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A subdued Meskel

A subdued Meskel

Inside the restaurant known for its mouthwatering Kifto in Bole, by Yod Abyssinia Cultural Restaurant, this year’s celebration of Meskel festivities is in some ways somber. There were a much smaller crowd of people than the place is used to pre–COVID-19 pandemic, but that did not mean the day was not marked, with people eager to showcase the unique culture of the Gurage people.

This annual event has been hosted for the last decade by Yod, with people that come from near and far, to dine, be entertained for free and commemorate Meskel.

For the owner of the restaurant, Tezazu Kore even with the challenge of the new era where social distancing is the norm, it was important for the day to be marked and celebrated and to him, be the Ethiopian cultural ambassador he has become.

“This year, we have taken all the caution that we have been advised to take, plus invited a small selection of people and provided ample masks and others, to ensure the safety of our guests,” he said as he greeted his guests near the entrance of the restaurant.

 “Ethiopia is a unique and beautiful nation and I am privileged to do my part to remind as many as possible, the beauty of our diversity. That is what it is all about for me. The money I earn from his is the cream of the cake,” he added.

The restaurant, sacrificing a cow for the day, served variety kinds of kitfo, including gomen kitfo and kocho to those that came, including foreigners who on a regular day seem to occupy the eatery.

“This is my first diplomatic assignment to Ethiopia and even on my first briefing before coming to Ethiopia, I was advised to come and visit Yod Abyssina. It was an eye opening to what has so far been an exciting time to Ethiopia for me. So far, I have visited much of your beautiful nation, including Lalibella and I have been amazed by what is out there and the potential it presents to tourists and for the Ethiopian government to take advantage of,” a diplomat told The Reporter while refusing to identify himself as he was not authorized to speak by his ambassador.

His wife nodded in an agreement as she took a big bite of kitfo.

“What we experience here, we try to cook at home. Injera, while I found it bitter at the beginning is an adopted taste I have come to love and we often try to make it (with an assistant cook) and also make all kinds of specialty in wot like shero, which is quite easy to make but Kitfo remains a challenge to me and that is why we often come to Yod to eat with our children and guests whenever they come to visit us and we all love it,” she said.

The Meskel celebration, which is a commemoration of the discovery of the True Cross, has been one of the most attended events in Ethiopia, bringing tourists from around the world. From the historic city of Lalibella to the capitals Mesqel Square, it is a widely regarded celebration by the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant faith followers.

According to history, the bonfire represents a belief that it signifies the direction of where the True Cross rests when it falls, as believed by Queen Eleni.

This year’s festivities at Mesqel Square, which was expected to have been cancelled for the first time due to COVID-19 and a mega construction of water fountains and a parking lot by a Chinese state contractor, it was decided that a small reduced event will be offered to the public.

That did not stop, Derik Davidson and his friends from a variety of European nations, from Denmark and others, from embarking to Ethiopia, for their first trip to the nation.

“From the day I discovered Ethiopia by chance by being a customer at a restaurant in Copenhagen, I have always wanted to come and the Meskel celebration, especially the bonfire, Demera, is such a special and unique culture and I wanted to visit it in person and here I am. Up until now, I only watched it on television and what a wonderful scene to see and now experience,” he told The Reporter.

“When I came I did not know what to expect. I backpacked across Europe, visited many places in North America, as well as South America. But Ethiopia, to me offers what other nations do not which is something that is here and in no other places. The celebration of Meskel is one and I am happy I am here,” he added.  

To Tizazu, who has been paying the salaries of his workers while he was forced to close his restaurant in the midst of the pandemic, is what makes him happy in a life time spent on introducing the cultural mystiques of home. At his celebration, he offered a gigantic bonfire, a celebration of the slaughter of an animal, cultural dancers, prayers and family gathering of strangers’ in a celebration unique to Ethiopia and Eritrea.

“In the entire milestone we have been able to reach at our restaurant, each means something to us. We see those that come to our restaurant as those wanting to experience culture, not just eat and leave. That is why we put much resources and heart in what we do. We value diversity and each has a heart and you can experience that in all we do. However, to me, Meskel is who I am, what I grew up watching and loving and showcasing it to those at home and those visiting – as a citizen and an entrepreneur,” Tezazu concluded.