During my brief stay in Lalibela, Ethiopia, I was able to make the acquaintance of a few of the locals: a restaurant-owner, some gift shop-owners, a coffee shop-owner, and several of the students. Our conversation was limited, mostly because of time, partly because of the language-barrier. But the culture there is rich and the people inviting – especially since I’m Canadian. Well, I was Canadian during my time there.
It all began with the taxi ride from the guest house in Addis Ababa to the airport. The driver asked where I was from, and I quickly replied the U.S. That sparked his agitated response that “Obama hasn’t been keeping his promises to Africa and that it is bad for America to be so friendly to Israel.” I had experienced the same basic conversation with a handful of others before this gentleman, so I decided from that point on that I would be from Canada.
While walking on the main street of Lalibela, young men would strike up a conversation: “where are you from?” Me: “Canada!” Apparently, word travels quickly in that town, because it wasn’t long before people would see me walking and yell out, “Hey Canada!” I’d always holler back, “Hey!” as proud to be a Canadian as I could be. No charged words. No political discussions. Nice. Now I can go about enjoying the people and culture of this lovely Ethiopian town.
My brother-in-law Ryan & I enjoyed macchiatos at the same cafe on two different occasions. We ate lunch and dinner at the same family-owned restaurant – excellent shiro and ingera. After dinner, some dancers performed authentic Ethiopian dance that boggled my mind – I have no idea how they can get their bodies to move so quickly or take such abnormal, seemingly uncomfortable positions. I could never even begin to attempt that type of movement. Of course, my chiropractor would love it if I tried – job security for him.
The highlight of my evening came as we were walking back to our hotel after the dinner & dancing. We were perusing some of the shops when a couple of young boys, ages 15 & 16, approached us and starting making conversation. We stood and talked with them for a few minutes. Once we were finished at the shop, I told them they could walk with us if they wished. I wasn’t surprised that they agreed – I think every person in Lalibela would be delighted to spend hours on end sitting on a hilltop, engaged in friendly dialogue.
As we continued down the road in darkness (the sun had set quite some time ago), the topic landed on their schooling. They both wanted to get into vocational school, one to study general mechanics, the other to study surveying. But they did not have the money to purchase the book they needed to study. The cost of the book: B100 – that’s roughly the equivalent of $6 US.
I typically do not hand out money on the streets, as it can lead to all sorts of problems; but in this case, I felt something special for these boys. They weren’t giving me the typical scam lines. And they weren’t throwing me a high-pressure sales pitch. They were simply saying they did not have the money to purchase a book. And they weren’t even asking for a book for each of them – they were willing to share the same book!
My good feelings toward these boys were confirmed when I met a shopkeeper that happened to teach part-time at the local school. I pointed out the boys that were waiting patiently outside the shop and asked if he knew them. “Oh yes!” he replied, “and the shorter one of the two is one of my top students!” That cinched it for me. I walked straight into the shop, purchased the book, and handed it to them. Their eyes lit up in surprise as they hugged the book and thanked me repeatedly. “You are so kind, sir. We will never forget you!”
I am sad because I did not have my camera with me. And I did not have a pen or paper with me, so I was unable to write down their names. I met so many people that day, but I do remember that one of their names translates to “Full Day.” I gave them my e-mail address, and they assured me they’d write. But even if I never hear from them or see them again, I hope that day was a Full Day for them, and that $6 will turn their futures into ones of hope and joy.