Ethiopia – Going back in time 3,000 years

In November, I traveled to Ethiopia for a 14-day vacation planned earlier in the year. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go due to the evacuation and re-habitation of my home in Santa Rosa from the Tubbs Fire. As it turned out, I was able to get away from the shock and devastation that surrounded me.

Ethiopia was not on my radar as a vacation destination. I went to support the first East African Aikido Association Friendship Seminar – “Harmony in Conflict.” Aikido has a way of transcending personal boundaries and geographical borders. When available to the young people in Ethiopia’s youth centers, Aikido provides a structure and ethic that keeps them in school. Teen pregnancy has also been reduced. Aikido practitioners discover their own sense of dignity, value and worth. They become productive, inspiring and contributing members in their communities.

Aikido is recognized and financially supported by some East African governments through their sports federations. They too have come to appreciate and desire the merit (results) the practice Aikido has on their communities.

Young Aikidoka working with senior student from the West

Practicing back stretch

The highlight for all, I say with confidence, was the attendance of Tribal Kings or Elders from the four main regions of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is 85% rural (farming) and tribal. While the government does provide some structures, a majority of the “governing” of the regions and its people is done by the Elder, who is also the religious leader. The region governed by the “senior elder” in attendance has 4 million people.

In this video, Elders from different regions show off to each other their local dance. These two men had never met before this event.


Christianity is the main religion, and Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of Christianity. Many of the churches that we saw were Orthodox Christian. They presented with beautiful fresco depictions of the life of Christ and many of the early Christian saints.

Elders enjoying honey wine and watching the dancing

Fresco of Saint George

Ethiopia has 80+ languages, a plethora of traditional regional dances and unique customs. Traditions die hard in Ethiopia and many farming techniques are 3,000 years old. The practice of using plastic jugs to carry water instead of heavy, leaky pottery took many years to implement.

The separation of teff from the stock

Plowing the fields

They are also very proud people and I would never call them “poor.” They have food, shelter, and an incredible sense of family and community. The Ethiopian “Coffee Ceremony” has several uses, one being the blessing of an event. In the rural areas, it is also used by women to come together to do hand labor. The women discuss village issues, personal issues and to my listening, keep the fabric of the village intact. They fund their community micro banks and lend money to each other when needed.

Our guide told us when he was a young boy, his mother or aunt would send him out to announce to the village women that a coffee ceremony was beginning and in whose home it was being held. He also said that many men historically didn’t like the women coming together and didn’t like the decisions that they made as a collective. But, there was nothing they could do about it.

There are many, many challenges in Ethiopia. My purpose in this post is to give a flavor of a country looking to move forward, but remains mired in old traditions, lifestyles and ineffective government. I can only hope that the children I saw tending animals, really were attending school for half a day and working at their family/community farms the other half.

I saw an eight-year-old girl tending animals with her younger sister on her back. In my heart, I knew she might no longer be attending school because she was needed at home to help her mother with the incredible load necessary for women to keep their families and homes functioning.

Young girl tending to her community’s flock

young boys 9-13 who proudly told us they have been excused from school so they can support their families

With this dynamic, we can see why youth unemployment is an issue and opportunities limited. I am continuing to support the efforts of the young Aikido students and those who teach them. The tribal elders in attendance now endorse Aikido in their regions.

The shaping and cultivating of a deep sense of inner strength, determination and care…that is worth fighting for. The young people I met, by their account, are not entitled and are not victims. They are young people who are also a part of the modern world. They have found a way to embody a future that many in the west have given up on. They reshaped and inspired me! A little shift can go a long way.

Watch this beautiful video of Aikido Ethiopia 2017 East Africa Seminar.


  1. Marcia on January 20, 2018 at 11:46 am

    Beautiful, Merle. Inspiring, moving, and wonderful for you all to be in Ethiopia with your team to support the aikido seminar. Thank you.

  2. Madeline Wade on January 20, 2018 at 1:09 pm

    Merle, beautifully written and loved the photos and video. My heart goes out to the children. I can’t imagine the children here taking on the responsibilities that those in Ethiopia do. Thank you for your words.

  3. Tori Dion on January 21, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    Thank you Merle for your vision and service! You inspire me ! Blessings beautiful lady! Your a powerful and examplify happiness in any storm !

  4. Lorinda Bartlett on January 22, 2018 at 7:52 am

    Beautiful Merle. Thanks for sharing such an amazing experience.

  5. Sandi on January 22, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    Thank you Merle for sharing your Ethiopian adventure with us. I loved learning about the people and the culture through your eyes and photos.
    Watching them dance was poignant and the way you described the people of this land was inspirational. Your post is informative and exciting and so glad you chose to go after all and renew your own spirit.

  6. Nancy on January 26, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    What a great post! I learned so much about a place I knew nothing of. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Love you!

  7. Merle McKinley on January 27, 2018 at 10:36 am

    I am so pleased that you enjoyed this blog. Now that some time has passed, I am remembering the trip with deeper appreciation for the people and the mystery that is life. I will be posting a few more of my stories from Ethiopia in the next month.

  8. Cindy Lubar Bishop on February 1, 2018 at 10:03 am

    What an informative, beautiful account of an extraordinary experience! Am moved by and grateful for your wonderful description of the trip, of the country, its people, the Aikido ‘visitors’ and your impressions, and the helpful inclusion of map, photos, and poignant, illuminating videos. Thank you!

  9. Michelle Keip on February 7, 2018 at 7:34 pm

    Dear Merle, thank you for making this courageous journey to support the people of Aikido in their desire to incorporate Aikido in their communities. Thanks for sharing your direct experience, the stories you heard and your deep feelings. Blessings on your path of beauty.

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