Happy Ethiopian New Year—1998

So you think it’s 2005?  Getting ready to celebrate 2006 in a couple of months?  Hold on!  It’s only 1998 here in the ancient land of Ethiopia .


The ancient Ethiopian calendar marks the birth of Christ as being 1000, 900, and 98 years ago and not 2000 and 5 years ago.  The New Year holiday is celebrated every year on September 11th and not January 1st.


While many in the world were remembering New York and focusing attention on New Orleans , Ethiopians were slaughtering millions of sheep and goats in their backyards and roasting them over open fires, the New Year’s traditional meal for everyone regardless of ethnicity or religious conviction.   Smoke rose from homes across Addis creating a lazy haze that hung like a New Year’s hangover throughout the day.


The Addis Sheraton Hotel set off fireworks on New Year’s Eve that woke me from my sleep.  I went to the window to see if I could see the Chinese inventions exploding in the night sky, but to no avail.  I lied back down only to be shocked from my slumber by the loudest booms I have ever heard.  More than three miles away, the Sheraton set off explosions that rattled the windows in our home.  I imagined that the adrenaline that coursed my through my veins from my initial fear maybe was not too unlike the adrenaline coursing the veins of the people living in today’s war zones.  I then recanted my thoughts, considering them unfair to war’s victim witnesses.  More explosions were set off at the Sheraton.  I couldn’t find another way to describe them.  They were bomb-like.  I am certain that if was down at the hotel, my organs would have been rattled inside my body while standing there.


Stuck between two calendars, 1998 and 2005, being in Ethiopia puts me in a predicament that has me question:  When is the millennium change?  What was Y2K?  When was I born and how old am I?  When was Jesus born?  What has my education taught me?  Does any of this matter when I live in a world where rhythms seem beyond “ancient” and “time-ness?”  Are calendars humanity’s attempts to lasso control of the “whys” we cannot answer? 


It rained all day in Addis on New Year’s Day.  We stayed home and watched some of the festivities going on throughout the country via Ethiopian TV, the only channel broadcasted in the country.  We watched traditional dancing, fascinated by the shoulder and head movements that reminded us of “popping,” breakdancing style.  My wife laughed as I tried to copycat what I saw on the TV.


Some people’s lives are a day of sadness, sorrow and loss on September 11th.  Others may get angry, understandably so.  Here there is happiness and joy on the same day.  Families reunite, eat, drink, sing, dance, laugh and do all the things that we do to celebrate the change of year. 

Two calendars that have come into my existence have the same day, but have different meanings.  Yet, because of the current world order, Ethiopians know of the Gregorian calendar’s 9-11 significance, while the reverse cannot be said. 

Today I am both 31 and 24 years old.  I think I’ll celebrate my youth.

(18 September 2005)

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