They might have moved from their homes, but a majority of Ethiopians hold food and family traditions close to heart.
As you walk into the Ethiopian restaurant Al Habasha, Hor Al Anz, you are ushered into a friendly atmosphere of people chatting and relishing authentic Ethiopian cuisine. The setup is modern, yet has local cultural elements to make an expat feel at home. The owner, Sara Aradi, an Ethiopian expat living in Dubai for the past 25 years, is today a successful entrepreneur with nine branches of the restaurant spread across the UAE.
Sara opened up her first restaurant in Deira 18 years back and it soon became a hanging out place for the community to come together. “Earlier, there was no embassy or counsellor for the Ethiopian community in Dubai – our restaurant was the place to meet and discuss community issues, marriages, meet ups, and celebrate festivities,” she shares. “If you work hard and follow the rules – you will find success in the region. The country allows expats to set up their businesses and grow. Plus, one receives ample support from the government. I became an entrepreneur here.”
Afendi Muteki, an ethnographic researcher and author, was recently in Dubai for a short trip and is now planning to relocate to the region. “I had come to Dubai to visit my wife, who resides here. I explored the Emirates and visited Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Ajman. Everything about the land pleased me – sophisticated infrastructure, up-to-date technology, and the hospitality of the people. I’ve made up my mind to make Dubai my home – a comfortable and modern home.”
An estimated 1,00,000 Ethiopians live in the UAE and they share that just like expats from other countries, they too came here in search for better earnings as well as opportunities. A retail sector salesman, who has been in Abu Dhabi for last two years, shares, “I came to the Emirates to be able to pay back the loans I’d taken back home. Just within a year, I was successful in doing so. I have managed to build a better life for myself and very soon I will bring my family here too.”
Along with her Ethiopian friends, Teiba Yimam participates in the Ethiopian traditional financing system called Ikub. Ikub is an association established by a small group of people in order to provide substantial rotating funding for members to improve their lives and living conditions. “It is a system that inculcates the habit of saving in the people and I am glad that I am able to contribute towards it. It is an important element of our society.”
They might have moved from their homes, but a majority of Ethiopians hold food and family traditions close to heart. Among the most practised is the tradition of eating their meals together. A huge plate is placed in the centre and the family members sit around it. Bunna (coffee) is the favourite drink of many and Afendi swears by it. “A female member of the family prepares Ethiopian coffee at home, each evening. Our coffee ceremony is a great remembrance of the country and its traditions. I am optimistic that our future offsprings will inherit it from us and keep the ritual alive.”