Monday, July 02, 2012

The Bakiga Window Vol. II: Jebena, Cini, Bunna!

Dawn in Addis Ababa. Walking from the plane to the terminal building.
The captain’s voice, lilting with a slight American inflection, crackles over the intercom and thanks us for travelling with Ethiopian Airways. The students, most of whom have slept solidly throughout the journey, look groggily around with the realisation that we are in Africa.

It is the crack of dawn on Friday 30th March 2012 and I’ve arrived, accompanied by a group of thirty-one others, in Addis Ababa. The air is still cold, by African standards, but is getting warmer as the minutes pass by.

Once again we are in Addis to change planes; the first leg of the journey having brought us from Heathrow, and the second taking us from here to Kigali, Rwanda. Unfortunately, such journey itineraries seldom match up perfectly and we have a four-hour wait ahead of us.

It is something of a cruel trick that Ethiopian Airways play on us annually as we are led to the smaller of the two terminal buildings, away from the spacious glass and steel, air-conditioned luxury of the newer building, to look at Africa from behind a window. As a result, the feeling that you are truly in Africa becomes suspended as you watch the vibrant orange hues of the early morning sun wash rapidly over the landscape outside.

There is one thing that redeems this situation for me every year though; the coffee ladies.

Paul, Jas and I separate ourselves from the main group and head towards the corner of the terminal. Here we make ourselves as comfortable as possible, sitting on the small wooden stools that surround our host’s podium, her legs about level with head height, and thus perfect for the control of overstimulated coffee drinkers.

She asks us how many cups we want, before setting about roasting the greyish-green coffee beans over a small coal fire, laden with frankincense. A few minutes later, emerging from the fragrant cloud that has enveloped us, are blackened beans. Next the roasted beans are crushed by our host in front of us using a pestle and mortar type implement called a mukecha.

Our host pours bunna from a jebena into a cini.
Finally, after being mixed with water and brewed in a jebena (an ornate, kettle-like ceramic pot), the coffee is poured from height by our host into the small, handleless cini cups. Mixed with brown sugar and accompanied with fresh popcorn, the airport behind us melts away.

Facing away from the hustle and bustle of this cramped little airport terminal, time seems to rush by in the silvery haze of the incense smoke. The three of us engage in increasingly lively conversations ranging from our looking forward to the real arrival in Africa in a few hours’ time, to the quite simply inane – perhaps there is more of the latter at this time of the day.

Needless to say, this rich, flavoursome, earthy coffee is very strong and four cups later our senses are beyond alert. Every speck of dust blown across the floor seems to attract my attention. I decide the best plan is to sleep for a small while to allow my mind to slow back down to its usual pace.

When we take our leave, our host, at the end of our two-hour besiegement of her coffee stand, seems to us like a long lost friend and almost appears sad to see us go, but it’s for the better. This relationship can't carry on this way.

Either way, we haven’t yet arrived at our destination, but this small prelude has piqued our curiosity for our impending arrival in Kigali later today.

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