Reflections on our recent trip to Ethiopia13 Sep 2012, Posted by Reflections in
ur Ethiopian adventure is now over and I want to reflect on some of the things that we experienced in the last 5 days in Awra Amba.
We were invited by the community to attend their 40th anniversary celebration in the village. As I described in my previous blog posts, it was a last minute trip and a bit of a struggle for us to make it happen.
I am so glad we did. It was the first time the community celebrated any anniversary or big party in their history, which has been very rocky indeed. But this event was all about celebrating their achievements over the last four decades.
The village had invited over 500 guests to a 2-day summit in the village. A lot of effort went into the preparations; from erecting a large marquee for people to sit under in case of rain; decorating the meeting hall with hand-made banners and garlands to catering for all 500 guests.
On the first day, Friday the 7th, more than 200 guests turned up, some having travelled all the way across the country, others came by foot from surrounding villages. Among the guests were high ranking Government officials, village chiefs from the region, NGO representatives and academics who had spent years studying the community’s social structure.
The talk centred around the future of Awra Amba and its role in Ethiopia’s development strategy. The Government, who hasn’t always been supportive to their cause in the past, promised to assist them with access to more land in order to expand the community. They also promised to pave the rocky road leading to the village from the main road during the coming year. It would really help their textile trade as well as the emerging tourism business, as vehicles would have easier and faster access to the village.
Previously unhappy neighbours also made emotional speeches during the day, including a man who stood up and proclaimed to have been their number one enemy. He explained the reasons why Awra Amba was hated by surrounding communities (basically because bad rumours kept circulating about them) and why they used to think the community should be chased away. He finished by saying how much he now appreciates them, and how he has come to understand what the community is all about.
It was a fascinating day, followed by another full day of speeches on Saturday, with a slightly different crowd present. We heard from members of the community who live outside of the village in other parts of the country. They discussed how the members should best communicate with each other (with a distinct lack of telecommunications in rural Ethiopia), and work together as a group. There were also several speeches by a theologist and heated responses from Zumra, on the issue of religion and traditions. On both days, the community served their guests a delicious Ethiopian lunch consisting of injera and 7 – 8 different wots (local sauces).
These two days of intense discussion surely left a mark on many of the guests. For some, it was the first opportunity to share their views and ideas with the Awra Amba community and vice versa. Discussion solves everything, Zumra always says, and I believe what they did was very effective in building relationships with stakeholders and engaging with the outside world. It was fascinating to be a part of it – even though all of the discussion took place in Amharic and I was only able to get a summary of it all in English later – and a great honour to have been invited.
I have often asked myself why I care so much about this small, remote village in Northern Ethiopia and why I keep going back there? I think that they are a very special group of people, whose humanist views transcend borders, cultures and even languages. They have always treated us like we are family and they genuinely care about other people no matter where they come from. We have the same values and outlook on what life should be about. We understand each other very well and language has never been an obstacle. They hold views that are surprising and endearing to me in this day and age, where purity and humanity seem to be on the way out. It’s so easy to be with them and we share a common sense of humour.
Being in Awra Amba for a few days has once again restored my faith in humanity. I feel more determined than ever to finish the web documentary that we have been working on for over 2 years now and I want the ideas of the community to travel far and wide. I also hope that we can help create more understanding and tolerance of in our world through simple discussion. Here’s to finishing the Awra Amba Experience!