3 cups of coffee and a warm welcome

By Wendie Slezinger
June 4, 2015

Shortly after 8:00 a.m., we begin our journey south to Hailey's town. 

We drive through town after town, village after village, sharing the road with an assortment of cows, horses, donkeys and goats along the way. We learn that the trick is honking as you come upon them – sometimes they move and other times they don't, but you have to pay the owner if you hit his animal, so be careful.

The scenery along the route is beautiful; although I slept little the night before, I am unable to tear my eyes away, not wanting to miss a moment. Children and donkey carts, traditional Ethiopian huts, enset (similar to banana) trees and other unfamiliar vegetation – the landscape grows greener as we travel farther south.

A trip to the market
A trip to the market

We arrive at Hailey's compound and immediately head to the market. People come from all around to buy fruits and vegetables, lugging bags on their heads, backs and shoulders. I was eager to see it all.

Walking through the market, we are a spectacle – think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, or Justin Bieber, depending on your age bracket. Children follow us, yelling "ferengi" and simply wanting to touch us.

Hailey, as a market regular, is unfazed. She successfully obtains onions, eggs, mangos, gōmen and peppers, ingredients for the next day's breakfast, as well as coffee beans, an Ethiopian staple, to present to her landlady. After snapping a few photos, we escape into Hailey's favorite juice shop for a reprise from the paparazzi and unyielding heat, and enjoy mango and mango-avocado smoothies while hidden in the back room of the restaurant.

Later, we meet Hailey's family in the compound. Marta, an 11-year-old with a great smile and sparkling eyes, roasts chickpeas as the family prepares for the bunna ceremony, the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

Alemitu, Hailey's landlady (affectionately referred to as Hailey's Ethiopian mother), and Nice, her brilliant, mature Ethiopian sister, explain the process of a bunna ceremony. Ethiopians drink and prepare coffee every day but a bunna ceremony is reserved for special occasions, and we were fortunate enough to be the recipients.

First, the ground is laid with leaves under a charcoal fire. Next, Nice roasts the coffee beans in the pan atop the fire until they are blackened, then removing the beans and grinding them in a small cylindrical container by slamming a metal rod down briskly, time after time. We were able to help with this part of the ceremony. Finally the grounds are taken out and brewed in a jebena, a unique Ethiopian coffee pot set over the fire.

While the coffee brews, Hailey's family makes popcorn over the fire, adding roasted chickpeas to make kolo, the traditional accompanying snack.

Guests are served first, followed by the elders, the men and, finally, the women. We enjoyed the traditional three cups of coffee as we chatted. During the ceremony, the power went out – a common occurrence – but everyone was prepared with a flashlight in a stand to light their front porch.

What an amazing honor and way to be welcomed!

That night, Hailey tucked us in under a mosquito net, covered herself from head to toe to avoid more mosquito bites and we went to sleep.

Other Peace Corps Volunteers who are interested in corresponding with classroom teachers in the U.S. can sign up for the Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools program.