At last supper arrived; first a basket containing half a dozen great rounds of native bread, a tough, clammy substance closely resembling crêpe rubber in appearance; then two earthenware jugs, one of water, the other of talla — a kind of thin, bitter beer; then two horns of honey, but not of honey as it is understood at Thame; this was the product of wild bees, scraped straight from the trees; it was a greyish colour, full of bits of stick and mud, bird dung, dead bees, and grubs. Everything was first carried to the abuna for his approval, then to us. We expressed our delight with nods and more extravagant smiles. The food was laid out before us and the bearers retired. At this moment the Armenian shamelessly deserted us, saying that he must go and see after his boy.
The three of us were left alone, smiling over our food in the half darkness.
In the corner lay our hamper packed with Irene’s European delicacies. We clearly could not approach them until our host left us. Gradually the frightful truth became evident that he was proposing to dine with us. I tore off a little rag of bread and attempted to eat it. ‘This is a very difficult situation,’ said the professor; ‘I think, perhaps, it would be well to simulate ill-health,’ and holding his hands to his forehead, he began to rock gently from side to side, emitting painfully subdued moans. It was admirably done; the abuna watched him with the greatest concern; presently the professor held his stomach and retched a little; then he lay on his back, breathing heavily with closed eyes; then he sat up on his elbow and explained in eloquent dumb show that he wished to rest. The abuna understood perfectly, and, with every gesture of sympathy, rose to his feet and left us.
In five minutes, when I had opened a tinned grouse and a bottle of lager and the professor was happily munching a handful of ripe olives, the Armenian returned. With a comprehensive wink, he picked up the jug of native beer, threw back his head, and, without pausing to breathe, drank a quart or two. He then spread out two rounds of bread, emptied a large quantity of honey into each of them, wrapped them together, and put them in his pocket. ‘Moi, je puis manger comme abyssin,’ he remarked cheerfully, winked at the grouse, wished us good night, and left us.
Evelyn Waugh, Remote People. 98-99.
- Waugh and an American professor visit Debra Lebanos [sic] Monastery, Ethiopia, 1930