“Tomorrow is Easter. We will toast the goat!” Applause and cheers erupted around the long table at Mr. Thomas’ announcement. Shortages of food and medicines for the famine victims in our camp had been such a burden for weeks; a celebration would be fantastic.
“So, that’s why the poor thing has been tied to that short leash near the kitchen; they’re fattening him up.” My colleague whispered into my ear as the rest of the announcements were made.
“What do you suppose they mean by ‘toasting’ the goat’?” I asked as we walked, glancing at the captive who didn’t look any more well-nourished than our patients.
“Who knows? I don’t see a barbecue pit.” My American tentmate was a bit skeptical, but the resourcefulness of these dear Ethiopian people was legendary.
Turning away from the Easter service stragglers, I caught sight of the roaring fire blazing in the center of the gathered camp personnel. Where were Hannah and Esther? I veered away from the moving mini-throng to check out the kitchen area. Sure enough, that’s where they were, busily slicing strips of goat for the waiting flat pan. The pungent aroma of the powder Sarah sprinkled on each morsel alerted my senses that the meat would resemble the fiery stew normally consumed twice-daily.
“Happy Easter, Ladies! So, Sarah, are you slipping some medication onto the meat or just helping them prepare?” The Ethiopian pharmacist was one of my closest friends.
“I volunteered to help. I’m enjoying my role as a cook’s helper today. You’re gonna love this goat, Sister.” Indeed, I probably would since my lips and digestive system had toughened up over the months of eating such highly seasoned foods.
“Let’s get started.” I hurried over to find a seat in the circle as the MC for the event banged away on the empty pot. “Okay, who wants to be the first to tell a dirty joke?”
“Is he serious?” My shocked colleague gasped in my ear. Squeezing my arms against my sides, I clenched my intertwined fingers and hoped my smile was still in place. These folks were committed Christians; we must be missing something.
“Let’s let our American friends go first.” Eagerly nodding heads turned to smile at me.
“Uh, I don’t really know any dirty jokes.” My heart was racing and my face burned hot like the fire before me. “Perhaps, Mr. Thomas should begin since he is our leader?” I choked out the proposition, pleading eyes connecting with the Ethiopian Project Manager.
“I’ve got one; I’ll go first.” Sporting the familiar broad grin with those mischievous eyes, Nurse Adam impatiently jumped to his feet; Thaddeus grabbed his arm to stop him.
“Oh, no. You can’t tell that one! We have guests.” Thaddeus pleaded, but the rest of the group cheered Adam on. With raised eyebrows, I searched the faces of my American colleagues, who responded with a quick shrug of the shoulders.
“Well, this is what happened to Thaddeus.” Tension eased, genuine grins returning as we listened to the unfolding story. We joined the hoots and howls as Adam shared the practical joke he had played on Thaddeus. One-by-one, the group recounted these dirty jokes or some other funny thing that had happened to a teammate, including the Americans. While I laughed at the tales, my heart ached as I recalled the flip-side of each recent history.
Thaddeus, our Chief Nurse, had suffered beatings and unthinkable horrors for ten months, including long periods of being bound and suspended upside-down. His jailors declared he would be tortured until he denied Christ. Ultimately, they released Thaddeus because they tired of tormenting him. His crime? He refused to stop a Bible Study for university students held in his home.
Sarah, mother of three small children, spent one horrific year in prison when her twins were three and her first-born just five. Sarah’s only food came from her mother’s Sunday visits, unless the guards refused. Her crime had been to speak the name of Jesus to a pedestrian as they waited for the stoplight to change on a capital city corner.
Everything suffered for Christ, my Ethiopian friends counted a privilege. They set aside painful memories and reveled in telling delightful camp tales. Their joy was infectious.
The hilarious story-telling ended when the flat pan was removed from the fire, delicious, hot pieces of goat passed around the circle with two slices of orange for dessert. Easter, celebrated during a famine, wasn’t really about food; it was about family.
Authors’ note: This is a true account of my 1985 Easter, though the names have been changed.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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