I did it! I finally finished reading Notes From the Hyena’s Belly last night and it was amazing. Wow. I learned so much about the inner workings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the evolution of Mengistu Hailemariam’s Red Terror campaign, the city of Jijiga, medicine men and women, the Somali liberation movement, city beggars, and the list goes on. The theme of a strong belief in the supernatural realm can be seen throughout the book; although Ethiopians are a deeply religious people, they also seek the assistance and guidance of spirits and magic. When the individual Saints they worship fail them, to whom they dedicate a large portion of days on the calendar, they resort to local medicine men/women, who offer a clear understanding of what is afflicting the person in question and what can be done to make things better again. This is one of the many contradictions I picked up on about the Orthodox Church. I found it appalling that individual churches and priests place more importance and ceremony on the death of an “important” member of society, such as a feudal lord. But if someone who was little known in the community and the church died, the priests didn’t go out of their way to officiate the burial and if they showed up, it was to offer a much shorter and simpler prayer, as a matter of formality. There are so many more examples of contradictions within the Church that I can make a whole separate post about that (maybe I will).
I was enthralled by this book, I couldn’t wait until the next time I got a few minutes to read it, even if a few pages. It really put the past 50 or so years of Ethiopian history in context for me. And I’m inspired to read Nega Mezlekia’s two other books, The God Who Begat a Jackal and The Unfortunate Marriage of Azeb Yitades. Something I really loved about Notes is the sprinkling of traditional folklore and short stories throughout the text. Each story has a purpose, a message and is fun to read/hear. I highly recommend Notes From the Hyena’s Belly.
Moving on to my next pick: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu. Funny enough, this is also a book I had started before and never finished (I told you I have book ADD!) Mengestu immigrated to the U.S. when he was just two years old in 1980, and went on to attend Georgetown and Columbia Universities. He has won numerous awards and fellowships and currently resides in New York City. I already know I’m going to love this book, especially because it was a gift from one of my favorite English professors :) See you in 228 pages!