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“The power structure wishes us to believe that the only options available are those which they present to us; we know this is simply not true.”  – Teresa Stover

On Monday 24th Feb. starts the Orthodox Lent, an important part of the Ethiopian and Eastern Orthodox religious tradition. We’re in the midst of the week known as ‘KIBELA’. I suppose you can interpret it as the week for the faithful to prepare for the coming fifty days of prayer, repentance, almsgiving, self-punishment….
Christian Lent is more than denying oneself food or something else of the flesh – it’s a sacrificial lifestyle before God. It’s encouraging humility, temporarily giving up something in order to better focus on God. This concept of fasting isn’t a one day thing – it’s a lifestyle of servant living for God and others.
Hence, the importance of ‘KIBELA’.
But wait, believers in Addis Ababa have taken ‘KIBELA’ to another level. The ‘KIBELA’ week in Addis Ababa is turning out to be a wild picnic of Kurt (raw meat), Tibs, and Kitfo. There’s so much money in Addis (No?), feasting on meat two weeks before Lent is the new sport of Addis Ababians. Just walk by any of the butcheries in town, and you’ll witness they’re full to bursting. All the well-off believers of Addis over-indulge to make up for the meat they’ll miss eating for forty days! Until Easter eve.
The whole scene is very pathetic. These believers play out like there is no tomorrow, or the condemned prisoner’s last meal before execution. Except that states that offer such privileges to condemned inmates consider the last meal a way to dignify an execution.
Forty years back, my whole family was overjoyed with a modest luncheon and homemade beer to welcome Lent. Today, in a time dominated by excess consumption, nobody gets mildly excited unless KURT is feasted upon the entire week or even two. This comparison in time is not about romanticizing the past or putting down the present. On a personal level I don’t have anything against people who feast on Kurt. I am just noting a new trend, a new culture in our city and perhaps many other cities of Ethiopia: The KURT Culture (if I can call it that) of celebrating anything with gluttony and overeating. In a way the modern day ‘KIBELA’ is embodied by overeating, and this obviously goes against the greatest lesson to learn from a holy Lent: Feasting and celebrating when the 50 days of fasting are finished.
By and large a KURT Culture doesn’t happen by itself, it is encouraged by an economic program which failed to raise to the challenge of the day, it’s encouraged to create a utopia of prosperity. When national economies show signs of vulnerability and stress, citizens invariably misallocate resources and create less wealth.
Again from the vantage point of Addis, a city where eating meat is seen as a sign of affluence, you may think the whole Ethiopia is prosperous. Unfortunately that’s not the case.  And although meat is more affordable to, say, the ordinary daily laborer than in the past, as a whole Ethiopians still consume below the meat intake of all low-income countries, at hardly over 8kg  per capita annually. The US consumes 120kg per person. As a matter of fact the modern convention of three square meals per day doesn’t yet apply in Ethiopia. People just eat once or twice a day. So yes, there is adisconnect between the show and reality.
In discussions with friends some ask: why is it that the newly well off are so amorous of KURT? I can’t answer that question for sure. What I can say is this phenomenon of showing off affluence through eating KURT may be unique to Addis Ababa. It may be rooted in Ethiopia’s long struggles with poverty and famine, and a sense that feasting in raw meat confers a higher social status….I don’t know… I suspect for many indulging in over-eating KURT, it’s one of the main criteria to measure social status. Newly well off men and women are in general said to eat more meat, so it may be that our people hope to show they have a higher social status by frequenting butcheries!
So why should we care if few high-status, self-indulgent, nouveau riche individuals eat more meat than they should. Why do we care if feasting is the first thought that comes to these people’s mind in Lent? Why do we care if they indulge in distractions and fatty food week-in, week-out?
We should care because these are the people who, unfortunately, try to set the norms of discourse for the rest of us. These are people who, in the most cases, have no devotion to hard work, but a relatively stronger motivation to impress via conspicuous consumption. These are cretins who readily invest in Dubai than risk it in a farm in Shashemene. What these new rich want is to pretend to be old nobles, but that unfortunately new money can’t buy.
Those who look to these people as a trendsetter that map our future should be careful what they wish for.
Dear readers, it’s high time we reclaim our value.
Happy KIBELA!