Melkam Bal! Our wild Meskel night in Addis Ababa

There are certain places that are famous for their celebrations. Last night, my friend T and I experienced the wonderment of the crowds, blaring music and smoky pyres of Meskel in Addis Ababa.

If you aren’t aware, Meskel is the celebration of the True Cross. It’s an Orothodox Christian holiday, celebrated across Ethiopia. The holiday is named after the Meskel flower, or maybe the Meskel flower is named after the holiday. In any case, the fields of yellow flowers only bloom this time of year, at the very end of the big rains. This is a picture of Mekel flowers form my Ethiopian art collection at home.

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After a quiet morning of walking the eve of Meskel, we took a cab up to our next guest house, on the north side of Addis Ababa. Vulnerable Children Society’s Teenage Sex Trade Worker Project is located on the far north west part of Addis Ababa, an hours drive from our former guest house (which was as close as we could get to the Love and Hope Centre in Kality.) We had picked the guest house for its location and recommendations, but when we arrived, we were less than impressed. The whole little place was surrounded by Barry windows. But 5 minute later, we were off again, taxiing as close as we could to Meskel Square. We got dropped off just south of the Hilton, and joined the throngs walking down towards Meskel Square.

Pete were walking form all across the city. There were constant streams of families, young people with their friends, and couples decked out in fine clothes and nutellas, the white scarves. Rich and poor, everyone had donned their best clothes for the occasion. We reached the square, and after being frisked by the military, climbed with the throng up onto the grassy slopes of the massive amphitheater. The usually busy traffic square was full of white robed priests, with expanses of pavement I between the groups from different churches. T and I had expected more milling about in the square, not the spectator setup. After climbing up into the sloped grassy hills, we picked our way down a foot wide dirt path between sitting participate to. After many minutes of stumbling walking, we found two open spots next to the path, about a quarter of the way across the back. We sat down, much to the amusement of our fellow spectators. Amounted the thousands and thousands of people in the crowd, we only saw one ferengi family pass by, and a handful of ferengi individuals.

Our neighbours that we were squished into made us feel at home. The boy next to her kept taking cell phone pictures of the side of T’s head, and shouting the only English words he could think of. Rounds of laughter from the people nearby. The sweet older lady beside me tried to strike up a conversation about the crowds. I couldn’t understand a word, despite my limited Amharic skills. I said “tinish Amharinga” (I only speak a little Amharic) and she laughed and replied the same. I don’t know where she was from, but I’m guessing she is Gurege, the tribe that is epesically celebratory of Meskel. So we smiled and made little waving jokes with each other.

The crowds thickened and thickened. Whenever someone would stop on the little path in front of us, standing, a lady three spots down would hit them with her candle and tell them to move along. But after an hour of people filtering and filtering into the sitting crowd, the path was completely stopped up. I’ve never been so squished in my life. Even T, who lived in India, said she’d never been in such a sitting jumble. There was one man with rough curly hair and a pressed dress shirt sitting on my boot toes in front of my knees, bunched up to my chest. He was leaning against my knees. T was glued to my left side, and I was sitting on a lady’s bare toes, that she had slipped out of her flip flops. I never saw he face, but my back was parsed to her knees. There was a twenty year old boy to my back right, whose knee up against my right shoulder. He softly and kindly asked about my Ethiopian and Meskel experience, encouraging me that soon we would be listening to some of the best “church music” in the world. I asked him if there was dancing. He laughs, and other laughed around us. “Priests don’t dance!” He guffawed. The lady to me right kept shooting me sidewise smiles. Both T and I felt so welcomed and included, despite not really knowing the details of what was happening.

After several hours of sitting, but still an hour or so from the huge pyre in the middle of the Meskel Square being lit, we had had enough. People were still picking their way, step by step, in between the seated crowd. I was starting to feel claustrophobic, and the trampled crowds on Mecca last week kept creeping into the periphery of my mind. So I asked T to leave. We speculated if it was even possible, then stood with difficulty. We said goodbye, and started picking our way, step by step, through the seated spectators. Once we reached the side, there was standing room only, and people were pressed so tightly against each other, it was impossible to move. I started using my Canadian charm, and with no care for personal space, switched spots with people, thanking them profusely in Amharic. I dragged T forward. She later said the crowds reminded her indeed of India. At one point I flashed panic. We were trying to crawl uphill towards the entrance. The entire crowd was pushing and started to sway in a way, exclaiming in that communal tone “ohhh!” I flashed panic, and then saw a kind man several feet above me offering his hand. “Here sister!” He yelled. I grabbed his hand, grabbed T’s with my other hand, and hauled ourselves up towards the back wall.

It was easier after that, and we managed to break free of the throng as we hit the street. Much to our amazement, people were still flooding towards the square. We walked up and out against the crowds. Once and a while, a young man would shout exuberantly, “wrong way!” But we had had enough. We absorbed the outfits, the families, the festive mood.

We stopped for a brief bathroom break at the Hilton. Yes, we totally exercised our white privilege on that one. We wondered… Where do people pee when they are stuck like canned oysters in a tin for hours on end? There certainly are no bathrooms…

We hailed a cab up to the university area, got out at Arat kilo and looked for some supper. We ended up at a restaurant I had been to before during the day. It has two huge patios between the high rise buildings and the street. The music was blaring as we took a seat, as far as possible from the speakers. Blaring music is definitely one of those cultural things we’ve not quite gotten used to in Ethiopia. We ordered doro wat, shiro, a beer and a water, and it was less than $10. The best value meal we have had anywhere! There was an MC who was constantly shouting advertisements into the mic for this occasion and other events at the restaurant, and breaking into dancing between sets. Six young dancers came onto the open area in front of the bar, scattered with grass, and did some of the best traditional dancing I have ever seen. T and I barely talked, but enjoyed watching the other diners. The cool thing about Ethiopia is that almost any occasion is for kids. Very one was drinking and eating, but there were families with small children, who occasionally joined the MC at the front, busting a move. Grandparents, parents, young men and couples were all celebrating together. That’s an Ethiopian custom I totally love.

After the restaurant, it was 15 minute walk to our new guest house. The streets were busy, with people walking. Just as we passed a military compound, the soldiers started to light the pyre, walking around it with torches, singing and dancing about. Further down the dark steer, neighbours in white nutella were singing all together in someone’s yard, and they had laid out candles in the shape of a cross on the street. The pyre was covers in meskel flowers, waiting to be lit. We continued on, past a bar, and the streets got emptier. There were groups of young drunk men walking together, but less families, so I started to get nervous and beat a quick path for the guest house. T was non-plussed, but she has greater faith in humanity than I do.

Finally, uneventfully, we walked thought the locked gate, and up to our guest house apartment. The for was open, despite us having locked it when we left. T sat on the sofa, and looked at me. I looked at her. And within a minute, we decided to move. There was no guard, it was not a particularly fantastic neighbourhood, and we felt exposed with barred windows on all sides of our room.

So we made a late night taxi ride with a thankfully Muslim (aka sober) taxi driver back t our first guest house. After a half bottle of wine, some chocolate and deep sighs of relaxation, we fell to bed. A wonderful, eventful, exciting Meskel!

Melkam Bal!

Now we are off for a coffee ceremony… A lovely holiday to all our Orthodox and Hebesha friends!

Drive-in Movie Birthday

box car drive-in movie birthday

Sugar and Spice turned nine a couple of weeks ago, and we had the most fun and relaxing birthday party yet! With box cars and a drive-in movie, I have to say that it was the easiest birthday festivity we’ve pulled off, and the cheapest too!

The girls and I love planning their birthday, and we always try to figure out something fun and different. We’ve had a Birds and Butterflies dress-up party, a Cowgirl horsey birthday with pony rides at the stable, a Bollywood party with Indian food and Bollywood dancing, and a tropical birthday inspired by our trip to Costa Rica, with bathing suits, watersports and Central American food.

This year was the first year that it was kids only, and we wanted to do something crafty, kid-centric and great for girls and boys. The girls’ idea was a drive-in movie party!

box car drive-in movie birthday

box car drive-in movie birthday

We made up invitations that included tickets for the movie, snacks and food. The girls insisted on veggie dogs, since they once saw a documentary on hotdogs and haven’t eaten one since.

To prepare, I bought those little red and white paper bags for popcorn, some big boxes, veggie dogs and buns, and a few bags of candy for the girls to divide up. That was it!

box car drive-in movie birthday

When the kids arrived, we paired them up. Their task was to make a car out of a box. I gave them some leftover paper plates and cups, and my mom kindly drive around and found paints for them to decorate. The kids went nuts. I thought it would take them 1/2 hour or so, but at 1 1/2 hours, I had to make them stop crafting. Too much fun!

box car drive-in movie birthday

We made a little concession, and the kids used their hotdog and drink tickets to get a meal to eat in their cars.

box car drive-in movie birthday

Then after supper, the kids grabbed their cars and we had box car drag races on the front lawn. Hilarious! Half of the cars were destroyed, but no one cared. It was super fun.

box car drive-in movie birthday

Then they drive their cars upstairs to the family room and we out on an ancient movie we thought few of them would have seen… Robin Hood, the old Disney animated musical. Definitely a great choice.

box car drive-in movie birthday

The kids got to spend their candy and popcorn tickets when I came around with bags of snacks, and they munched their way through the movie.

box car drive-in movie birthday

Post movie, we had cupcakes, and then the kids went home. Our girls had chosen to accept donations for Vulnerable Children Society instead of presents, and I’m proud to say they raised almost $300 from their generous guests! How great was that! (Thank you thank you parents!)

box car drive-in movie birthday

A very Happy 9th Birthday to my sweet girls. I’m looking forward to a fun and eventful year together!

Our little puppy, now 120lbs

You’ve likely seen him on my Instagram account (my daughters say all I post there any more is Tully,) but I thought I’d do a little post on how our wee pup is doing.

Tully's MOSTLY awesome with the kids. They don't like his stuffie stealing habits, though. Nothing drives an 8 year old girl more crazy than stuffie theft. Oh, and drool.

Nothing drives an 8 year old girl more crazy than stuffie theft. Oh, and drool.

Tully is doing great. He’s sweet and gentle, and loves to get hugs several times a day. He just settles his massive bum on your lap, or sidles up to you and leans in, expecting your arms to wrap around his neck.

A lap dog...

A lap dog…

He’s is bigger and bigger, although his rate of growth has slowed now at seven months.

That's a kind sized bed...

That’s a king sized bed…

I’m expecting when I take him to the clinic today for him to weigh in around 120lbs. That’s a whole lot of muscly dog. As Jason commented, most of the time he takes up less space than his size. Tully will curl up in a ball on the bed (yup, that no-bed pledge went out the window) or sprawl across the then floor and we simple step over him. But sometimes his size is a thing. Despite his usual heeling and good behaviour, I found about 20lbs ago that if he sees a squirrel, or wants to meet someone, then it is hard for me to hold him. So I got a no-pull harness, which really helps. I love it so much, I started selling them at the shop. Last night, though, I took it off and got into a peck of trouble. I was running him around the park on a 30foot long leash, and had attached it to his collar instead of harness, so he wouldn’t trip. Mistake. He saw a shitzu on the other side of the park, and took off straight for it (to say hello in his friendly huge way,) and I got dragged across the park on my knees/belly. Not pleasant. I am so bruised up today, and have now pledged that we won’t have any park exercising without the harness.

Walking the big boy on the dog beach in Summerland. Note the no-pull harness...

Walking the big boy on the dog beach in Summerland. Note the no-pull harness…

Other aspects of his bigness are just management issues, however. Oddly, he eats a lot. lol. We actually had to take him to the dentist, because his bottom canines were growing into the top of his mouth. Yikes! So for the last few weeks, he’s had to eat mush, and I’ve switched to an all raw diet before I really wanted to. But to give you an idea, every day he eats four pounds of ground chicken, four eggs, six cups of brown rice, a couple of cups of squash and green vegs, kelp, vitamins, minerals and calcium. When he gets his dental appliance out (right after Harambee in two weeks!) then he’ll be eating more chicken necks and tripe for meat, which will cut the food costs in half, and I won’t have to additionally supplement with calcium as much.

Handsome boy!

Handsome boy!

Tully still fit in the back of our station wagon… Mostly. He has to do a bit of a squish dance. The only trouble in the heat (we are into our hottest summer ever in the Okanagan, so this is a real problem as next week is supposed to be 38-42…) so I’m thinking of getting a little fan that pushes our AC from the front of the car to the back, just to help him cool. Generally, he doesn’t handle heat well, so we practice siesta at home and he just goes out in the morning and night. Whereas the other dogs can dig cool holes under the back deck, he doesn’t fit! So Tully has been working on some craters in the back yard, and mostly hunkers down in the shade of the apple tree.

Downward dog...

Downward dog…

His training is going well.. Tully can sit and lie down and the like. But more than that, we’ve been working on skills that make our lives easier. Since his head is more than counter height, he’s learned to lie down in the kitchen whenever I’m making food. When he does this, he gets a little nibble thrown down to him ever now and then, and that keeps him off the counters 90% of the time. His shoulder is table height, so we do the same thing at the table… Make him lie down, and then he gets something, at some random point during the meal. It works pretty well, actually. Otherwise you can imagine he’d be helping himself constantly.

Sofas are his favourite. He's claimed this chaise as his own in the living room.

Tully’s claimed this chaise as his own in the living room.

When we are at the clinic, Tully has a mat behind the counter. He lays on the mat, and if someone comes in, I either let him slowly meet them or put him hastily in the back. He would much prefer to meet people, as he is SUPER friendly. And he’s great with people. Everywhere we go, people stop us and ask “what breed is he?” Or occasionally, “is he an Irish Wolfhound? I’ve always wanted one!” He gets so much attention, it’s almost like when the girls were little and everyone wanted to talk about them. But it is a lot easier, since I don’t have to worry about Tully’s privacy. I just have to worry about his manners. “You can pet him! But please wait until he sits down first.” It’s a work in progress.

I have no idea who broke the pillow!

I have no idea who broke the pillow!

I think Tully has a lot of potential as a working dog. He went to the girls’ grade three class once a month for the last five months, to visit, and be measured and weighed. They made a class project out of him, and practiced all sorts of math. “How much did his tail grow from last month?” He was an angel, honestly. He’s so amazing with kids.. I think that’s his real strength. If we were to do any special work, I would likely get him to work in schools. He’s suited to being mauled by 20 kids at a time.

Sugar and Tully

Sugar and Tully

My previous dog, Hamish, was a therapy dog. We used to volunteer at the U of A hospital. Those who have been following my blog for a long time may recall that our dearest Hamish (really, our first kid,) died tragically of cancer just a year before the girls came home. Hamish left a gaping hole in Jason and I’s hearts… We loved him so much. Even though Tully looks nothing like Hamish did, there are so many similarities, we find that hole being filled up, six years later. He goes to work with me, like Hamish did. Just like Hamish, Tully is very empathetic, and seeks you out if he thinks you are hurt or feeling sad. He’s smarter than we thought possible, and plays some of the same games that we played with his predecessor. Like the finding game, where I show him one of his many stuffies, and then hide it for him to find around the house. He’ll bypass his other toys, just to find  the one I’ve showed him. Pretty cool. Any mainly he’s just an easy pup (drag across the park as the exception.) he wants to please, is easily trained, and share his love with all that meet him.

At five and a half months... Tully and me!

At five and a half months… Tully and me!

In short, Tully is a joy. I’m so glad I got him, and happy to spend my days in his company.

Even if he's huge, he's still a puppy!

Even if he’s huge, he’s still a puppy!

Two old fogies at Rock in Rio

Last weekend Jason and I escaped for a weekend away (no kids!) to Las Vegas. Our reason for visiting sin city was the biggest rock concert in world, Rock in Rio, and we had a blast!

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This is an actual picture of the concert… For the headliner acts, we were in the brightly lit part left of the towers and the zip lines. Jason isn’t much of a concert goer, but he even describes it as amazing!

Days before the concert, we learned that Sam Smith has cancelled, due to some medical emergency. He’s Jason’s current favourite artist, so he was very disappointed, but the rest of the acts more than made up for him.

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The headliner, Bruno Mars, was ever kind of amazing. It was exactly as I imagined it… A big flashy show, with lots of dancing, jokes, and upbeat music. His 1 1/2 hour set was definitely in my top five concerts of all time. Here’s the first 17 minutes of the concert…

Taylor Swift, the other headliner, was totally disappointing. Her performance as so practiced and artificial, we actually left half way through. Sorry, Taylor.

My second favourite artist was Jessie J! Wow, that woman can rock a stage. She was witty, engaging, and completely gave herself over the the performance. We were right in front, and it was the first time I saw Jason actually rock out to music. You couldn’t help but move!

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Jason’s second favourite was Charlie Xcx. Ok, the old fart that I am, I knew some of her songs, but honestly didn’t know who she was before the concert. Well, that’s changed. Her performance was excellent. She was full, of energy, and her all girl band completely rocked the stage. If you ever have a chance to see her, do it…

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Ed Sheeren, who I wThe biggest surprise for us was John Legend. He’s a bit of a crooner, right? So we thought he might be sleepy in concert. As contraire… He had a masterful command of the stage, and was incredibly pitch perfect the entire concert. Truly astounding! He made a fan of Jason in one hour, let me tell you. I would pay to see him again in a second.

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For two nights, the concert ran for seven hours. My tired old knees couldn’t take standing the whole time, but luckily, the concert venue had astro turf all over. So whenever you wanted to, you could sit on the Grass, festival style, and relax. That was great. And despite my jokes about being an old fogie, the concert actually was a huge mix of ages and people. Leave the kids at home! But if you have a chance to go, do it! It was a completely fun, memorable experience.