Dear Friends and Family,
The best news ever announced to anyone anywhere: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) Our hope is that you are experiencing the blessings of the Christmas season and are able to focus on the meaning of the birth of Jesus.
Here in Ethiopia, Christmas is not a major holiday and, besides that, is celebrated on January 7. So, we don’t really see any Nativity scenes or hear Christmas carols, but thankfully we also have little exposure to Santa Claus, reindeers, and, of course, no snowmen. Snow is not known in this country. When the temperatures go down to 50 degrees F (10 degrees C), people think it is bitter cold and dress up as if they are in the Arctic. Most Ethiopians really have no idea what “cold” really means.
After having lived in Ethiopia for 11 years, we thought we had had just about every cultural experience possible. But, again, we were proven wrong. Our school cashier is an energetic, easy-to-like young man of about age 30 (few people here know their actual age, as birth certificates were rarely recorded). His name is Solomon Zeleke, and we call him Solomon Z to distinguish him from the school director, who is Solomon Negash.
Solomon Z is single, but has fallen in love with one of our kindergarten teachers in Adami Tulu. Her name is Tensae. Regardless of region, tribe, or religion, it is a cultural practice in Ethiopia for a man to ask for the hand of lady in marriage by elders going and asking the father of the hopeful “bride-to-be.” Solomon asked me if I would be one of the elders to go and ask Tensae’s father if he would allow her to marry him.
I thought he was joking, so the first time he asked me I sort of just laughed and passed it off as irrelevant to me. He, however, was dead serious and again pleaded with me to go with some other men to talk to Tensae’s father. I felt very awkward about agreeing, since the process is so steeped in culture, but sensing his sincerity I agreed—not really having any idea what I was getting into. Solomon also wanted Peggy to go along to “break injera” (Ethiopian flat, spongy bread) with Tensae’s mother, prior to feeding it to the guests—another very traditional cultural practice.
The other elders selected by Solomon were Solomon Negash (school director), his pastor Abebe, and a well-respected building contractor named Damene. I, being a naïve Westerner, thought we simply would drive to Tensae’s family’s house, have some coffee, ask for her hand in marriage to Solomon, get the positive response, and consider our job completed.
Tensae’s family lives in Addis Ababa, and Peggy and I were already there on other business. The plan was to arrive at the house around lunch time. Simple, I thought, we meet the other elders around 11:00-11:30, drive to her house, and do our duty. But, again, I had something to learn. The other elders left Ziway at 5:00 A.M., picking up Solomon’s father at another town on the way. They arrived in Addis around 8:00 and called us to meet for breakfast shortly thereafter. “Breakfast?” we thought, “we thought we were meeting over lunch!” Anyway, the other elders, Peggy, Solomon’s father, and I met for breakfast. We spent the entire morning together discussing our strategy and plan. Of course, some of the other men felt obligated to tell “horror” stories of other times when things didn’t go well. For example, one time one of them had gone to the woman’s father and he demanded eight mattresses, 10 cows, and 6,000 birr (about $350 US now, but undoubtedly worth a lot more at the time).
With great anticipation, Abebe the pastor eventually called Tensae’s father, asking if a group of men could come to their house around 12:00. Guessing what was probably taking place, Tensae’s father replied that he could not talk to Abebe, but rather Abebe needed to call his brother. So, through three-way telephone conversations, it was finally arranged that we could go to Tensae’s home. This is also part of the “game,” and Abebe had actually made a mistake in calling Tensae’s father directly.
Our car was in the shop for some body work, and God had provided for us to have a minivan, so we were able to take the entire group to the home in our car. We arrived with some awkwardness, but were warmly welcomed. Each of us “elders” then stood and told some aspect of the request.
When it was my turn, I figured I couldn’t go wrong by using a Biblical example. So I said we don’t have this kind of culture in my country, but what it reminded me of was Abraham sending his servant to find a wife for Isaac. After the Lord led him to Rebekah, he asked her father for permission for Rebekah to marry Isaac. The servant then proceeded to vouch for the wealth and character of Isaac. I said I had come to vouch for the character of Solomon. (There wasn’t much I could say about his “wealth,” but I could say confidently that he was an upstanding young man with a heart for Jesus ? )
After we all finished speaking, Tensae’s father stood up, drew a deep breath, and said he had listened to and evaluated our requests and would permit Tensae to marry Solomon. Solomon’s father, a very old and shaky man (and retired federal judge) was so happy he jumped up and went around the room and kissed each of us. He was so happy to see Solomon engaged to a fine Christian girl, and hopefully married, before he died. I have attached a picture of the two fathers hugging. Solomon Negash can be partially seen on the left.
Soon, the little living room, which could comfortably accommodate six people, was filled with Tensae’s mom, other relatives, and neighbors. There were 15 of us in there. Everyone was rejoicing. Food and drink were brought out and we had to eat until there was no more room for anything further. The process took about two hours and everyone went away happy. When we called Solomon regarding the “yes” from his future father-in-law, he was also elated.
There is a picture of Peggy serving the torn injera to Solomon’s father. Neither of the children, Solomon nor Tensae, were allowed to be present, of course. They also, according to Ethiopian culture, would find it uncomfortable to have a picture taken together so soon, so I have included a picture of each of them separately. These are the pictures we used on our school bulletin board to identify our staff.
Merry Christmas, and may God richly bless you,
Gary and Peggy
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