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.
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.
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.
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.
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.