages of coffee preparation while painstakingly explaining us what she was doing (2). A most enjoyable and educational time!

An Ethiopian woman preparing Ethiopian coffee at a traditional ceremony. She roasts, crushes and brews the coffee on the spot. Credit: sameffron; permission: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

Ethiopian Airways has grown substantially from the airline that was in the late 80s. We took advantage of this to book our flight Harare-Buenos Aires-Rome-Harare as they now cover most world destinations.

During the long Buenos Aires-Addis Ababa leg of our travel, I talked to the stewardesses about Ethiopia and our time in Bedele. This did not fail as an ice breaker to start a conversation as there was plenty of time. While some of the attendants had not heard and or been in Bedele, most knew the area although none had been there and they were rather surprised to find someone coming from Uruguay that lived in Ethiopia! They were also curious to know what we were doing there!

Three days ago, during the flight between Addis Ababa and Rome, we were looked after by Sara, a very nice young stewardess. When she brought us our welcoming drinks, as always I mentioned that we had lived in Bedele for two years. “Oh, I was born there” she said and, before I could reply, she moved on to serve other passengers. So, Mabel and I waited for her return to get more details. We had to wait until we reached cruising altitude to get them.

Sara came back to take our food order and we immediately asked her “How come you were born in Bedele?” “My mother and father worked there” was her reply. She saw disbelief in our faces and, before we said anything, she added “my mother was a technician at a veterinary laboratory there”. There was only one veterinary laboratory in Bedele and I worked there!, I thought. So, immediately we asked for her mother´s name. “It was Lea” she said!

We were totally shaken by the news and it took us some time to recover and be able to ask for more details. We soon confirmed that we were talking about the person we knew by agreeing on details we both knew! Luckily, I had some pictures of Lea in Bedele in my computer that we showed to her. This time, she was the one gasping “Yes, she is my mother” adding “how young she was!”

She then told us that Lea and Getahun were well, near retirement. We did not know that they have had children and Sara told us that she also had an older brother, both approximately of the age of our own! So it was that we found Lea´s daughter, one Ethiopian among 123 million, quite a miraculous coincidence.

I kept thinking about the probability of finding one Ethiopian friend (including partners and children). For the sake of my calculation, I estimated that we struck a close friendship with 10 Ethiopians and that they all married and had two children (like Lea) and came up with 40 people in 123 million Ethiopians or a 1 in 3,075,000.

As this did not tell me much, I Googled on the probability of different events affecting me and selected a few to compare with the likelihood of our finding. There is a 1 in 220 chance that I would write a New York Times bestseller or 1 in 365 that I would die on my birthday. Less probable events include becoming a movie star (1 in 110,500). Being struck by lightning in a given year is given at 1 in 1,222,000 while getting hit by a bus at 1 in 2,200,000. So, our odds were lower than that but still higher than winning the lottery that is estimated at 1 in 45,057,474 (I imagine that there are lotteries with higher probability).

Living the trivia behind, it gave us great pleasure to have found Lea and we hope that, through her, we could get to our old friends in Ethiopia!

(1) A fermented spongy flatbread, made of teff (Eragrostis tef) flour.

(2) For details, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_ceremony_of_Ethiopia_and_Eritrea#