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Charlotte’s Ethiopian community gets ready to party like it’s 2015

Kayla Young
WFAE/La Noticia
Yodite Mengesha serves Ethiopian coffee from a jebana at Abugida Restaurant. Frankincense, burning at the right, helps set the atmosphere. A traditional coffee ceremony will be part of Saturday's celebration.

This story was produced through a collaboration between WFAE and La Noticia. You can read it in Spanish at La Noticia. Puedes leer la nota en español en La Noticia.

Maheder Yohannes describes Ethiopia as a country with 13 months of sunshine.

“We have 12 months that are 30 days,” she said, sitting in the Abugida Ethiopian Restaurant on Central Avenue. “And there's an extra month that has five or six days — six if it's a leap year, five days if it's a normal year.”

That 13th month ends this weekend and marks the beginning of Meskerem, the first month of Ethiopia’s calendar, and the start of 2015 — the official year in the Ethiopian calendar system.

Just like the Gregorian calendar, used in the U.S. and elsewhere, the Ethiopian calendar is based on the birth year of Jesus Christ. But different calculations have set the calendars apart by about seven years and eight months.

For Ethiopian and Eritrean families, the New Year, known as Enkutatash in Amharic, is a time to come together. For the diaspora, it’s a way to reconnect, explained Meki Shewangizaw, who co-founded the nonprofit Tesfa Ethiopia with Yohannes.

The organization supports youth education in Ethiopia and hosts regular monthly meetings in Charlotte.

Kayla Young
WFAE/La Noticia
Maheder Yohannes, left, and Meki Shewangizaw sit in Abugida Restaurant, where they started planning Tesfa Ethiopia in 2018.

“People always say when they move here how isolated they feel, which makes sense. Back home, people are closer to each other,” Shewangizaw said. “We started Tesfa with just Maheder and I. Then when we announced it, people just came up to us and said, how can we join? That was the most touching part.”

The diaspora will gather on Saturday at the Midwood International and Cultural Center for a celebration co-hosted by Tesfa and the Ethiopian Community Association of Charlotte.

Yohannes said the goal is to bring a piece of Ethiopia to the Queen City.

“The Ethiopian/Eritrean community is growing in Charlotte and there is a need to come together to celebrate these things. Just to be in touch with our background and our culture and also make it family friendly,” Yohannes said. “Kids here that have never been back to Ethiopia can have that experience right here in Charlotte without having to go anywhere.”

The day will include traditional foods, music, dancing and a coffee ceremony, hosted by Shewangizaw’s mother.

“It's like a labor of love, is what I would say a lot of our traditions are. It's very family centered and it's very time consuming but in a good way because we just genuinely connect socially,” Shewangizaw said.

To capture the diversity of Ethiopia and Eritrea, Yohannes said they’re aiming for a playlist that features music from different ethnic groups. She expects to be one of the first to hit the dance floor.

“I love it. I thrive on dancing,” Yohannes said. “[Shewangizaw] can testify, I am the first one to get up and dance, obviously.”

“And I'm the last,” Shewangizaw said.

The celebration runs from 2 to 6 p.m. and tickets are $10 a person. Proceeds from the event will support education for young people in Ethiopia.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.