Although the surface is serene, things are not particularly calm in Ethiopia right now. One of the pieces of advice ferengis (foreigners) often hear is “Stay away from crowds!”
But who can resist the celebrations of Timket? This happy, colorful event celebrates Jesus’ baptism, and involves the Ark of the Covenant coming out of the churches and spending a night with the faithful in an open field.
Yesterday Bruce and I stood by the roadside in our neighborhood and watched as the Arks, carried on the heads of priests, came down the hill from St. George’s Church, at the top of the hill where we live and where MCC has its offices. It went to Tabot Maderia, a field nearby. Today, people are baptized, and the Arks make their way back up to the church until next year.
Last year on Timket, I had the privilege of watching the Arks return to Medhane-Alem Cathedral. This year, we watched the arks going out. This morning I’m rather tied to the kitchen, making pumpkin and mango/apricot pies to take to a friend’s house for an afternoon of board games. We won’t get to the parade, although I can hear it through my open window. Settlers of Carcasonne, anyone?
PS–Well, we never did get to our friends’ house. Thinking that the celebrations would be over and the Tabots safely back in their churches around noon, we set out with our pies. After hours of driving through the narrow, cobbled back streets and being turned around time after time, we gave up and came back home.
At one point we were a kilometer away from where we needed to be–the roundabout with New Ambo Road, close to Jacob’s school. We had spent the last hour trying to get to the Ring Road, and when we had just about given up, we found a way on! The other side of the road was blocked with worshipers following Arks, but our side was clear. We got on, carefully dodging random pedestrians (the ring road is the limited-access, four- or six-lane super-highway that circles the capital city of Ethiopia, just so you know). Rounding a corner, we saw that both sides of the divided highway were blocked–it was simply white with people. Probably 500,000 pilgrims clad in homespun gabis and natellas were coming down the highway towards us. You’ve got to hand it to the Orthodox church–just shut down the capital city and close the superhighway for pedestrian traffic during one of its most sacred days!
So that’s when we gave up and came back home.
For more information about Timket and Orthodox Christianity in Ethiopia, take a look at the National Geographic story about this celebration.