Some years ago, I was dinner guest in the home of an Ethiopian woman in Winnipeg, Canada. We sat on haunches in her kitchen as she made coffee in the ceremonial way, roasting beans over open coals. The strong aroma suffused her life story.
Years before, she had married for love a Muslim man back in Addis Ababa, as often happens in cities beyond the ken of custom. Her husband’s family denounced the union, kidnapping her young son and vanishing into the back country, she says. Rumor had it that he’d been seen in a refugee camp in the Sudan. At this, she abandoned her work, her marriage and home to go in search, a two-week journey by camel across the desert. There in Khartoum on the banks of the Nile she sustained herself as a domestic servant, but never found her child.
By now the kitchen was rife with the smoke of the beans, or was it incense? She looked around, in seeming disbelief, scanning the north country home to which her story had finally brought her, where she ritually roasted the beans to savor the draft that had filled her cup: the misfortunes, the bewilderment, the losses.
The blessing said, she served me her dark elixir, adding this defiant, inexplicable word:
‘I am the luckiest woman alive!’