Merry (Ethiopian) Christmas!
Today (January 7) is Christmas for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and goats are everywhere. I'll digress into a discussion of calendars and get back to the goats in a minute. (Please forgive any factual mistakes in what follows...It is all based on observation and my opinions.)
Except for the occasional "leap second" like we had on News Years Eve to keep the atomic clocks happy and the hassle of arranging a telephone conference with people in time zones around the world I haven't given much thought to the basics of calendars. Sure, there are Chinese and Jewish calendars but they have such different starting points than the Gregorian calendar I'm used to that did not seem to make much difference. So I get to Ethiopia and discover that this country uses a entirely different, but similar, calendar and even tells time differently.
The Ethiopian (also called the Ge'ez) calendar is based on the Alexandrian or Coptic calendar, which is based on the Egyptian calendar, but like the Julian calendar, adds a leap day every four years without exception. There is a seven year gap between the Ethiopian and Gregorian calendar as a result of alternate calculations determining the date of the annunciation of Jesus. (The starting point for Christian calendars.) Like the Coptic calendar, the Ethiopian/Ge'ez calendar has twelve months of 30 days plus a thirteenth month of five or six days. (From an accounting standpoint, the extra five or six days gets tagged onto the last month.) The current year in Ethiopia (2001) started on September 11, 2008 in the Gregorian calendar. Today is "Tahesas 29, 2001" in the Ethiopian calendar. One of the travel slogans is that you can "come to Ethiopia and be seven years younger". Another is something about "thirteen months of sunshine" but I don't think that one went over very well.
Timekeeping is different, too. Instead of starting hour zero in the middle of the night the folks here start at more or less sunrise. (Since we are close to the equator the days are about the same length as the nights.) So the hours of daylight are 0:00 to 12:59 (6:00 am to 5:59 pm for us foreigners). Generally, though, you see Ethiopian times used in Amharic and western times used in English translations. What I don't know is how people set their watches...I'll have to ask around.
Enough about calendars and watches. So, what about the goats? Bear with me for a bit more background and then I'll talk about the goats.
According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2008 on the U.S. Embassy web site an estimated 40 to 45 percent of the population belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) which is predominant in the northern regions of Tigray and Amhara and approximately 45 percent of the population is Sunni Muslims. Islam is most prevalent in the eastern Somali and Afar regions, as well as in many parts of Oromiya. The government officially recognizes both Christian and Muslim holidays. Official holidays include Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, Meskel, Eid al-Adha, the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, and Eid al-Fitr.
All of these holidays celebrate a significant religious event, and are family-oriented. "Family-oriented celebration" usually means a big meal and some of the religious observations include a ritual animal sacrifice. So what makes good eating, is mostly easy to acquire, and fulfills the religious requirements? A goat. (Cattle are in the mix, too, but goats are a lot cheaper).
There are designated and impromptu goat markets around town, usually in a vacant lot or a street corner so buying a goat is relatively simple. In the days leading up to a major holiday the number of goats swells to the point that they become a traffic hazard. I've been told that goat prices vary by size and color. The lighter colors go for a higher price than the darker colors. (I think someone was pulling my leg on that one.)
So, you have picked out your favorite goat, settled on a price, and now have to get the thing home. You see people transporting their goats home in many creative ways. If they have a piece of string they lead the goat by the horns, or one of the front hooves, or by a back leg. No string? Just carry the goat around your neck or hold on to a leg, or the horns and try to keep the goat moving. (The goats don't seem to care for the "hold a leg" method.) Got a car, a taxi, or a bus? Stick the goat in the trunk or on the roof. If all else fails and you are just hungry drop the goat off at the impromptu butcher shop on the side of the road and just carry home the tasty bits.
It all seems a bit grisly to those of us used to getting our food nicely processed and packaged at the grocery store but in a place where not everybody has refrigeration (and the refrigeration is not all that reliable...more on that in a future journal) it makes a lot of sense to get your food as fresh as possible.
Ciao, (The Italian influence here is interesting...I'll include that story sometime, too.)