Ethiopians are incredibly beautiful people. Their striking features and wide smiles attract our cameras, but the level of feeling is the most captivating. A group of ten children may run up to students, posing with arms around each other. However, the ‘birr, birr’ that follows leaves an emptiness. It’s not the children’s fault, however, it’s just the thought of money in general. When carrying around a camera, it’s frustrating to realize that you may treat these people as simple photo opportunities; a smile may be beautiful, but when the child poses in a practiced way the image loses any substance. Basic elements compose all human beings and give to each the same chance for opportunity and personal success within life. When tourists think it is our position to give the children toys, money or to view them as at a disadvantage we make an ignorant assumption. The level of feeling, most importantly happiness, is powerfully present in the air around any local. When visiting a village yesterday in small groups, we were invited into homes where children surrounded us to see their photos. As we walked along three young girls took my hands as guides and despite the language barrier still communicated with their eyes, smiles, and laughter, constantly re-approaching me to just hold the camera. When experiencing the level of feeling within Ethiopian dance, greeting or interaction I have found that their culture has a significant advantage over that of America; there’s a quality to the Ethiopian soul that gives them connection to each other, the world and their faith. The Western World’s abundance has led to material gaining importance in order to compensate for lack of passion or pride. So while a young American may never speak to his mother after college, a shy mother in Ethiopia kisses the screen of the camera after being shown an image of her child. Ultimately, it’s been a struggle to overcome the dirty feeling of being a tourist; these are people with beautiful lives who know no disadvantage unless we choose to make the comparison. We are not saviors or superior simply because we have greater technology; rather than thinking of that it’s important to embrace the moments in which a child touches your back before you leave her village or another ties your head scarf when you hadn’t known it was appropriate. The opportunity to experience the connections between our cultures and to witness the overbearing emotion and joy of Ethiopian people gives a lot of thought to the current state of American culture. Despite American financial power, Ethiopian’s spiritual and emotional states leave us at a loss. Overcoming the thought of intrusion as a photographer and finding the connection with various people exposes the beautiful simplicity of being human and kind. Ultimately, this has shown to be the greatest form of gift-giving; not toys or pens, but the realization that there is no disadvantage, only human nature.
While in Ethiopia bus 3 (Dinknesh) has adopted the term “This is Africa” for some of the more colorful eccentricities of the African landscape, both cultural and ecological. Here are a few examples:
When a heavy white dude can interrupt a traditional courtship dance by taking off his shirt…. TIA
When one can mistake a three-foot stagnant pond for solid ground… TIA
There are four things we previously expected from a shower: no bugs, a door, water pressure, warm water. Here one is guaranteed one of these four. After that…. TIA
When keeping three liters of water by your bed at night isn’t enough…. TIA
When old tires are fashioned into the most popular footwear… TIA
When churches can be described as massive relief sculptures… TIA
Scorpions in the tent? TIA
When there is no internet connection for six days… TIA
When you arrive at a bathroom and ask if there is toilet paper, but you already know the answer is, “If God wills it”… TIA
When young boys do the wobbly leg dance along every dirt road…. TIA
When there is table tennis or foosball in nearly every village… TIA
When breakfast is to be served promptly at 7:30… at 8:00… TIA
When a stick can be used as a toothbrush… TIA
When eating too much of the traditional injera can give the illusion of male pregnancy…. TIA
When every road is shared between cars, goat herders, cow herders, and the occasional sad donkey who looks like he picked up the taxi fare for the whole group…. TIA
When a man’s five wives can live together peacefully… TIA
When a bunch of plastic bags held together by thread and a patch of leather is the best soccer ball around… TIA
America is very well known for being one of the most privileged countries in the world, whereas Ethiopia is known for being possibly one of the poorest countries. Coming to Ethiopia has been an incredible, and, at times, very saddening experience. Most Americans will find it extremely hard to relate to Ethiopians and their culture because seemingly insurmountable differences. In spite of these differences, though, I have found it easy to connect to the people of Ethiopia.
When I first walked into a village I was bombarded by about seven different kids and adults asking me for birr and to buy their goods, they refused to give up until one of the tour guides shooed them away with threats. After going into more and more villages I realized that these kids were harmless and, if anything, curious. At first they do ask for money and they do beg, but then they start to ask what your name is and how you are and they begin to open up.
One of my fondest memories so far of this trip was when we went to a village outside of Gondar, I met this little girl with the most beautiful smile and kindest heart. We bonded and I began to ask her questions about her life, how many siblings she had, and what her name was. My goal was to make this girl feel safe, and accepted for the person she was, and not for the money she had or the clothes she was wearing, but for her beautiful smile and staggering personality. We danced and held hands, and told each other things about each of our very different lives. Through this, I learned something about myself, I learned that there are connections that can be made between human beings culturally disparate and I have a serious passion with connecting to kids. The joy I get out of it is indescribable. When we had to leave the village the little girl told me she loved me and blew me about a thousand kisses. I gave her a hug and told her that I loved her too. Leaving her brought tears to my eyes, and I actually began to cry. I gave her a candy bar, and left. Leaving was one of the hardest things to do. After this I began to use this trip to connect with kids. So far I have met, befriended, and enjoyed about twenty different Ethiopians.
A priest writing the Ross School on an iPad in Epthiopian.
We are having a hard time uploading photos due to our slow connection, but here are a few…