As the saying goes, “You won’t know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you came from.” As an American-born girl who is of Ethiopian origin, I believe it is important to keep in touch with my roots. In addition to speaking Amharic fluently, and participating in cultural holidays, I visit the land my parents emigrated from, Ethiopia.
Currently, I am in the capital city, Addis Ababa. During each trip, I notice how much the country has grown. Ethiopia has been stereotyped as a famine-stricken nation. Outsiders may gather their opinions about the country from “Feed My Starving Children” infomercials, where families live in slums, and flies lie on helpless, dying children. For some this is a sad reality, but to be clear, this is not what all of Ethiopia looks like. Contrary to its stereotype, Ethiopia is believed to be one of the fastest growing countries in Africa. Businesses are booming in each corner, while construction for new buildings, roads and a subway system take place.
During this trip, I wanted to learn more about my Ethiopian heritage and family. I visited museums and sought details, specifically about the 1896 Battle of Adwa, when Ethiopians defeated efforts of Italian colonization. This battle was not just significant for Ethiopia, but for other African nations that experienced colonization. Interestingly, during this war, Ethiopians did not have advanced weapons, while the Italians did. Also, during this time women were viewed as submissive, but still, they had the opportunity to fight in the war.
During my stay, I was able to partake in two holidays: Ethiopian Christmas, “Genna,” and the baptism of Jesus, “Timket.” People on the streets wore traditional Ethiopian dresses, and families gathered in their homes to feast.
To celebrate “Timket,” Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast for weeks. People attend church in the mornings to pray. Additionally, the streets are decorated with Ethiopian flags everywhere, while children only attend school until noon. Roads are closed as a replica of the Ark of the Covenant passes through to arrive at its designated area. There, it will spend three nights with a high priest.
Although indulging in Ethiopian food and spending time with family have been wonderful, the highlight of my trip was visiting an ancient Orthodox church in the region of Gojjam. At the church, I saw a painting of my grandfather, Chekol Reta. I have never met him, nor have I seen a picture of him. The father of the church informed me of how Reta helped establish it. To say I was moved to see this painting is an understatement.
During my three weeks in Ethiopia, I have experienced non-stop traffic, beautiful sunshine, warm greetings with handshakes and kisses, and people filled with eagerness to grow as a nation. I look forward to visiting Ethiopia in the coming years and witnessing a growing country that has still not forgotten about its history and culture.
Eden Checkol can be reached at email@example.com.