I was nine and my brother was seven, and we had a huge fan following of Ethiopian friends in Arbaminch. We were a gang of children which included: Yeromnesh, Martha, Atakilt, girls, while Sintayoo, Desalign, Simeign and Dawit were boys. We all lived in the same locality also called a Kebele. Although most of our friends came from close by, there were instances of boys coming from far away just to meet my brother and I as the popular Firanges of the locality. Our favourite games in those days was football although we would also play volley-ball. The football matches were closely fought affairs on the field with the dust kicked by our feet roiling in the air. In those days I had an awful cough caused by the dust!
We had a lot to do after school in those days. After we had completed our homework we had the evenings to ourselves! One of our popular destinations was the Kulfoe river which flowed across the town on to one of the lakes. The Kulfoe river was a seasonal river with its depth varying from the dry season to the rainy season. My brother and I had our first swimming lessons in the Kulfoe river. The long walk to the river, often accompanied by an elder and a large group of our neighbourhood friends and back home would be tiring enough! Sintayoo and his elder brother, Simeign were our next door neighbours, and they always involved in our escapades and excursions.
In those days, our parents and us experimented with the planting of various crops, the seeds of which we brought from India. Besides the Horticulture, we were also interested in keeping a large number of pets. The pets included Chicken, Partridges ( in cages of course) dogs, deer, tortoise and the odd goat or so. Thus we boys were busy playing with one pet or the other! There was however one male Goat that roamed the lanes, and my, was he a bully! My brother and I, along with our friends were literally scared of this male goat that had butted one or two of us on some occasion or the other!
Some wild animals did figure in our conversations with our Ethiopian friends, and these included the marauding lions that often entered the town and slayed cattle. Hyenas were common as they roamed the streets after dark. Once, baboons formed an important topic of discussion for us. It revolved around reported incidents in which women who had gone to collect firewood from the forest had been attacked by baboons with sticks and stones. The baboons on seeing the group of women approaching the forest would clamber on to trees snarling and barking at the women. Some of the more enterprising ones would dare to brandish sticks at the women and some would even throw stones at the women.
Kurkuffa was a favourite food with the Gamugoffans. It was a meal of corn dumplings immersed in boiling water mixed with bitter leaves that grew on a particular tree which had wood as light as balsa wood. My brother and I often waited eagerly for the meal to be prepared so that we could taste some. Injera, the traditional pancake was made of “Teff”, a tiny seed growing on a grass like plant. The teff paste would be left to ferment and then it would be poured on to an earthen griddle to be cooked on a wood fire. The Shero Wat, or the Peas Curry could be had with the Injera. Shero Wat constituted a powdered forms of peas mixed with various spices. The powdered peas would be mixed with water and cooked to a consistency somewhat similar the the Kurrhi of India. What marks Ethiopian food as distinct from other varieties all over the world is the fiery taste of pepper. Pepper is of two varieties, the ordinary pounded red chilly pepper, and Mitmita. Mitmita is a preparation which is made up of a tiny variety of chillies (highly potent) dried, and pounded with dried garlic, dried onions and ginger along with a little salt.
Besides football and Kurkuffa, flying kites was another important pass-time for us. Since we did not had ready made kites, we had to make them ourselves. The European cross sticks kite and the Indian Bow and cross stick kites were our favourite varieties. These kites had to have long tails attached to them for better stability in the strong winds. We experimented with the size of the kites and the materials we used to make them. One favourite material was plastic. Because of its greater strength as compared to paper, we used plastic to make bigger kites, some times so big that they required a couple of us to help with the launch. The problem with the PVC-Plastic was that it was in short supply and it came in the form of the wrapping in which dry-cleaned coats were handed over to customers by the dry-cleaners. Paper, on the other hand was plentiful as we had a lot of the Pravda newspapers that our Soviet Friends gave to us!
Insects were plentiful in those days and they came in great varieties. The red spider was a common spider that grew to a large size. I don’t really know whether it was poisonous or not, but never the less my Dad was very particular about spraying insecticide indoors every night. Another spider common to the place carried her babies on her back. If you crushed her, then woe betide as all the babies would spread outwards! The red velvet spiders came out of the earth right before rains, or immediately after the rains. There were times when the ground would be covered by a waving carpet of red, velvet spiders migrating to higher ground. The sand fly, or the boring fly, also called as “Moyale” in the local tongue was a fly that bored a small hole between the nail and the soft flesh of the toe of the foot, lay its eggs and then fly away. The result would be an unbearable itching from the affected area. The Local ladies were experts in extracting a sac containing the eggs and the larva. The sac would have to be extracted without breaking it, lest the larvae should remain with the toe. The caterpillars that turned up during a particular period of the month were repulsively huge, gorging on large amounts of leaves. coloured black, red, and white, they could be found crawling everywhere, trees, branches, leaves and the ground. My brother was especially allergic to the Caterpillars as his eyes would turn a strange colour with the whites of the eyes almost engulfing the pupils!
For us children, the Monitor Lizards were especially repulsive. These lizards reaching a length of two to three feet in length were known to devour chicken eggs and the chickens themselves! They were known locally by the name, “Arjano”. Although, we boys were pretty brave, we could not however bear the sight of these lizards as they struck a great fear in our hearts!There were stories that revolved around the lizards which was to the effects that they were poisonous and that their bite could be deadly!
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