August 27th, 2012
I would like to introduce three women to you. Mulu; her daughter Freha and her friend Julie. Although the story really begins with Mulu, I shall commence it here, with the friend of her daughter.
Julie is a colleague of mine, at the Donnington Youth Club, hosted by the Donnington Doorstep Family Centre, in East Oxford. It was her brilliant idea, to have her birthday celebration, at the monthly Ethiopian evening, held at the Magic Cafe; a well-known eatery, in the East Oxford area. And that is where Mulu and Freha Menaye come in….
Have you ever tasted Shiro wet? A dish to make your insides feel good, and bring a glow to your face. Consisting of chickpeas, red onion, berberi and garlic. Made by Freha – taught to her by Mulu. Freha has named the monthly celebrations of her homeland after her mother; who continues to be her greatest inspiration, after her physical passing, when Freha was sixteen. Mulu remains; is everywhere for her. As in the labelling. Mulu Oxford, the website; alongside Mulu Coffee and Mulu Dance – both of which can be sampled at the monthly sessions.
Talking of dance - we were treated to two short exhibitions, of traditional dance. Followed by a workshop, of joyful interaction. As well as her culinary skills, there are those of movement to music. She’s been dancing since the age of fourteen. Firstly with Circus Ethiopia, alongside juggling and bouncing. Then later on, a part of the Queens of Africa dance group, which toured throughout Ethiopia.
She has learnt various dance styles, such as that of the Tigrinya (Northern Ethiopia), and the Oromo, the largest ethnic group in the country. Like a treasure chest of cultural gems.
She has been in England for two years. The Magic Cafe sessions, which she runs with her English partner, David Thomas, have been running for the last ten months. Trying to balance things up. Changing the somewhat, warped image of Ethiopia. Wine named Axumite; after Axum, the first great state of Ethiopia; that traded across the Indian Ocean. Another entitled Gonder; commemorating the city of castles, built by Emperor Fasilades. A night of education and joy, for those who step through the door.
Here is what Tony Ruge, from Portugal had to say of the dance…” Absolutely amazing. Different to what I’m used to”. He said that previously, due to not being aware of it, Ethiopian cuisine wasn’t number one on his list. Having tried it and enjoyed it, he’s ready to tell others, of his culinary discovery!
I support the Mulu mission. As Freha and David search for other openings. Like the Farmers Market, formerly held in the Asian Cultural Centre; now hosted by East Oxford Primary School, where my son is a pupil. Where they can introduce Ethiopian cultures, in an accessible and affordable manner.
As I said earlier, a brilliant idea by my American colleague, Julie Bolitho-Lee; whose love affair with Ethiopia is deepening. Her favourite Mula dish is Alcha – yellow lentils, red onion and garlic. She spoke of Beta Israel, otherwise known as the Falashas – the Jews of Ethiopia; flown out, in the Solomon Airlift. She talked of visiting the stone churches of Lalibela; monolithic wonders of the world. In celebrating her birthday, she facilitated knowledge of Africa. To friends and colleagues, such as Kulbir, from Indian roots; Marie, Natalie; Sandra from Portugal; and Kwok, of Chinese parentage – her husband, who was the photographer of the festivity.
By gathering to celebrate Ethiopian cultures, we paid homage to a special woman; an inspirational spirit, called Mula Menaye.
© Natty Mark Samuels, 2012.