Rich Tradition Meets the Future: Ethiopia Part 1

Experiences in Ethiopia  ~  September 25 to October 5, 2014

We were hosted in Ethiopia by the gracious Weub Eshetu and her family.  At Weub’s encouragement, our travel to Addis Ababa was specifically planned to coincide with the Meskel, one of the largest celebrations in Ethiopia.  On our first day in Addis, Weub and her husband, Berham, picked us up at the B&B where we stayed and after a magnificent traditional lunch, took us to the Celebration of the Meskel.

[Of course these are OUR experiences, NOT an objective reporting of the culture or politics of Ethiopia.]

The Ethiopian Meskel celebration has been designated by UNESCO as an  Intangible World Heritage.  It celebrates the Finding of the True Cross.  The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has been preserving this festival for the past 1600 years.  Constantine’s mother, Queen Helena, received a vision that she should make a bonfire and the smoke would show her where the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified had been buried.

The celebration, to this day, is held outside.  A large pyramid (Demera) is constructed of tree branches and the finale of the celebration is the setting afire of this pyramid.  After the bonfire is lit, Priests in full ceremonial dress sing around the bonfire.  All who are around it experience an inner feeling of brightness.  The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church expressed the intent of the celebration In this way:   “Today we celebrate the Meskel with the intent to renew our vows continually to exert efforts to realize the spiritual development and peace missions of the nation.”   From the Official Guide book at the Festival.

The confrontation of cultures ~ What learning is available at these edges!  I’ve long understood that one of the values of travel was gaining a different perspective on one’s own culture.  Two of these experiences were quite powerful.

“Separation of Church and State” a basic building block of our government – is something we learn from some of our earliest social studies classes.  However, being in a culture where religion, Eastern Orthodox Christianity is part of the very fabric of their social structure highlights just how “separate” our government and our religion is and suggests how difficult it is for us to understand those whose culture and religion are inseparable.

The religious pageantry, worship, celebration enfolds all of their life – personal and collective – in a larger spiritual context..  Large churches are everywhere and regular attendance at services is very important to many.  The impact of their involvement seems to be reflected in personal values of respect for others.

The other cultural confrontation that provided insight into my own culture was around machines!  (smile)    I think of our culture as mechanistic, but more in terms of step by step, sequential, thinking, appreciation of reason and logic over intuition.  In Ethiopia I realized how much we actually love machines!   As we drove through Addis, and through the countryside, where pedestrians, cars, donkeys, sheep, horses and huge trucks all shared the road, I realized anew how the only animals we allow into our lives are the cats and dogs we have as pets.

We heard complaints that when machines – whether buses or medical equipment – quite working, no one wanted to fix them.  I sensed a huge difference in the basic relationship to machines!  Yes, I’m glad to have folks in my culture who can fix my car, but I also am aware of the loss when we embrace our machines – whether cars or smart phones or computers – more fully than we do ensuring that we have time to be with friends and family.

Lots of “friends and family time for us in Ethiopia!   Some pix of Weub’s family:










Weub’s family was so welcoming and open.  Her mother presided over the Coffee Ceremony, and then invited me to participate.  On another day we had lunch at Weub’s home with her husband, Berham, and childen, Abrigail and Johannus.

Overall, the angst I feel is around “development.”  How much “we” – all of us – have to learn about how our rich traditions and current technologies can somehow complement one another for the greater good.    I have seen few examples to guide us – – – HOWEVER – – – I have discovered a philosophy of development that warms my heart and brings renewed intention to help create a healthy collective vision of development.  Perhaps some of you already know of this organization, Global Engagement.



While defining development in terms of economic growth is still fashionable, already the Greek philosopher Aristotle acknowledged that “wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else”. At GEI, our understanding of development has been greatly influenced by Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen and his influential thesis Development as Freedom. According to him, development is all about expanding the choices people have to lead lives that they value, and improving the human condition so that people will get the chance to lead full lives. This understanding of development constitutes the foundation for all of our high-impact programs.”

 More tomorrow…


1 reply
  1. Judy Mieger
    Judy Mieger says:

    Greetings, dear Manu Barb—-what an Incredible Journey you are on. Your experiences with Weub are fascinating. We read about the True Cross last year in EfM studies—and you have brought it all to life for me. Such richness, despite carbon-dating… I will share this with my class. THANK YOU! Travel safe. I know you are spreading love everywhere you go as you share and soak up wisdom.
    Manu J.

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