Most people think I lived in a mud hut in the middle of a field when they hear I lived in Ethiopia. This is definitely an incorrect image. I lived in a cement room, in a busy compound, with lots and lots of other people. And animals. Yup. Perhaps my favorite part about this living situation is I had the house all to my self and could decorate it however I pleased. The only problem with this is that my Peace Corps budget didn’t exactly allow my imagination to run wild. But with what I was given I did come up with a pretty fine “Peace Corps Cribs” worthy home! And I know this because every time Peace Corps staff visited my house they told me how lovely it was… mhmmm. Here is a picture of a really tan me in my cozy Peace Corps Ethiopia House.
Some days I miss my concrete room. Most days I don’t. Because, you know, it sucks not having a toilet. But some days…
Now that I am back in the states and I have my own place I get to play interior decorate all over again! My imagination still isn’t running wild, as Peace Corps got the last laugh and I’m using my PC Readjustment Allowance to furnish the place, but come on, INDOOR PLUMBING!
I have to chuckle a bit. While I was in Ethiopia I was all about the finding the modern housewares to make my life more comfortable (notice the US imported bedding? Ha!). And now that I am back stateside I hunt viciously for Ethiopian inspired accents! I’m now wishing I would have left all my clothes back in the motherland of coffee and just took home two suitcases full of handmade Ethiopian decor.
Peace Corps volunteers hold a lot of pride for their host country when they return. One way the bulk of us hold on to our memories is by incorporating cultural elements into our lives – either by continuing to cook the local cuisine, speaking the language, or showing off our collectibles from service.
I’m lucky that Portland has a pretty strong Ethiopian and Eritrean scene. Plenty of Ethiopian restaurants and markets are just a short bike ride away for me. In my current line of work I come across Ethiopian students daily and get to amaze them with my now broken Amharic skills. I am so thankful I can continue to have access to this amazing culture.
A huge way I’ve held onto this culture is by incorporating Ethiopian elements into my new, shiny studio. My main reasoning behind bringing Ethiopian decor into my home is to help make my Ethiopian fiance feel at home. However, even if he wasn’t coming I would still bring these beauties home. One thing Ethiopia does right is create beautiful art. The jewelry is to die for, their fabrics are made with pride, and Ethiopian food… ooooh man.
Here’s a sneak peak into my home and how I chose to infuse it with Ethiopian culture. Some of these items were gifts from my loved ones back in my second home. Some were purchased with money saved from my Peace Corps stipend by inviting myself to everyone’s house for meals (when in Rome…). And a few items are actually American bought but gave me tingly Ethio feelings.
Hand crafted painting bought in Addis Ababa. The background is a woven disk used to toss and sort grains. The images are painted on leather.
“Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat? Wouldn’t you think my collections complete?” No, it’s not. Here lies a sample of the jewelry I collected over my two years in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian cross, “Meskel”, was the first piece to start off my collection. It was a gift from another Peace Corps Volunteer just days after my arrival in country during a tour of Aksum, where the Ark of the covenant is rumored to rest.
Kolo. De·li·cious. Kolo is an Ethiopian snack mixture of dried barely, and often peanuts. It’s eaten by the handful during coffee ceremonies, bus rides, and when the power goes out and it’s too dark to cook. Shake anything Ethiopian kid and you can bet kolo will fall out of his pocket.
This is my version of “Ethiopian Inspired”. No, this blanket is not from Ethiopia, it’s actually a Mexican woven throw purchased in my home of Oregon. However, the colors of this throw replicate the colors of Oromia, the region of Ethiopia in which I lived. And the tassels definitely share some Ethiopian flare.
Plastic flowers. Oh yes, I went there. Ethiopia actually grows a beautiful array of flowers. However, these are often used as exports. Real flowers are quite expensive so Ethiopians tend to opt for these lovelies. These were the first gift my soon-to-be husband gave me. Shortly before I made a visit home for Christmas my first year of service we started dating. When I returned he met in a crowded bus station with these flowers. They will never leave my home.
I’m pretty woven baskets adorn every Ethiopian household, as they should. Woven Ethiopian baskets are vibrantly colorful and beautiful. These baskets are from Target! SHHH! I painfully regretted not bringing home any baskets (they take up a lot of space!) so when I saw these at everyone’s favorite retailer I had to jump on them.
This cute little puzzle came from an artisan fair in Addis Ababa. I fell in love with this piece the moment I saw it. It hold three of my favorite scenes in Ethiopia – the big, beautiful, flat top tress that can spread their branches for miles (it seems like), the traditional round mud and straw house, the “Gojo Bet”, and Ethiopian chickens, Doros! The pieces are so thin and delicate that I would never recommend putting this into the hands of a child! But it makes a great coffee table piece.
I brought up a “coffee table book” printed on hand made paper that depicts the origin of the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony. The coffee ceremony is one of the richest and most lived parts of Ethiopian culture. I would be mortified if I told the story wrong so this little guy has been handy.
Berbere – the mother of all Ethiopian spices! Berbere is a wonderful spice blend typically containing hili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, ajwain or radhuni, nigella, and fenugreek. The chili peppers stand out the most – giving this spice a deep red color and powerful punch of hotness. Most Ethiopian foods and infused with this rich spice. I brought some berbere home with me but have been fortunate it find it for a reasonable price in Ethiopian markets around Portland.
Another artisan fair find! I am lucky to own a set of these beautiful hand painted candle holders made from clay. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to burn a candle in this beauty though – I’d be heartbroken if the paint ever peeled away!
Hand painted, leather Ethiopian bookmarks. The man depicts an Ethiopian soldier and the woman wears the traditional Ethiopian dress and carries a water jug. These bookmarks are so simple, yet incredibly beautiful.
Any day of the week I’d pick hand roasted, hand ground Ethio coffee over store bought… but if I had to go that route I’d purchase this. Tomoca has local cafes in the capital but they go above and beyond that Starbucks expectation of coffee chains (I wouldn’t even call Tomoca a chain). Tomoca has a rich flavor that reflects the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. If you’re looking for an Ethiopian coffee that is exported I would only recommend Tomoca! I brought bags and bags and bags back from Ethiopia but you can find it on Amazon for a pretty penny.
The Netela is a handwoven oversized scarf Ethiopian women wear on a daily basis and to ceremonies. The scarf is used to cover the hair and shoulders. These are various Netelas and scarves that were given to me throughout my stay in Ethiopia. In my opinion, it’s one of the most heartfelt gifts that can be given to a woman in Ethiopia.
Jebena. A Jebena is how coffee is boiled in Ethiopia. It’s delicious. This one was gifted to me by my future sister-in-law just days before we said our goodbyes. I’ll never be able to make coffee as good as her but at least I can do it in style now.
If you were in the Peace Corps, military, lived abroad, or desire to one day travel let me know know how you brought another culture into your house! Write me a story. Send pics. Link me to your blog.