A month back from Ethiopia and I'm having all the normal reactions. I feel as if my ten month internship was a dream, leaving me questioning whether it really happened at all. I've only just started getting used to walking by a line of cars and not having conversations with people about my skin colour through the windows. But perhaps the most difficult thing of all was going for Ethiopian food for the first time since being outside of the country.
Before I left for my placement, I ate Ethiopian once every couple of months, quite rarely given how often I ate the other ethnic staples- Japanese, Thai, Somali, Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Indian. A plate of wat and injera was a special treat. In fact, two years ago, my boyfriend and I went for Ethiopian food on our first date. When I asked CPAR's Ethiopian country director how the Canadian version of his cultural eats compared with the real thing on one of his visits to the CPAR-Toronto office, he just smiled and laughed politely.
I spent my first couple of weeks in the CPAR-Ethiopia canteen with tears in my eyes as my new coworkers piled heaps of too spicy wat, berbere and mitmita on my plate. After my first trip to the field, the idea of another bite of injera (which I'd just eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner for four days straight) was enough to make my stomach turn. I came well prepared for the second trip with Mars bars, which I privately ate for breakfast.
But somewhere in the middle of my Christmas vacation, I began craving the food of which I'd been so tired. I happily stepped into the first hotel I saw when I arrived home to Addis and dug into a huge plate of tibs and shiro.
As I prepared to leave Ethiopia in June, the messages of those who'd left before me were pretty consistant: eat as much injera as you can before you leave...it's just not the same.
Last week, I went for Ethiopian food in North America for the first time in a year. Excited to show my friends what I'd feasted on, I enthusiastically ordered kitfo (raw beef), gomen (kale) and ayeb (cottage cheese), my three favourite dishes. After a month of withdrawal, I could practically taste the huge dish covered with injera with portions of red, white and green before it arrived. I confidently ripped a piece of injera off...and it crumbled in my hand. The tangy and supple staple of my memories doesn't exist here.
The absence experienced by my tastebuds is similar to that experienced by my heart.