As you know, ful is one my favorite Ethiopian dishes – a delicious mixture of cooked fava beans, accompanied with a side of onions, tomatoes, garlic, and jalapenos. Ful is a breakfast dish and for nearly 4 months, I struggled to find a shop that would serve ful past mid-morning. However, about two months ago, I walked out of the SCOPE office and down the street in search of a midday snack. I perused the tuck shops and local merchants, and encountered a friendly woman making coffee and various Ethiopian dishes, including ful. I decided to sit in her little shop and asked for a cup of coffee.
While waiting for my cup of coffee, I was greeted by her adorable, happy children. The young boy, Alazar, had a fascination with my camera and kept posing for photos and giggling profusely when seeing his face on the screen. Her three daughters – Muwork, Fasika, and Marta – treated me like a princess. They washed my hands, cleaned the small table in front of me, and ensured I had plenty of sugar for my coffee. We tried to communicate, despite my limited Amharic and their limited English. After sipping my coffee, I returned to the office completely rejuvenated. Interacting with this wonderful family was the perfect ‘snack’! I remember sharing photos with Elizabeth and telling her we must return for ful one day.
I returned with Elizabeth a few days later, and the children greeted us with enthusiasm. Alazar ran up the street and jumped into my arms; I was flattered by his excitement to see me. The mother, Alemaddis, kissed my cheek as I introduced her to my friend, Elizabeth. We ordered ful and enjoyed watching Alemaddis cook, while playing with her son and interacting with her daughters. In our broken Amharic, we asked the girls about school, and they showed us their notebooks. Meanwhile Alazar bopped around making everyone laugh and asking for his picture to be taken.
Alemaddis’ ability to simultaneously cook multiple meals in her tiny shop is impressive, and fascinating to watch. Her hands move quickly, constantly stirring, chopping, and cleaning. She has a small charcoal cooker, one cutting board that rests on a bucket of vegetables, and no running water. However, despite the limited space and materials, she has developed an effective, resourceful system that allows her to continuously cook and serve clients all day. Thankfully her daughters are eager helpers, constantly washing dishes, peeling garlic, chopping vegetables, and cleaning tables. They are completely in tune with their mother’s needs, never needing to be asked to complete a task.
This family’s energy is infectious, and Elizabeth and I both caught their ‘bug.’ Alemaddis’ shop has become one of our go-to lunch spots, and every interaction with them is equally enjoyable. As much as I would love to speak with them fluidly, there is beauty in our broken, cross-cultural communication. Spending time with Alemaddis and her children is therapeutic for me – guaranteed to laugh, eat good food, and feel welcome. I have fostered a bond with this family that I will dearly miss.