Christmas Letter from Emdeber, Ethiopia….1967


Dear Folks,

Charlie Ipcar leading a song at the Loaded Dog Folk Club in Sydney, Australia, 2003

As a matter of fact, Christmas was quite merry this year, even without snow. Friday, Phil, Mr. Rowat, Bernie, and I went out in search of a tree. What we were looking for was not a Eucalyptus tree or a false banana tree but for a more symmetric and Christmasy cedar, and sure enough down on the banks of the Gogeb River we found a prime candidate. We lost little time hacking it down with our stone-age ax but were startled when along came some village folks who wondered what we were up to. Phil being more quick-witted than the rest of us, and more fluent in the local dialect said we were taking it to help welcome the Provincial Governor who just happened to be coming for an annual visit the next day. Well, that made perfect sense all around, and we gleefully hauled off the tree, across the river, and through the woods.

When we got to Bernie’s traditional conical house, it took some effort to maneuver it in through the narrow door, and then we discovered that despite the fact the ceiling rose to a height of 18 feet we had no way to support it standing. We were lacking a traditional Christmas tree stand. We eventually suspended the tree from the umbrella-like rafters that branched out from the center post. Lacking a ladder we had stacked a chair upon a chair upon a rickety table and then threaded the rope through the rafters. It is fortunate that we only thought about mixing up some drinks after this operation was successfully completed. We all had a round of gin mixed with lemon squash to celebrate our achievement, not exactly hot-buttered rum but it went down well.

Fikre Haile, Charlie Ipcar, Tejitu, and Fresenbet Gezachow in front of Charlie’s home

The next day was Bernie’s Christmas party, where all the other Peace Corps Volunteers in town, some other teachers (Indians and Ethiopians), and our student help were gathered around. It really turned out nice. We sang some of our songs. We listened to them sing their songs. There was dancing, we all had lots to eat, and we exchanged presents. I contributed the fruitcake (shipped from the States) and the artichoke hearts. The next day we were back teaching at the high school.

Charlie Ipcar (Ethiopia 1965-68) is a singer of contemporary and traditional songs of the sea, and author of the Sea Songs of Cicely Fox Smith and Uncommon Sailor Songs and the new Three Kitties Set out to Sea songbooks. Also co-editor of The Complete Poetry of Cicely Fox Smith.


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  • wonder what it cost to ship a fruitcake from the US to Ethiopia—those things weigh a substantial amount.
    Glad it was a wonderful Christmas for all you guys. We had similar experiences in India in 1963 & 64, improvising with local materials to make Christmas decorations and cotton balls for snow balls. The fun was in the ingenuity, singing a few carols and then recalling Christmases back home.

    • I do remember the stress of retrieving the fruitcake from Customs; they looked very hungry.

      They were even more intrigued with the painted Easter eggs my mother sent me in the Spring: “Ye Faseca Enquilah” I explained!

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