January 19 was Timket. Timket, a national Ethiopian holiday, is actually a holy day in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrating Epiphany. For us westerners, Epiphany is the revelation of Christ to the world through the wise men. Here, Epiphany is the revelation of Christ to the world through Jesus’ baptism.
The streets are decorated with flag streamers criss-crossing overhead (green, yellow and red—Jesus’ baptism is marked by the colors of the Ethiopian flag). Crosses and other streamers decorate the medians of major streets and roundabouts throughout Addis.
Each Orthodox church has its own replica of the ark of the covenant and the day before Timket each church carries theirs outside and processes with much ceremony on the streets to a central location, led by the priests and deacons and followed by choirs and people in the churches (see photo). The city pretty much shuts down during the time when these processions are happening all over the city. The priests wear colorful vestments and carry very colorful large umbrellas (why, I don’t quite know). Hundreds, maybe thousands of people sleep overnight on the ground in these central locations and on the day of Timket there will be singing and dancing and sprinkling of holy water on people as a blessing and reminder of Jesus’ baptism. That evening they reverse the process, carrying each tabot back to the individual church, where it will remain hidden from view until Timket next year. Quite a unique event.
Last Friday Rich and I ventured out to watch the procession of people from an Orthodox church near us. We were at the very end of the crowd, and could just see the bobbing umbrellas floating in the midst of hundreds of people.
As we walked we saw roosters for sale in chicken wire cages on stilts for easy viewing. Live chickens are available year-round for sale, but especially before holidays, when Ethiopians are likely to prepare duro wat (chicken stew). Rich and I walked up to one cage to peer more closely at the roosters. They had several different kinds of combs on top of their heads and I pointed to one of the stranger-looking ones that looked like a mountain range.
A man immediately materialized at my elbow, reached into the cage through a narrow opening at the top, grabbed the poor rooster by its legs and hauled it out—ready to hand it to me after payment. I quickly said, “Alfelegim” repeatedly, meaning “I don’t want” in Amharic. The seller continued to look at me, waiting. Meanwhile the poor rooster was flapping pitifully on top of the cage. Finally Rich told him in Amharic, “We are looking only.” The rooster was thrust back into the cage, but the man rubbed his fingers together in the worldwide symbol for wanting money. He was laughing, we were laughing, bystanders were laughing.
Rich and I rejoined the procession for Timket. I turned around to look one last time at the roosters. All of us were still laughing.