Greg and I were married a year ago on my parents farm in North Carolina. 5 days later we boarded a flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where we picked up our car. We drove 12 hours north through rugged mountains to arrive in Mekelle, a place where I knew not a soul and only two words in the local language of Tigrayan.
Two days after we started our journey from Addis, we pulled through the gate of our new home; there was a layer of dust covering every inch our house, only one faucet and no toilets worked, and I wasn’t sure where to buy food to cook dinner that night.
I am a new bride, still trying to impress my husband while flushing the toilet with a bucket. I spent the first month of marriage taking bird baths, trying to shave in freezing water and washing dishes from the hose in the back yard. Over the next two months I settled slowly into Mekelle; I learned the minibus routes, where to shop for vegetables, and fumbled with communication.
I loved the adventure of our life and figuring it out, but there was definitely some lonely moments wondering how this place could be home.
In Ethiopia, the Melse is part two of the Ethiopia wedding celebration. The bride and groom wear the traditional Ethiopian clothes and partake in traditional dancing and food with a smaller group of closer friends and family. The word Melse means, ‘a return,’ and in this case ‘a changed return’. The significance is that the man and woman were recognized as single individuals before, but now they are welcomed as a married couple to the community by the Melse.
Our Ethiopian friends and family wanted to welcome us as a married couple to Mekelle as we entered this new chapter of life with a Melse.
Greg’s parents and my parents made the long trek to Ethiopia for our Melse celebration. Leading up to her departure, my mom kept emailing me asking what to expect or what to wear to this Melse. I told her I honestly didn’t have a clue.
The day of the Melse was beyond hectic, we had the Grand Opening for the EzyLife manufacturing facility in the morning and that was where everything started to go wrong. The documentary film wouldn’t play for the crowd gathered at the Grand Opening, the water pipes broke and the power was touch and go at our house, our blonde haired mothers were taking bird baths in the sink getting ready for the event, our fathers were troubleshooting the pipes from the roof, and I took a nap to check-out of this craziness.
Falling asleep I questioned what I was doing living in this strange town.
In the late afternoon, I was awakened by two ladies coming to dress me in the customary white linen dress with a colorful embroidered orthodox cross down the center, fashion my hair in the cultural braids, adorn my body and head in the gold jewelry of Tigray. Finally, my head and shoulders were draped with a white linen scarf as I slipped into gold wedged heels.
These women cared for me as a daughter, making me beautiful in their tradition and culture. It warmed my heart being petted and fancied by women that hardly knew me, but loved me.
All of my questions from the manic day dissipated as Greg and I were whisked into a room filled with souls gathered to celebrate and welcome us home. It was a moment when I looked at Greg thinking, ‘I couldn’t be more in love with you, this place, and this adventuring life together.’ We were paraded around the room hugging our new friends in Mekelle and some people I didn’t even know.
Our friends didn’t have to host this Melse for us or welcome us to their hometown, but this kind of hospitality is the life force behind Ethiopian culture. Hospitality isn’t a moment of opening one’s home, it’s a lifestyle of inviting people into life, into the journey.
Greg and I have been invited into life by the dear people of Mekelle, not just by our Melse celebration, but everyday into friendship and family with people who are from a totally different culture, background and language.