Ethiopians are very observant of hygiene, especially when eating. The national dish is Injera with different dishes being placed up on it. All Injera is eaten with the right hand and food is traditionally shared. So it makes a lot of sense that you will always be offered for your hands to be washed by your hosts before you eat. Whether it is in a restaurant or in someone’s home, you will be approached with a bowl, soap and water to wash your hands with. The containers can be anything from actual silver to plastic. The bowl that holds the soap drains into the bottom as the water is poured. I would recommend that you use a light amount of soap and wash your fingers well and away from the bowl. That way the water does not come before you have administered the soap. Just remember - it’s the fingers that are important. If you are eating Injera properly, you never take more in your fingers than you can easily put in your mouth and the food should not be in contact with the palm of your hand. There may not be a lot of water if there are a few of you and a soap taste when eating is not nice. Should you need more water though, just ask.
This is actually a religious tradition called 'Sen'na bert' and it is traditionally the lady of the house who will offer to wash the guests' hands.
After you have eaten, the soap and water will appear again to clean your fingers. I would still recommend wet wipes for after your meal. The sauces often really get under your fingernails.
Two men are slaughtering a goat right in the playground where children plays. This photo was taken outside Rodeo Restaurant near Bole road in Addis Abeba.
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