Elizabeth and I just had an amazing unexpected cultural experience. We decided to explore the center of the city, the piassa, to check out the Arada market and walk around. On our way to the market, we stopped by a little shop to purchase locks so that we can keep our valuables safe at the guesthouse. The man selling locks, Muleye, spoke perfect English and immediately sparked conversation with us. He was wearing a Peace Corps shirt that was given to him by his friend who was a Peace Corps volunteer last year. Unfortunately, his friend was forced to evacuate Gondar due to the political violence going on last June.
When we asked Muleye for directions to the Arada market, he insisted on taking us himself. The market is a very vibrant and busy place – shops of all kinds, goats in the street, women carrying chickens for sale, children playing, etc. The shops ranged from basic goods, such as kitchen supplies and clothes, to hand-made pottery, cultural clothing, and spices. It was nice having Muleye to show us around; you could easily get lost in the Arada market.
Elizabeth mentioned to Muleye that she enjoyed knitting and spinning cotton and was hoping to find a traditional spindle. Muleye asked around, but since it was a Sunday and some vendors were closed, we could not find a spindle at the market. Instead, he decided to take us to his grandmother’s home, who is an incredibly talented spinner. She is a nun and lives in a small, thatched roof home very close to St. Gabriel’s church. She is a peaceful, sweet, and fragile old woman. We entered her home and she showed us her spools of cotton and some of the fabric that has been created from it. With this fabric, she makes traditional clothing that is given to a male as a gift on his wedding day. It is very soft and beautiful.
It was really special to be welcomed into Muleye’s grandmother’s home. Prior to leaving, she insisted we eat some of her boiled potatoes with chili powder. Each of us grabbed a potato from the pot, peeled it, added a bit of chili powder, and ate it. She could peel a potato in 5 seconds
Learning a bit about Muleye’s grandmother’s life and seeing her home was a truly unexpected cultural experience. It’s amazing how a common interest (spinning and knitting) can lead to such vibrant, rich cultural exchanges. This experience gave me a glimpse into the life of an elderly nun in the community. I also thought it was special to see the differences in generations and how Muleye interacted with his grandmother. He has an immense amount of love and respect for her.