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Poor Country, Rich Culture

When people in the United States think about Ethiopia, they often revert back to news stories about poverty, strife, famine and HIV/AIDS.  There is no denying that Ethiopia has suffered each of these unfortunate blights.  And upon first glance, a visit appears to reinforce these impressions, something not hard to do in a county where corrugated metal is a premium construction material.  

Leaving impressions at the surface level, however, leaves 99% of Ethiopia undiscovered.  Like dismissing a burn victim as emotionally crippled because of scars of the skin, not getting beneath the surface of Ethiopia will leave the real beauty of their culture and people undiscovered.

If I had to sum up Ethiopia, I'd have to use the phrase shared with us by a CHSFS representative during our stay: "We are a poor country, but a rich culture". 

So true.

One thing you'll notice the beauty of Ethiopia is their reverence for the young.  Everywhere we went, we saw children being hugged, kissed, praised and instructed.  Ethiopian adults appear to have child radar, always on the look-out for the youngest around them and quick with their assistance.  For western parents, such "care" can be surprising for we come from a country where children are the sole purview of their biological parents.  No true in Ethiopia, where parenting appears to work on the proximity system, i.e. you're closest, so you're the Father!

This expression of care and community extends to relations between adults as well.  Three kisses -- left, right, left -- is a very common greeting, even between men.  If not that, then at least a hug, or the ever manly handshake-shoulder bump.  Touching is equally free.  A man holding the shoulders of a women while talking, or two men holding hands crossing the street, are both common public occurances.  So, when you're there, you can either stand away and risk the offense that such behaviour would cause, or you can go with the flow and get more love from strangers that you ever thought imaginable!

Beyond the physical, you'll also find that Ethiopia has a proud psychological profile as well.  Everyone in Addis Ababa will be quick to point out the following facts: Ethiopia is one of the longest-standing countries in human history and, despite multiple occupations, hasnever been colonized; Ethiopia is home of "Lucy", the oldest, most complete pre-human skeleton ever discovered, making Ethiopia the cradle of human existence; and Ethiopia is the home of Amharic, the native language that is based on one of humanity's oldest, and most original, alphabets.

So, when you visit, look beyond the poverty and look into the deep, rich culture that Ethiopia has to offer.  Once it gets under your skin, it will never leave you! 

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