How do you build a lifeboat in the middle of a stormy sea?


By the end of my first week my family drives to the Longano Resort, which is on a volcanic lake. We plan to stay for four days through the Western Christmas Day. Our second day in Longano we drive through a string of towns southward to explore the area which includes land donated by Haile Salassie to Jamaicans and African Americans for their support during the war with the Italians. The villages are: Dole, Arsinegelle, Kuyera, Melka Oda, Shashamene, Tikur Wusha, & Awasa. Our end point was a resort hotel on another lake two hours from Longano called Lewi where we had a fantastic lunch.

We pass Chinese and Ethiopian industrial collaborations. About 40 minutes into our trip we spot a naked youth, maybe 18 or so, looking like some ancient Kouri statuary come-to-life. He is at the entrance of one of those 21st Century factories sprung up here to make some fast profit…for somebody. The boy seems to be raving and dancing. He embodies an exquisite black beauty from head to toes. I have no idea what this was about, unless some Ancestor spirit was speaking through him. Who could hear? Who could translate what was trying to be known through him. “Crazy people” pay a heavy price in industrial civilization.

Eventually I see the traditional gojos, cylinder-shaped adobe structures with grass-thatched roofs and wooden or straw mat doors. Often these houses are at the center of what most of us would recognize as a compound that might also contain a small corral for goats, sheep, donkeys or cattle. Goats and sheep nonetheless seem to wander at will grazing wherever they want. Sometimes they are with a youth or adult herder, sometimes not. I was told that usually the herds are branded, people know who each animal belongs and the animals naturally know where home is and return home with a herder or not. At night animals need to return to shelters to avoid being the meal of hyenas that come out at night. Sometimes hyenas can be heard at night, just like our wolves in northern Minnesota sing to each other or the full moon.

Past and present are so intertwined here. I understand why my Ethiopian sisters love to leave the agitation of the Addis Ababa. Longano Lake is beautiful. Life slows down. We share meals with family friends and have long conversations. My nephews have to deal with adults correcting them throughout the day at every turn, but there are also hugs, kisses, stories and intergenerational listening to one another. Sometimes the wisdom of 6-year-old Kenfa and Leelye is startling.

On this journey plastic refuse follows us well into the countryside on this two-plus-hour drive. It’s like “civilization” just won’t let go. Despite that nagging ugliness, blessings keep asserting into this adventure. I have two very positive encounters with members of Ethiopia’s Rasta community. The first is with Mother Jones at her Jamaican restaurant. My sister Elsa loves the food and Mother Jones. They are warm, friendly and welcoming. It’s like meeting old friends…we smile, we touch and embrace easily. The Jamaicans feel like relatives, like fellow captives. We have a shared history. The second is with Ambrose King who has been here some 27 years and speaks with a thick West Indian accent, but also speaks Amharic. He is a part of the Ethiopian World Federation (an off shot of the Garvey Movement) and the International Community School based in Addis since 1964. He and I will surely continue to communicate. It felt like the beginning of a much longer conversation and maybe collaboration.

I keep thinking about the interplay between what’s called “development” and the living environment. I contemplate how quickly the poor are impacted by extreme weather and that wealthier people seem to have a comfort zone that buffers them from harsher realties. I am concerned about the challenge of climate change and our ability to survive as a species amongst other species. This question keeps coming to mind: How do you build a lifeboat in the middle of a stormy sea?