From: Biniam Tekle (email@example.com)
Date: Fri Sep 11 2009 - 07:43:37 EDT
Pittsburgh's East Africans celebrate new year, old tradition
By Liz Navratil / News Editor
published: Thu, 10 Sep, 2009
Today marks the beginning of a new year: 2002.
Pitt student Weenta Girmay will call her grandmother who lives in Eritrea,
an East African country where the Julian calendar marks the passage of time.
There, the clock runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Western time because the sun
rises earlier. People operate, in a sense, seven years behind Americans.
Today marks the new year in Ethiopia and Eritrea, two countries that share a
history dating back almost 2,000 years.
Girmay won’t go to church today and then come home to feast on homemade
coffee, wine and injera, a gray flatbread made from a native Ethiopian grain
called teff. She won’t pick the yellow flowers that grow in neighboring
Ethiopia, where her parents once lived, and take them door to door, as Seifu
Haileyesus, owner of Tana Ethiopian Cuisine in East Liberty and himself an
Ethiopian native, remembers watching the girls in his town do.
“You know, it’s sad,” Girmay said in an e-mail, before flying off to study
abroad in Bolivia. “A lot of us are Americanized in the sense that we’re
running on American schedules. You can’t just call off work to celebrate an
all-day new year.”
So instead, she’ll settle for calling her grandmother, who lives in Eritrea
and speaks the national language of Tigrinya. Girmay never learned the
language, “So I try my best to understand her, but the conversation is
short, and mostly it’s just about hearing her voice.”
Back in Ethiopia and Eritrea, people will gather around a table with a large
communal plate covered with the injera, which they’ll pepper it with
different stews made from ground chickpeas or lentils and ambasha, a type of
round bread they cut into triangular pieces, almost like a pizza.
They’ll grind coffee by hand, brew tea and burn incense as they eat until
all the food is gone.
This all occurs, of course, after they’ve gone to church to celebrate the
beginning of the new Julian year, which most of the world used until the
late 16th century, when the Roman Catholic Church created a new one to
better align Easter with the spring equinox, hence the gap between the
Ethiopian and Eritrean new years and the American one.
Many Ethiopians and Eritreans will wear traditional clothes today: light,
often handwoven, cotton garments with colorful designs. The women will wear
scarves and braid their hair into cornrows that run from their scalps to the
bottom of their necks.
“When my mother was growing up, variations on this hairstyle would signify
married, unmarried, married with children, etc,” Girmay said. “Although,
this is much less prevalent now that we’ve ‘modernized.’”
Ethiopians and Eritreans prefer to celebrate the new year all day long,
rather than than waiting until midnight on New Year’s Eve, as the Americans
“Basically, we celebrate it in the light, Americans in the dark,” Girmay
said. “It’s a more family-oriented holiday. You visit your relatives that
day since ... we have an extended family structure.”
“Americans,” she added, “make it more about partying and drinking and making
Haileyesus said he’s grown accustomed to the U.S. New Year. He moved from an
Ethiopian suburb to the United States in the late ’80s to study, so he’s had
plenty of time to adjust.
Still, he fondly remembers celebrating the new year as a child living near
Addis Ababa, the captial of Ethiopia.
He remembers the girls in town dressing up in traditional clothing and going
from door to door singing. The townspeople would welcome the girls into
their homes and feed them Ethiopian honey wine, called tej. The girls would
hand them a yellow flower, which only blooms near the new year, before
heading on to the next home.
In the evenings, Haileyesus said, he and his parents and siblings would
visit other family members, drink traditional beer called tella, and thengo
spend the money they’d earned.
“I think that’s very much what it is, enjoying each other,” he said.
Tomorrow night, when Pittsburghers have off work, Haileyesus will offer a
dinner buffet at his restaurant to celebrate the Ethiopian new year.
His staff will dress in traditional clothing and serve almost all the
traditional food — with a few new dishes, to keep people surprised.
If they’re in tune with Ethiopian culture, his clients will greet their
servers with “melkam addis amet,” which means “happy new year.”
And Haileyesus will welcome in the new year: 2002.
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