Every time I step in the the little Ethiopian market in my city, I have an amazing experience. The nearest Ethiopian restaurant is about an hour and a half away, so we rarely go. Actually, I don't think we've been to one since Amani came home. Since it's so far away, I really made an effort to learn to cook Ethiopian foods before and since Amani came home so that he can have a taste of his homeland regularly. I think food is SUCH an important part of culture - I didn't want him to lose that part entirely. And it just so happens to be a major bonus that the rest of us LOVE Ethiopian food too!
Al Iman, our Halal market in town, is a huge blessing! It's owned by a couple from Addis Ababa and many of the employees there are from Ethiopia or Sudan. The very first time I walked in, I was with an Ethiopian friend. She introduced me to the owners, who have remembered me every time ever since! And many of my Ethiopian recipes have come from Shita describing each step as she leads me around the tiny shop, with the narrowest of aisles, grabbing what I need and explaining to me how to cook the dish to perfection.
Today, the kids had an end of the year party at the bouncy-house place just down the street from Al Iman. I know they always have fresh injera after noon there. So when the party ended at 12:30, I just HAD to drive over to stop in.
We started to order just one package of injera, thinking I'd just make shiro and maybe one other simple dish for dinner, but then the kids said "No! Two two!" So I asked for a second one, which led to Shita asking me what I can cook. I listed off the five Ethiopian dishes I've learned but told her I just can't quite get the Tibs right. Before I knew it, she was leading me and the kids all over the store, talking to the meat man in the back, heading down each aisle, handing spices to Riley, showing Allyn the rice and dried beans mixture (for a different dish she decided to tell me about too). And beaming at Amani all the while.
She stopped the only other two customers in the shop to tell them that I brought Amani home from Ethiopia to raise him. She tells me he is lucky and I tell her that we are the lucky ones, which makes her smile even brighter. She tells me Allah blesses me, that he sees what we do, even when it doesn't bring us fortune or money. She says it's what we do with our lives that makes the difference (and made a funny reference to Michael Jackson).
And as I give each of my children a package to carry to the car, she sneaks down another narrow aisle and comes back with a package of cookies, telling me, "This is for all your children." And she beamed even more when Riley and Allyn were able to say (with some prompting) "Ama se ganalo!" (thank you in Amharic). Amani said, "Nal-lo!"
This would never happen in my weekly grocery trip to Harris Teeter, where an entire store full of food smells like nothing and asking an employee for a recipe would be considered extremely bizarre behavior.
Amani has no idea, but this tiny connection to Ethiopia means so much to me. It smells like Ethiopia in there, we hear Amharic, get to connect with people who are from where he's from. It is wonderful.
All this because I wanted to learn to cook a few Ethiopian dishes. We got much more in the bargain.