Safe drinking water is a problem throughout all of Ethiopia, causing an estimated 80% of the health problems there.
It is no different for the Jewish communities. A study done just a year ago on the Bete Israel community in Addis showed that the top ten diseases were water-related.
Most water is purchased from someone. Ethiopians also collect rain water during the rainy season. Very few Ethiopians have access to get water from municipal sources or wells. None of the Ethiopian Jews that we saw had running water in their home.
This water is used in food preparation and for cleaning. The water is stored in buckets, and retrieved by a bowl or pitcher to wash hands or use in cooking or cleaning.
The majority of households use public pit latrines that are located in the vicinity of the rented houses, many use open field excreta and a very small percent use public toilets (a hole in the ground with a tank to flush away waste). I did not ask to take pictures of their latrines or waste fields, but did take this picture of a public toilet the second and last time I ever used one. Fortunately the clinic that we stayed in had a western style toilet.
Ingera is a very large, flat, round bread, perhaps the size of an extra large pizza. It is made out of a grain called teff, which is ground, mixed with water and fermented for three days. Then it is baked in an oven shaped just for making ingera that is shared by several neighbors.
“Whet” is a sauce made out of ground white beans and seasonings, including a red pepper powder. When eaten with the ingera bread, the two together are called
ingera. But for my description, I’ve distinguished the bread and the sauce seperately. The bread is placed on a pizza sized plate, the overhanging parts folded over onto the top and the sauce is placed on top of that in the middle. Then everyone present tears off some of the bread, dips it in the sauce and eats. Some times the sauce will have some cooked vegetables in it. For many of the Bete Israel, if they have 3 meals a day, it is this ingera (bread and sauce).
igera bread with pepper powder to dip into (because this lady was so poor that she did not have “whet” to offer us, she just sprinkled some pepper powder that goes into the whet sauce on the ingera, her landlord gave her the ingera to serve us.) But she was did have coffee to share with us, as pictured below.
Coffee is a special drink to all Ethiopians. It is believed that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia and when served, is done with a “coffee ceremony”. This can be a 2 hour event, starting with the roasting of raw coffee beans until it is served. This lady heard we were coming and had the water boiling, coffee hand ground and coffee cups out. We enjoyed visiting while the coffee steeped in the typical clay pot about 20 minutes (part of the “ceremony”.
The lid to the table that these coffee cups are on comes off and inside the table provides storage space inside for the cups. By the way, Ethiopian coffee is very, very strong, that is why the coffee cups are small in Ethiopia. Also, part of “coffee ceremony” (for those better off) includes spreading a nice cloth under the preparation area, this lady brought in some grass to beautify the dirt floor for the ceremony.
When I went into the dwellings of the Bete Israel I saw a number of things that almost all of them had for in their “kitchen” area; two burners, one gas and one coal, a tea pot in which to boil water, a clay coffee pot in which to steep coffee, a small pan with lid that “whet” is cooked and stored in, a cabinet, a plastic coffee tray that holds small coffee cups, several large , lidded plastic buckets for storing (and catching when it rains) water, a large plastic bowl and cup for washing of hands, and 2 ingera baskets, one for fermenting dough and one for baked ingera.
This is a typical “kitchen area”. In the middle are the two “stoves” that everyone has, a gas burner and a coal burner, on top of the coal burner is the “whet” pan, staying warm for the next meal. A little to the left is the tea pot, used for morning and afternoon tea snack. Behind the burners is a typical cabinet and to the left of that is an ingera basket with ingera dough fermenting in it. To the right of the cabinet is an ingera basket with ready to eat ingera in it. The Pringles can was where they stored the coffee in this home.
The diet of the Bete Israel is very simple. It consists of mainly “ingera”, “whet” and tea. My topic next week will describe these in a little more detail.