Friday, September 2, 2011

Religious Ethiopia

One thing I was not expecting to experience in Ethiopia was the devotion and dediction to religions here.

My friend lives a few blocks from an Orthodox church in Bahir Dar. Every morning people come flooding out of it for at least half an hour, all dressed in white, like an exodus.

They live on the 5th floor of an apartment building. Every day, individual men from the church come by. They stop at each apartment on each floor and just wait outside, saying/singing some religious thing, until the people tell them to go away. This can happen 5 or 10 times a day. Picture a kid or man with a big walking stick, wearing his green blanket over his shoulders, in shorts and sandals, and kind of monotonously singing/talking like a zombie on the balcony some religious stuff until you acknowledge them at the doorway and tell them to get lost. They are even speaking in another language that nobody understands (kind of like if Latin was still used instead of English in the Catholic Church in US). And they come back EVERY day, making the trek up 5 flights of stairs to stand outside the door. I don’t understand the persistence of these people. If you get a no 100 times, how is the 101st time going to work? If I was the converter dude, with my brain as it functions now, at that point I would logically focus my efforts on bugging new people.

30 minute exodus from church:

This part of Ethiopia is Coptic Orthodox, but another region is Protestant, and another Muslim. Though, a different type of Orthodox from Russian/Greek/Serbian etc. If you take the Protestants & Orthodox then Christians have a majority in Ethiopia, around 45%. Here, all the taxi drivers and bus drivers have crosses and pictures of Jesus and Mary in their dashboards. Speaking of crosses, it is interesting that each city/region has a different design of the cross. Many times they are molded of metal and very intricate. And a few houses I have been into, the basic decorations on each wall were crosses, photos of Mary and Jesus, and phrases about Jesus and God, etc. With most people for sure there is a prayer before each meal (I got used to it haha, it is fine thoughm, I just thought nice thoughts for a bit). Though I can't close my eyes as hard as some of these people when they pray. And in several situations I have been present amongst conversations about how great God is and how God has saved and provided etc. These were in Amaric but Netsanet gave me the gist of the conversations. And then they ask me about my religion, and I just say I’m Catholic which appeases them, and try to end it there so I don’t have to actually talk about it because they’d probably think I’m a freak.

A common room(whole house in this case) with several images of Jesus and Mary on one wall:

This is actually a massive migration of people going to the local Orthodox Church for a funeral. Popular guy?

I do recall one conversation with a very nice Ethiopian business man I met on a day trip to the monasteries in Lake Tana. He was actually liberal by Ethiopian standards and definitely a motor mouth. We spoke about politics in the US and things such as Libya and Syria, and I can say we agreed in most areas. When we visited the monasteries, although a practicing Orthodox, he concluded that the people holed up on these islands were living a hellish lifestyle, devoting themselves to God and living with literally absolutely nothing but some religious texts for the rest of their lives. Now, when we got to talking about religion, he asked why many people in the West don’t believe in anything. A question that is not easy to answer I guess. And then he started asking me about marriage, and why it is ok in the West for people to get married, which he proclaimed was like working for the devil. Not being one to enjoy arguments about these kinds of sensitive things, I just kind of said I don’t really agree and changed the topic.

There is also a city called Harar in the eastern part of Ethiopia. It is a very historical site which I did not get to visit. However, within this walled city, there are something like over 80 or 90 mosques. The south of Ethiopia is primarily Protestant. In the capital, however, you can find a big mix of everyone. For example on a minibus will see people wearing traditional Coptic clergy garb next to a lady in which only here eyes are visible.

Another interesting thing I saw was that it is extremely common for Orthodox Christians here to fast Wednesdays and Fridays until the mid-afternoon. And sometimes, on these days, it is common to not eat any meat for dinner. So at restaurants there are particular entrees for those that are fasting, most commonly a dish with mashed lentils called Shiro, taken with injera bread.

In summary, the Ethiopia I observed seemed to be quite religious when compared with Western countries.

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