Coffee with No Ceremony!!

daily life  color014
All dressed up for the coffee ceremony, but what is missing?

The Prompt: Dictionary, Shmictionary—Time to confess: tell us about a time when you used a word whose meaning you didn’t actually know (or were very wrong about, in retrospect).

Coffee With No Ceremony

I lived in Addis Ababa adjoining Mexico Square.
I ate injera every day. Had cornrows in my hair.
I thought I knew it all, and though my language skills were poor,
I knew enough Amharic to get by in any store.

Seated in a circle, on low stools around a flame,
We watched Demekech fan the fire—this ritual the same
in every house and every village all throughout the land.
The thick and sludgy coffee was always ground by hand.

Boiled in a clay carafe, then set aside to brew
as in another little pot, some corn kernels she threw.
The popcorn taken from the flame, the colo nuts were next.
Except—we found that we had none, and we were sorely vexed.

The coffee jug was sealed up with a fresh-wound plug of grass
ready for the pouring, but one aspect of our mass
was missing, so I said I’d go to buy some at the souk,
lest our hospitality give reason for rebuke.

These little shops were many, lining both sides of the street;
and at each one, I knew the custom—always did I greet
the owner with proper respect, and always, he said, “Yes!”
when I asked if he had colo, but I couldn’t guess

why no one ever seemed to want to sell any to me.
Always the same reaction—first the shock and then the glee.
So, finally, I walked back home. My failure I admitted.
Departing, I had felt so smart, but now I felt half-witted.

What had I done wrong? I knew that every shop had colo.
The problem must have been that I had gone to get them solo!
Returning empty-handed, I felt I was to blame.
Coffee without colo was a pity and a shame.

But my roommate and our guests and cook were really most surprised.
I must have asked for something else than colo, they surmised.
What did I ask for? When I told them, they dissolved in laughter.
They said that I was lucky not to get what I asked after.

For colo had two meanings, depending on the stress
put on the first syllable, and I had made a mess.
Instead of nuts, they told me (and this was just between us,)
­I had asked each souk owner—if he had a penis!

(This is a true story of only one of the gaffes I became famous for in the year and a half I taught and traveled in Ethiopia in the period leading up to the revolution that deposed Haile Selassie.)

25 thoughts on “Coffee with No Ceremony!!

  1. mandy

    Lol! I’m so glad you’re here to tell the story, Judy! I tried taking a foreign language but I couldn’t help myself–I always put the stress on the wrong syllables. This story is a good example of why it was best I dropped the class. 🙂

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  2. Martha Kennedy

    I understand. In a cheese shop in Italy I asked if I could buy the shop. I told a friend (in Spanish) that I was sorry in my face (confused Spanish and Italian)… I’d love to hear more about Ethiopia

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  3. anupturnedsoul

    Reblogged this on An Upturned Soul and commented:
    A beautiful story about life, travel, friendship, coffee and nuts… oh those nuts, those wonderful mistakes which happen and fill our lives with delightful stories to tell. This one is told in such a magnificent way and is a joy to read.

    Thank you for sharing!

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  5. Scott

    It’s awful to get caught using a word you only thought you understood. A dozen years ago I send a poem to the late Wayne Greene, publisher of the ham radio magazine, “73”. He sent me back a rejection poem that was far superior to my submission. The jest of his poem was that mine didn’t SCAN. His phone number was on the letterhead, so I called him, and asked him what I needed to do to make it scan. “You don’t know the definition of the word do you? Look it up and call me back,” he said, and hung up. I looked it up and learned the first definition is RHYME. I didn’t call him back. How could I? :-/

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  8. Marilyn Armstrong

    I LOVED that black, cooked coffee. I was addicted to it. Colo or full of penises … it was GREAT coffee. If you drank enough of it, you could take wing and fly. I still have a pot to make it, in case I have an uncontrollable need for it 😀

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  9. lifelessons Post author

    Do you have a little three-legged stool to sit on as you brew it and a small charcoal brazier stove to set on the floor to brew it over? Alfalfa spread on the floor under you, a shamma over your head? The whole production was the fun of it. Must admit I wasn’t fond of the sludgy coffee.. I’m a weaker coffee sorta girl.

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