Cultural dinner and auction draws crowd

Dressed in a knee-length white cotton shirt and loose-fitting white pants, Badege Bishaw described his traditional Ethiopian attire on Saturday to a room of 250 dinner guests and volunteers at the First Congregational United Church of Christ.

“The white has a purpose,” he explained. “We wear this on holy days.”

On Christian holidays, such as Easter, the color of dress symbolizes what is holy and clean, Bishaw said. Men and women also drape a white gauze shawl, called a netela, around their shoulders.

Bishaw, a native of Ethiopia and a forestry professor at Oregon State University, was one of more than 60 volunteers who helped put on Saturday’s event. Guests ate a traditional meal, bid on Ethiopian-made crafts in a silent auction and learned about the culture as part of a fundraiser for the Corvallis-Gondar Sister Cities Association.

Formed in 2005, the nonprofit serves as a cultural exchange between the cities with multiple projects to help the citizens of Gondar. Proceeds from Saturday’s event will go toward Gondar’s three partner schools in projects that help train teachers and build science and math labs.

Last year’s event raised about $5,000 and helped purchase computers for the classroom, said Don Prickel, vice president of the board of directors.

Guests Sunday learned that an Ethiopian meal starts with a flatbread called injera that covers the entire plate. Volunteers then served three traditional dishes atop the injera — chicken stew with red sauce and hard-boiled egg; lentils; and a dish with cabbage, potatoes and carrots.

Amy and Toby Zimmerman attended the dinner with their five children, including their adopted 2-year-old daughter who they brought home from Ethiopia in June 2011. In addition to supporting the cause, they wanted to expose their other children to the culture.

“Our four older kids didn’t go to Ethiopia with us,” Amy Zimmerman said, “so we thought it’d be a good way for them to learn about the culture, too.”

Many of the approximately 25 Corvallis families who have adopted children from Ethiopia were in attendance, Prickel said, as well as native Ethiopians from the region.

“We also have a lot of people with no connection to Ethiopia who just believe in our cause,” he added.

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Reporter Canda Fuqua can be reached at 541-758-9548 or canda.fuqua@lee.net.