Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hands On, Minds Open: An Adventure in Ethiopian Cuisine


Havash, an Ethiopian restaurant in central Jerusalem, is easy to miss, as it is a small establishment nestled underground on a narrow side street. The few Ethiopian National Project interns who walked in with our field supervisor were the sole patrons for a 1 p.m. lunch on Monday, and the emptiness and remoteness of the place gave the impression that we had discovered some place secret and exciting. The first room we entered was replete with colorful, woven, hourglass-shaped baskets that served as the tables, each one surrounded by several cushioned seats. Everything about this room, from the decor to the tantalizing photos of Ethiopian food papering the walls, to the soft sounds of Ethiopian music floating from the speakers, to the smell of incense wafting through the heady air, gave the restaurant a strong sense of authenticity.  A religious Ethiopian woman, presumably the owner and one of only two employees that we saw there, emerged to greet us from the inner room of the restaurant.

We sat down, and the lid was lifted off of one of the baskets to reveal a large silver tray where the food would be placed. The woman then brought out a tray of water with lemon, and we were intrigued by the small, wooden spoons that came in each glass, which were aesthetically pleasing but appeared to serve no functional purpose. Because this restaurant was apparently a one-woman operation, actually getting our food took quite a while. As we waited for 50 minutes for our two vegetarian meals to arrive, it was clear that not only does this restaurant serve Ethiopian food, but it also operates on Ethiopian time.

However, the wait was well worth it. First, a large circle of the Ethiopian bread, injera, was presented to us on the platter. This circle of injera also had smaller pieces of injera rolled up on top of it, presumably for extra dipping capacity. Next, the woman brought out a cart with a variety of dishes in small, black pots. These dishes, called wat, are served on top of the injera. She took each pot of wat in turn and spooned it onto the injera, deftly and gracefully pouring oranges, yellows, reds, greens, and blacks on top of the bread, like an artist painting her canvas.

The injera was nothing like the soft, warm Israeli pita we were used to. Injera is a spongy, extremely tangy bread made from water and tef, which takes approximately 48 hours to make. We were fascinated by the spongy texture of the injera and we learned that it gets its sour taste from an abundance of iron, which makes it both extremely healthy and nearly impossible to eat by itself. The actual eating of the Ethiopian food is accomplished by ripping a piece of the injera and using it to pick up the other dishes. Although all the food is eaten with the hands, the injera is the only part of the meal that one is supposed to directly touch. The wat we ate included a savory dish of cabbage, potato, and tumeric, delicious lentil and pea dishes of varying colors, textures, and tastes, and a refreshing salad with lettuce, tomato, bean sprouts, onion, and beets. We had a great time mixing together the various dishes and trying a spicy sauce that the owner warned us about. Thankfully, we survived, and happily consumed our meal with reckless abandon. Certain ambitious individuals might be able to eat the whole meal on their own, but we found the food so filling that it took the four of us to finish off two dishes.

We wrapped up our Ethiopian food experience by tasting some famous Ethiopian coffee. Coffee is a staple of daily life in Ethiopia, and is drank by men and women separately, three times a day. Coffee drinking is ceremonial and it is meant to be a time for social connection and relaxation. When the coffee was brought to our table, we were greeted with the scent of spices that burned on a small coal in a plate next to the coffee pot. We later learned that this coal is called “K’toret,” which is the name of the offering that the Jews used to present at the Beit Hamikdash in the time it stood. Emily suggested that the bitterness of the coffee and the burning of the coal reminded her of concepts relating to mourning for the Beit Hamikdash.

The woman sat down with us, poured a small amount of coffee into one small cup, then took that cup and poured the small amount of coffee into the next cup, and so on, and so on, ceremonially warming up each cup in turn. Then she poured the coffee into tiny porcelain cups for each of us. The coffee was strong, and it had a distinct taste that was very different from the instant nescafe that we were used to. Rather, it felt stronger, more like turkish coffee. It was a perfect and uplifting end to a delicious meal.

Since we are all working for the Ethiopian National Project this summer, it felt like an important part of our journey as volunteers to partake of some real Ethiopian food. We are open minded young adults, and we believe that in order to truly experience a culture, it’s necessary to be hands on with its food. Given how delicious it was, we aren’t complaining.


          Emily Zimmer, Justin Rastegar, and Elianna Mentzer

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Teaching English to Efrat, Day One

My name is Justine Frankel, and I'm here at the ENP with JInternships.
I come from Montreal, Canada and I'm 22 years old. I study child studies and education in University.
When I first arrived at ENP I knew I wanted to teach English, but never did I think I'd be teaching it to someone older than I was!

Her name is Efrat and she's been in Israel for 31 years. She came with her sister after her parents passed away in Ethiopia, and she studied in phys ed. and sciences to be a sports instructor. She loves her job and family very much. What a cultural difference! As I am a Canadian with only one sibling, in her 20 years of marriage, she has 7 kids! WOW! She was so sweet and kind to work with, and for the next couple weeks I'm going to share my experiences with you.

Today we got the chance to meet for the first time. I was extremely nervous because I don't speak a word of Hebrew. Knowing Sherutzim and Sababa really doesn't count for much when you're teaching someone a language. I'll just say, google translate is our best friend. I was pleasantly surprised to hear her English wasn't as bad as I was warned it would be, it was actually pretty good for someone just learning for the first time. Her languages of origin are Aramaic and Hebrew, which are the languages her entire family speaks. She was very eager to learn, and as was I to teach. We decided to focus today on expressing who we are, because it's important to be able to tell your story to new people you meet. We learnt a couple of number pronunciations, like the day she was married (June 25th, 1996), and when she came to Israel (1985).

Although I'm more used to working with children, I've learnt that no matter what age, when something clicks in your brain and you finally understand it, your eyes light up, just like a child. Seeing her speak about how shes been learning slowly, when she said the word "slowly" she was unsure about if it was the proper word. I assured her it was and she lit up, her smile big and proud. She may be older than I am, but I felt so proud to be helping her in that moment, like any teacher would be proud of their students.

We finished the session by typing up in complete sentences everything she likes and wants to express, and looking up a couple of interesting articles we can both read and talk about next time. Today, even if its only about an hour, was probably one of the most rewarding hours of my life. I felt so blessed to get to help this woman, and I'm so excited to see her again next week!!!!

Until next time,
Justine Frankel