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Holiday feast: finding the right ingredients
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Holiday feast: finding the right ingredients

There is a great deal of work to be done in preparation for a major holiday like Easter. From preparing doro wot (chicken stew) and the entire holiday feast and baking bread to cleaning the home and taking care of guests, it is a time of great stress and expenses. Nevertheless, holidays in Addis Ababa are specifically identified with the long list of shopping requirements and a handful of marketplaces frequented during this time, writes Hiwot Abebe.

The muddy unpaved roads of Shola market and Merkato are trekked by hundreds in a single day, especially around holiday season, as popular shopping destinations for many preparing for holiday feast.  Aside from the regularly available vegetables and other food items, the holiday is a popular season for chickens in uniquely crowded coops which will then be flipped and brutally swung on the trip home. Sheep and goats, coffee, popcorn kernels, incense and spices are also major items in the holiday shopping list. Hawkers rush to cater to the dozens of customers that flood the market. The strong stench of chicken coops mixed with the various spices make these shopping destinations quite distinct. Many shops sell sesame seed oil and linseed oil, which are slowly replacing the widely available and controversial palm tree oil.

Abebech Shigute, a shop owner in Shola Market, sells another heavyweight in the holiday shopping cart. She brings about 50kgs of butter from Sheno, a small town in the Oromia Special Zone, and spends two weeks spicing it and selling it for 300 Birr/kg. Many people traipse in and out of her shop searching for spices or simply asking for prices. Her customers say they come to her shop because they know they will be getting pure Sheno butter. Hareg Awetahegn, a regular at Abebech’s shop, says some retailers blend butter of different types and quality or may even introduce a foreign element like honey or papaya. “Sheno is easily recognizable because of the smell,” she states. 

The butter sold at Shola Market and Gojam Berenda comes primarily from Sheno, Wolega and Gojjam. Sheno, a region famed for its light and fresh butter, is home to many dairy farmers that have particular cattle feed that gives the butter its signature flavor. These farmers walk to town centers with coffee cups filled high with butter, sell them to traders that will then come to Addis Ababa and provide the butter to local retailers. If pure, the butter is not likely to melt during transport. Typically spiced and used in food, butter can also be applied as hair conditioner, skin moisturizer and occasionally added to herbal remedies. The price of butter has dramatically risen since Christmas from 150 Birr/kg to nearly 300 Birr this Easter.

Helen and her younger brother Abel walk down Megenagna road carrying four mops. They are going to conduct a thorough house cleaning which has been a family tradition preceding holidays for many years. “A clean home means a cleansed spirit in preparation for Easter,” says Helen. After scrubbing their home clean, their family will be hosting relatives from Wollo and Sebeta eager to spend Easter together. Even though they are happy to be with family, Helen says she’s dreading how much work it means for her and her aunt. 

There is a great deal of work to be done in preparation for a major holiday like Easter. From the preparation of doro wot (chicken stew) and baking bread to cleaning the home and taking care of guests, it can be a time of great stress. Selamawit says her sister had carbon monoxide poisoning from excessive smoke inhalation when she was cooking last Christmas’s meal. This can especially be troubling when the lent season is broken at 3 or 4 AM on Sunday and hours can be spent in a small workroom with poor ventilation.

Another popular destination for holiday shopping is the two large exhibition centers—Millennium Hall and Addis Ababa Exhibition Center. Loud music accompanies shoppers as they walk around the expansive grounds, sipping tej or munching on french-fries. Children run around overwhelmed by all the available toys while parents try to rein them in. Many companies and retail outlets rent tents for 2000-4000 birr to introduce their products at a discount. Birhan Mebratu, 34, does all his holiday shopping at the Addis Ababa Exhibition Center and describes it as a relief. “It’s a comprehensive shopping experience. I don’t have to go to specialty shops,” he says. He and his 4-year-old daughter are searching for new plates at a reasonable price as his wife is searching for the perfect chicken at Addisu Gebeya.

As the city increasingly urbanizes and Shola and Merkato become more crowded, supermarkets are emerging as viable alternative for some holiday shoppers. Newly married couple, Senait Asheber and Abenezer Molla, will be spending their first holiday together and are excited to host their close relatives on Sunday afternoon. Senait says she had never before paid much attention to how much work the holidays can be. “I tried to help out when my mother cooked but I didn’t know how much planning and preparation was required. I’m going to have to step up my game,” she laughed.

Even though the holidays are a time of preserving and maintaining cultural identities, lifestyle in Addis is steadily transforming. Senait is planning on purchasing a pre-prepared chicken from a supermarket and getting some necessary ingredients like butter from her mother. “I live in a condominium. It would be hard to care for a live chicken, prepare and dress it in time for an early morning meal.”

While many rush to complete all the holiday tasks few are planning to avoid the holidays completely. Daniel, 26, and his friend Selamawit, 27, will be spending the festivities in their friend’s house away from hustle and bustle of holiday preparations and stress caused by family. They’re going to prepare a simple meal and enjoy each other’s company. Selamawit adds that it is time to end the burden that is traditionally put on mothers, house helps and female relatives during the holidays. “Sharing workload and making sure everyone is equally having fun should be the priority”, she says. The shifting tides of holiday celebrations in Addis marks the increasing diversity of the city’s population and residents’ efforts to uphold traditional customs while keeping their way of life intact.