If there are any words a faranji, or foreigner, might be likely to learn when visiting Ethiopia, wuha and injera would easily make the top five; the former meaning water in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language, the latter not having an English equivalent.
Much of my recent time in Ethiopia was spent documenting the problems associated with getting wuha, easily the most fundamental of life’s necessities, but sadly quite hard to come by in a number of places in the world. The video I shot and produced above shows the difficulties that people living in some rural areas of south-central Ethiopia have in accessing the resource. Fast-paced and polished, this video will be used by ChildFund, Australia in an upcoming campaign to bring water to the area.
Ethiopia is not entirely water-scarce; I hate to give that impression. There are places in the country where cattle graze in plentiful, green pasture alongside rolling rivers. In some areas it’s so chilly at night even snowfall may occur. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, however, and it often seems that a photojournalist is sent only where there’s need or trouble.
If wuha is water, you might correctly imagine that injera is another of life’s necessities. Consumed throughout the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia’s staple food is a soft, thin, spongy bread made from the tef grain. Much like a crepe, though different in flavor, injera is eaten at nearly every meal in Ethiopia. Above, cattle tread stalks of harvested tef in order to extract the grain. Below, a woman cooks injera from tef flour in a small basket-like oven.
To some, injera’s sourdough-like flavor is more of an acquired taste. For me, it’s a delicacy. Ethiopian food has become hip and popular from Washington, DC to Kampala. Nutritionists love it as well; the gluten-free whole grain is high in protein, calcium and even vitamin-C. These excellent qualities account for lower rates of malnutrition in Ethiopia compared to other sub-Saharan African countries.
Ethiopian meals are eaten communally, on a large tray, with plenty of injera both below the sauce and to the side of the plate. Often meals exhibit a strong design element when they arrive on the table before eating. Rather than using spoons or forks, the injera is used as the utensil by which the sauce is picked up and consumed. Below, a boy feeds his friend while they enjoy a meal together. Called gursha, the act of feeding one another is a sign of love and friendship.