February 21, 2005

Monday morning

Hello fun zone fans,

What's happening? Been getting a lot of good emails from high school friends. Thanks to Ben J. for organizing those excellent emails and hope to keep them coming.

I've been off the e-waves for awhile and want to apologize sincerely to my readership. While I'd love to make this blog a daily occurence, some days, nothing happens to me - I'd just be taking up bytes on some server somewhere. But that's not the reason for my most recent prolonged absence. Put simply, the Fun Zone needed a rest and recovery session over the weekend to recharge the batteries. This was achieved. On Sunday, I got up at noon and then sat on the couch until 9:00 pm. I did go outside once, but only to check if someone was knocking at our door. I even kept the pets on outside quarantine. Now, fully rested, I return to my business of exploring the world of Ethiopia for my readership.

Saturday, my wife and I went to a wedding at the Sheraton. In Addis Ababa, and Ethiopia for that matter (actually, maybe most of East Africa), there is not a nicer hotel than the Sheraton that we have here. Built by the wealthiest Ethiopian, the half Saudi, half Ethiopian, Al-Amoudi, the Sheraton is a piece of luxury bordered to its east by the UN offices and the Hilton and to its west by one of the poorer shantytown's of Addis. Definitely a contrast. As you round the highway above the hotel, you can see flags waving in the wind in front of this impressive edifice. If by chance you turn down the road towards the hotel, you can also get a solid glimpse of the shantytown.

It is one of the amazing things about living here. In the midst of such stark contrasts - the wealth of the Sheraton and the poverty of the housing next to it, among other examples of wealth gaps, you would think there would be more conflict between people living here. More attacks on the wealthy and more crackdowns on the poor. All in all, though, and especially relevant to other African capitals, Addis is a very peaceful place. Attacks on foreigners are pretty rare. You might have your pocket picked, but that's probably going to be the extent of it.

Anyway, back to the wedding. As I indicated, it was at the Sheraton. This alone was enough to make me go, just to see the spectacle. Weddings here require that you invite everyone you know. Strangely, this wedding only had about 300 people, so the bride and groom (more like their parents), didn't stick hard and fast to the "invite everyone" rule, but it was still a sizable group to put up in the Sheraton.

The spectacle didn't disappoint. The entire ballroom off to the side of the hotel, generally reserved for conferences, was dedicated to the ceremony. After we presented our tickets to the bouncers, we walked down a red carpet to be met by the girls' family. It was only after we entered the ballroom and that we saw the giant screen displaying guests live as they were greeted by the parents. I'd seen the cameraman standing there as we entered, but couldn't help but question whether I'd picked my nose or scratched my behind as we were entering the room, something that would have been captured for everyone to see. Fortunately, no one started laughing as we walked in, so I think we were all okay.

The food was also amazing. All the regulars - vegetables, sauces, pastas. They also had fish, turkey, and about 10 kinds of cake. In what has become a regular event for me at Ethiopian weddings, I also partook in the raw beef. Raw beef has been served at each of the three weddings I've been to. Always at the end of the buffet line is hanging a rack of beef, just hanging there, with the butcher waiting to cut off whatever you'd like. People here love the taste. I think it's okay. This time, I had a nice piece of the actual meat and I also tried the fat. The fat was actually very good and true to my wife's description, it melted in my mouth.

So the food, the atmosphere, the people were all unique. However, the prize of the event for me was the wedding singer. Like I said before, this was no ordinary wedding. It's not just anyone who can have a wedding in the Sheraton. Even in the wedding singer, this family had gone all out. Do you remember Mahmood? I described him before. He's the singer that sang the "Ethiopia" song after Ethiopia won the semi-final and final games of the East Africa soccer cup. He also performed at the New Year's celebration at the Sheraton, sponsored by Al-Amoudi, where he again busted into the "Ethiopia" song and had a very hard time extracting himself from the stage.

I knew the singer was different the moment he started his first song, "Mushegare" (or something like that), a song that is sung at every wedding. It's about the bride, how beautiful she is, wishing her many children, etc. When the singer started in, you could easily sense how much more powerful his voice was than the others. It was this belting voice, that wouldn't seem to stop. My wife commented that it was Mahmood singing, which I immediately denied. However, it was confirmed by the other members of the table. I couldn't deny it.

As we were walking back from the food line, my wife pointed towards a man walking out of the ballroom and said, "that's Mahmood". I introduced myself like a little schoolgirl, had an all too brief interaction with Mahmood, then he was gone. My first encounter with celebrity in Ethiopia. Think I'll bring him over if we ever organize a block party.

Other than that, the wedding was pretty uneventful. There was a drunk uncle, who was embarrasing everyone he came with by his calls across the room, his loosened tie, and the obvious sway of his step. I must say, though, he was such a toned down drunk that he wouldn't have even been noticed anywhere outside of that wedding. In fact, his voice was so low, from age I'm guessing, that when he tried to yell at his friends across the room, you could barely here a thing, and I was sitting one table away. Oh well, he got escorted out by his embarassed family members, not to be seen again at the wedding.

Well, my wife has gone back out into the field, so I have one week left on the bachelor style. Pregnancy is going well. We'll keep you up to date on how that goes i.e. whether it's a girl or boy, etc.

Other than that, I think that was my weekend. That and lots of TV. I have a few movie recommendations, as a matter of fact. "Anne of 1,000 days" (or something close to that), about a lady who marries King Henry of England in the early 1500s, only to be executed by Henry 2.5 years later, is excellent. I'm going to give a thumbs down on "Turner and Hooch" which is okay, but that's about it.


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