The way to eat Ethiopian food wrong is not to eat it at all.
Your host may frown whether you chew diligently or not,
Or they may smile.
Ethiopian’s straight noses and high cheekbones,
Like European descents with milk-chocolate skin,
They are African.
They are beautiful.
They don’t smile to make you feel good about what they prepared,
You simply eat elbow-to-elbow.
Take the foamy injera, a flimsy gluten-free pancake, pale sour, in one hand.
Tear it, but not too small.
This is your silverware, your edible hand.
Grip lumps of shiro,
Injera between your fingers and this main dish,
And shove the messy mass coated in red chili, onion, and bean paste between your teeth,
Fingers and all.
It will be spicy, kicking and screaming on all sides,
Amplifying its tantrum the longer the meal goes on.
Eat it anyway,
Even if you can hardly bear the stings bursting your tongue.
Eat it because coffee comes after a meal,
Fresh beans bubbled up from Ethiopian earth still green.
The grandmother washes them with her aged desert hands,
Water passing over the cracks in her fingers to plump up the pebbles between them.
A cradle of burnt clay holds the beans on the stove as they sizzle and turn black.
In her home country, a mortar and pestle rest between her knees to make powder.
In America, you just turn on the grinding machine.
More traditional burnt black clay like a tall Middle Eastern oil lamp rests on the stovetop.
This is an Ethiopian coffee pot boiling water and grinds.
It takes a long time for the grinds to settle with no filter,
So people sit together in the living room, in the open air, on the ground and talk,
Often in awkward silences waiting for the next topic to surface.
No distractions are allowed, no children or card games.
This is a sacred time of drinking in the smell and taste of fresh coffee and fresh connections,
Take it black.
The floral aromatic flavor is enough, with no bitter aftertaste you need to try and cover up.
It is liquid velvet smooth,
A hint of a fresh African breeze through thick green captured in your cup, vibrant.
Drink it in.