…conjures up visions of a land far away; of mystery and beauty… of conflicts and challenges; of a proud people… of faith and fortitude… In my (very short) trip there I experienced all of that – and much more.
I was fortunate to recently go with the Montgomery County Sister Cities Delegation to establish a “sister city” relationship with Gondar, Ethiopia. What a wonderful program! What a noble expectation! (And, what wonderful group to travel with!) On September 27, 2012 the official agreement was signed by County Executive Isaiah Leggett, in the presence of key representatives from the delegation. (Official pictures will be available soon.) We were able to capture some of it on video as well. See HERE. (Yes, there was music and dancing as part of the ceremony, of course!) NOTE: All County staff paid their own way and took vacation time. No County funding paid for staff time or travel.
Upon our arrival at the Addis Ababa Airport we felt the exhilaration of what awaited us. See HERE. Our laughter and joy spoke louder than words. The every-day street scenes of the various places we visited conveyed a sense of a life full of activity and a vibrant culture that while different from ours, has many similarities with our every-day aspirations of community members everywhere. See HERE… And the landscape – wow! The beautiful landscape we saw from the air and from the roads! See HERE.
When we finally arrived in Gondar we were received by the beautiful local pageantry singing, dancing, and joy. See HERE and HERE. (Some in the delegation were not too shy at all in joining in the celebration!)
Our hosts shared with us in many ways, taking us to site visits to experience some of their fine institutions – and institutional challenges. Our delegation included representatives from Montgomery College, so we had the opportunity to visit Gondar University. See HERE. The University now has over 20,000 students – and they are building to add an additional 20,000+ students in the coming years. We also visited schools and clinics - see HERE – as well as the site for a major hospital under construction. See HERE.
In the mist of all the hard work, there was also fun at work. We were joined by the Mayor of Gondar and other dignitaries at a dinner reception to celebrate the official signing of the agreement. See HERE. We shared at a “cultural” restaurant where traditional song-and-dance came alive. See HERE. And, we were privilege to see a ‘show’ by one of the few local “non-governmental organizations” active in the area – a youth serving group. See HERE.
Faith and culture are inseparable – and that was evidently clear in Gondar as we experienced one of the many annual faith celebrations, the Finding of the Cross (Meskel.) The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is an integral part of the Ethiopian Culture and faith celebrations are town celebrations. The celebration starts with processions throughout the town. One happened to be right in front of our hotel. See HERE. It culminates with a huge gathering in the town square. See HERE.
The richness of Ethiopian culture is preserved in its many historical sites. We saw but a few of these, including the Selassie Church (see HERE) and Gondar Castle (see HERE), the great obelisks in Axum (see HERE), and some of the amazing churches in Lalibela (see HERE.) These sites accentuate the depth of the Ethiopian heritage, and celebrate a proud history that is all too often not included in much of our westernized education.
After all is said and done, by far the most lasting impression I will carry from the visit is that of the Ethiopian people. Their entrepreneurship spirit, their determination to live a faithful life fully – and their authentic hospitality and smile. (See HERE.)
It was easy to be ‘shutter-happy’, so I took over 1000 pictures, about 600 of which seemed to merit keeping… They are cataloged by themes (the delegation, festival, health and education, historic sites, landscape, and street scenes.) There are available for viewing HERE. On that same link you’ll find all videos referenced above, plus a few others. (Many others in the delegation took pictures as well… We’ll add links to this site as they become available on-line.)
So, what does this mean back in Silver Spring? I am convinced that this glimpse of Ethiopia will help me better understand, appreciate, work with, and embrace our Ethiopian community here at home. As we work towards establishing a ‘sister city’ relationship between Montgomery County and Gondar, I am convinced we will also be strengthening our very own community fabric right here in Silver Spring. After all, it is this tapestry of cultures, backgrounds, and experiences that makes Silver Spring such an amazingly vibrant and “alive” place to call home!