Team Kiwi 09 Jimma

When travelling to a foreign country I rarely bring expectations along with me, as these are often formed from highly dubious sources like mass media, and will usually be proved incorrect, perhaps even causing a few days of unnecessary confusion while I adjust to reality.  

When heading to Ethiopia with Habitat for Humanity recently, I tried hard to enter the country with a clean slate, ready to experience things as I found them.  This is quite hard in the case of Ethiopia, however, bombarded as we have been over the years with countless images of starving children, desert landscape, war and poverty.  To be sure all these things exist in Ethiopia, although less in the fertile highlands we visited than in other parts of the land.  Ready to visit a land of poverty and hardship, I was not prepared for discovering a remarkable wealth, less measurable than money, but something I nevertheless was profoundly affected by and now long for each day I spend in my life back home.

Is it possible to measure the wealth of a country by the beauty of its landscape? If so, then Ethiopia is truly rich.  Incredibly rugged mountains, crowned by clear skies, deep gorges, wide rivers, caves and vast grassy plains, riches both above and below the red earth.

Can wealth be measured by the beauty of the people?  If perfect skin and bone structure could be exported, Ethiopia would be a world superpower.  Ethiopia must have some of the most beautiful women I have ever seen,  albeit modestly dressed, strong and hardworking, with an innate sense of grace and dignity.  The men are strong and friendly, with flashing white smiles, and their own proud traditions.  Children are openly curious, ready to talk to strangers with no fear of harm. The smiling faces of the kids and eagerness to help with even the most mundane building chores, graduating to wild excitement when there are games to be played or photos to be taken.

In this community of such people can be found the true wealth of the country for a visitor to appreciate.  You are rarely alone, or lonely in Ethiopia; you are part of a huge social web, constantly in touch with others. There is always someone to talk to, someone to have coffee with, to share problems with, to party with.  

Now back in Sydney, returned to a job I love, but which nonetheless demands much time and focus, I find myself feeling that our lives here are somewhat cold and lonely in comparison, so work focused with real reliable friends difficult to make and keep in the city.  Obviously our lives are safer, healthier, and luxuries more readily available.  

This is our wealth. The wealth of Ethiopia lies not in the material, but in the spiritual, not measured in possessions or professional accomplishment, but in belonging and personal generosity.  Not sure if I could make the adjustment to the harder life of Jimma, but I know that the community I was part of for those few weeks of hard work will have a place in my heart always, and the distance between us a void which only a return trip can fill.
Paul GoldingTeam Jimma 2009

Trip photos can be seen here.

Team Kiwi Sponsers 2009