Traveling Ethiopia Taught Me To Appreciate Its Heritage

by Zelalem

Ethiopia, my beautiful chaos. Walking through colourful markets, I smell leather, brilliant white cotton, coffee and a sea of vibrant beads inspired by tribes that made our country what it is today. There is nothing like the gift of the human touch, derived from a history that boasts pure workmanship and artistry made on the side of our cobbled streets. I smile to myself when I see that our coffee has made it half way around the world, but sometimes I wonder how much our farmers are really appreciated. Do they know how much it is all worth? And do their living standards correspond to that?

I find it interesting how we can enjoy such things as we were lucky enough to be born in the right place at the right time. We reap and thrive off the labour of others. It’s not because we are bad people but because for some of us, our eyes can be clouded when we have been canoodled in such a warm fuzzy womb. This is why it is important to me to go back and ask questions and find out what it really means to live in Ethiopia. I’m delighted to say that I have been corresponding with the Samuel Trust, I’ve been incredibly impressed with some of the jewelry the girls have been making and I look forward to meeting them all when I go to Ethiopia next month. 

I have heard many stories passed down from my mother; some of them are beautifully comical and some are painful. She grew up in the revolution, where her innocence was stolen and she experienced loss and trauma at the same time. She worked incredibly hard, as her brothers and sisters did, and has become one of the strongest women I know. Later in life, my father signed up for the “save the children” trust. After a month or so, he came across a souvenir shop where my mother had been working and could not stop visiting her. They became good friends and would comfort one another in their struggles. She was due an arranged marriage but as an determined adolescent, had no plan to follow through once she met my father.

That leads me to when she decided to leave to go to London with my father, and after living together for a few years they had my brother and I. Growing up, we would go on family holidays together every year to Ethiopia. What a world, I felt, as if we’d gone back in time. Vintage Volkswagens, no sign of McDonald’s and raw meet hanging on a hook in a market we passed in the car. Big brown eyes would watch me. I looked different ― little and pale ― and yet when I spoke the few words I knew “dananesh” the locals realized this was my home too.

My brother and I were taken on our first road trip together with our with our cousins. First stop was Debroset, where we went go-karting. It was my favourite thing to do, especially with Edward. The engines where impressive, loud and we’d drift round the entire trail and slide into each other competitively.

Next, Lake Langano, which was a good four hours away. To kill time, we would make up card games whilst listening to Shakira’s new album. I remember needing a toilet stop, and when I got out of the car the waitress pointed to a hole in the ground. That’s when I realized life was different here, but I laughed and appreciated the simplicity of it. Edward said “what were you expecting something gold plated”. I laughed and said, “of course not.” On the upside, I loved stopping to buy fruit and veg on the road side. This may have been the happiest and content I’ve ever felt.

Happiness here was about making the most of what you had, which truly meant enjoying the present. Wishing for things you can’t have in the moment, spending your whole life chasing something that may not even be satisfying when you get it; what’s the point when you can lose yourself in music, shake your hips and shoulders inside a manmade hut, eating fruit picked from your Grandma’s tree and just loving people without any motive or expectation. Yes, they don’t have everything, but they have soul, and to me that is priceless.

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