It took listening to a podcast to remind me, last week, that a full moon invites Easter into our calendar year after year.
I was never good with the real indicators of the holiday to come. Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday—all of them represent the death and resurrection of Christ, I’m sure, but exactly what they symbolize, I couldn’t tell you. Growing up I blamed my half-caste status, half Christian, half Jew, for my hazy understanding of religious ritual. The semester I took Survey of the New Testament, I memorized the holidays’ meanings for a college exam, only to forget them again.
Forget Holy Week, there I was, last Tuesday, with only a glowing moon to remind me of Easter’s approach. I would say I have never been good with deciphering stars and moons and nature’s other signals of life gone and life coming. It was true, until I came to Ethiopia. Here I have been forced to listen to the earth’s calls. Now I possess confidence that when the skies’ vibrancy fades and the winds begin to turn, rains are on their way. Or knowledge that the smallest bundle of sticks can kindle a fire’s foundation. I’ve started to notice the patterns of the Earth, the changes in air condition, the light of the stars.
(In America “there’s an app for that;” we’re used to reading electronic translations of our external environment. Lord knows we had the Weather Channel to guide our wardrobe choices even before there were Twitter feeds of meteorological surprises. Truth is, if there even were an Ethiopian Weather Channel, Adaba would hardly be mentioned on a nightly forecast. Most people outside this dot on the map have little reason to stop for a cup of coffee. When I run into strangers to the town, they rarely express intent on visiting this place known for roasted kolo barley, fresh milk, and abundance of prostitutes, and often question my stay here too.)
I didn’t need a headlamp last week when I went outside to spit out my toothpaste before bed. The moon’s light was sufficient to see even a blade of grass. This moon, I thought, so bright and glowing, must signify something.
I thought of the full moon and the town “crazies,” former Derg soldiers who’ve lost their minds and settled for the streets. The man in worn clothes so drunk on tej honey wine last week he asked me to be his wife. After I stopped at the neighboring souk to buy eggs and chunked one at the tottering fellow, I wondered if I was a crazy too.
I thought of my mom, who cried with me the day of my college graduation, two weeks shy of my departure for Peace Corps. Look at the sky at night, she told me, and remember it’s the same bright moon and stars we see here.
The moon hadn’t been this bright in months. Something was coming, the bright glow whispered, as I stared up. Something big.
Sunday was my last Easter in Ethiopia, but for my neighbors, it was a holiday of momentous proportion. Just as New Orleaners refuse to mess with Mardi Gras, Indians with Holi, or Latin Americans with the Day of the Dead, Ethiopians take Easter seriously. So seriously, in fact, that Orthodox Christians fast from all animal products (meat, cheese, eggs, butter), alcohol, and (so I’ve been told) sex for a month and a half before the big day. They break their fasts nigh sunrise, swallowing mouthfuls of injera and doro wat (chicken stew) with milky cups of shay. There’s popcorn, coffee ceremonies, and hand-churned butter. There’s laughter, new clothes, and reunion with those long gone.
Yesterday an old tenant came back to kiss Ababeya’s cheeks and marvel at how much Henok has grown. The visitor, Kidist, wore her hair curled and a long-sleeve striped dress with black flats. Her skin was clear and her teeth were straight. She’s an engineer now, Henok told me. She didn’t speak Amharic like people around here do. Her accent was crisp and she even understood the quick English words I muttered under my breath when Ezra tried to steal my set of keys. The whole time she sat in Ababeya’s house, I thought, if she lived here, Kidist and I would be friends.
Kidist can afford to come back to Adaba from her current job and family in Addis Ababa. When the earth calls, when the moon glows, she can surrender journey to this surrogate family in the countryside. She can brave the muddy roads, the dusty winds, the hoards of street boys outside the minibus. She knows that kissing Ababeya’s cheek and accepting a senni of coffee from the seretena will make her trip worthwhile. She can go home and relay the stories of small-town life to her husband. The extravagant Easter celebrations of Ethiopia are hers to experience for life.
After three more full moons pass, the earth will call me someplace other than Ethiopia. She will call me home. I would be lying to say I’m not looking forward to my return to the States. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss the Carolina tree shade. I miss the row of makeup at Target, with foundation shades so varying and plenty they don’t even hit on the diverse beauty of those in the store.
I’m going home to grow into the person I’m most scared of becoming and most convinced I must be—someone with one foot in home, and eyes on the edge of the world. It’s right. It’s time.
But sometimes I want the moon to stop. I want the Earth to pause with her ritual cycles of endings and going-ons. I want to hold Ezra tight before he grows too big to rest on the side of my hips anymore. I want to tell the wind not to blow, the rain not to come, the grass not to rise. I want to live in a snapshot of days of plenty. Ethiopia, I dare to dictate, just be.
I know that the next time I can afford the money and energy and time to return to Ethiopia, things will change. Trees will be cut. Children will grow tall. Someone I love might be gone. I want Kidist’s ease of return, but I don’t have it. That’s why I know going home in August will be the best part of my Peace Corps service, the time when I will have loved my Adaba neighbors until it hurts. Then I’ll hold my hands in thanks to the ordinances of the universe for my two years in this dot on the map. But following the call to leave won’t be easy. And even if I can muster up the necessary means to return someday, after so many moons, Adaba will never be the same.