Wednesday May 12, 2010
Everything about this country is hard. The expression on people’s faces, the roads, the houses, just the general way of life. Yet, everyone finds a way to remain joyful, in good humor, they survive because of their relationships. Relationships with literally everyone around them, it is not unusual to be approached at random and walk away with a new friend. People don’t passively pass one another as we are used to. They don’t live in indifference to others. It is common to share tables at coffee houses and restaurants with strangers and people do not put up the protective barriers that we do, they don’t sit with books, newspapers or computers. Ethiopians always leave themselves open to conversation, to each other. I believe this is more than cultural…its survival.
They also hold a deep relationship with their faith. I wake every morning to the Orthodox Church’s call to prayer. I shuffle around people in the streets praying towards Mecca. I think everything about this is beautiful. It makes me jealous. If people with nothing, can have faith, can find someone else to pray for, something to be thankful for, why is it so difficult for us, in a country of over-indulgence, to be grateful?
Most importantly, Ethiopians have such a connected relationship with their surrounding, their land. They can literally make anything out of nothing, I’ve never seen so little waste. I’ve never seen more garbage either, but those are just my eyes. People throw what they do not need into the streets, literally everything, but this is not littering, it’s recycling. Someone else will find a purpose.
Ethiopians are nothing if not proud- and they should be too. Their nation stands out in Africa, never colonized, retaining its own culture, language, script, clock (7am and 7pm are 1am and 1pm respectively, it kind of makes sense, you start your day at 1)and calendar (there are 13 months).
Some days are hard. Sometimes I forget these relationships. I get annoyed at the stranger at my table, interrupting my book, I don’t want to talk on the taxi, I get tired of being asked my religion and I turn up my nose at all the trash, disgusted tip-toeing through the sewer of a street in the rain. But here is a life-style that I have only just begun to comprehend. And it is unique and wonderful in so many ways. It is so freeing to be so open and unabashed, it is so Ethiopian!
I read this quote by historian of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon, and it is really the only way to describe the uniqueness of Ethiopians- “ Encompassed on all sides by the enemies of their religion, the Aethiopians slept nearly a thousand years , forgetful of the world, by whom they were forgotten.”