The town of Lalibela marks the end of our long trek through the Ethiopian highlands. We arrive in need of a shower and somewhere to shake the dust out of all our things. Also, just in time before I have a full-blown meltdown about having to walk up another hill. Lalibela is famous for its amazing churches, which are noteworthy because instead of building up, the King of Lalibela and his architects in the 12th century decided to carve down. The result are a series of rock hewn churches, ceremonial passages and trenches which lead to catacombs and hermit caves . Lara Croft eat your heart out.
Mahalit is 20, very shy and beautiful. She’s a killer seamstress, has a one-year old daughter with Ermeyus and can’t fathom why Cass and I don’t have babies too. The couple have known each other since school, Ermeyus was a few years’ above her and used to help Mahalit out with her homework, undoubtedly in a bid to win her over. It worked, by 15 Mahalit had left school and married Ermeyus.
|Mahalit earns an income from running a laundrette from her home|
They now live together, along with Ermeyus’ bothers and wider family, in a solid townhouse. Mahalit has painted nails, a TV, and two maids to help around the house and with the laundry business she runs. But life for Mahalit has not always been easy. She was born in the countryside 85km outside of Lalibela, the youngest of a very large, very poor family. By the time she was seven her older brothers and sisters were already married and had moved away, by eight years old, both her parents had died of HIV; she’s not sure, but her father probably contracted HIV whilst in the army in the late 80’s.
Despite now being able to afford meat and spices, Mahalit’s ‘last supper’ is a basic (but delicious!) dish called shiro, why? “because it’s what I grew up on, it’s my background”. Shiro and injera were the only two things her mother could afford to cook so all she ate when she was a little girl; shiro reminds her of her family and her roots.
|A variety of the spices that Mahalit is now able to afford and includes in here berbere spice mix|
At its most basic, shiroconsists of chickpea flour, berbere pepper and water and is traditionally served on fasting days, which are every Wednesday and Friday and during lent. The dish is such a favourite here that people eat it on non-fasting days too – I can see why, it’s comforting, delicious and very cheap.
A much richer version of shiro includes a wider variety of spices in the berbere mix plus some vegetables, which Mahalit is now able to afford. The recipe below is the “rich person” shiro, the perfect marriage of Mahalit’as past and present.
|Shiro (the one on the left) with injera and some other dishes (all to come in due course!)|
Recipe for Shiro
Serves 4, or enough for a week of lunches
Serving: once again, this is eaten by pouring it over a large injera, then eaten communally. But I think this would be equally great as a hearty lunchtime soup, maybe with some bread.