Yesterday is probably going to be one of the most memorable days of my entire life.
What do you think of when you think of your nationality? Being “Ethiopian” is somewhat vague. Within the country, there are people from around 80 different “nationalities”, with different languages, beliefs, clothes and ways of living. Every year, representatives from each ethnicity come together in one place for a celebration and demonstration of the varying cultures across Ethiopia.
I’m not gonna lie, a significant proportion of the event seemed fairly focussed on government propaganda. Businesses were told to close, to be able to give full attention to the arriving dignitaries. The main event was held in the new but not quite yet completed stadium in Assosa. The most spectacular thing that happened seemed to be a helicopter arriving, delivering a trophy, and then flying out again. That’s pretty impressive any where, let alone Assosa. We were late arriving and were not able to gain access into the stadium itself, but that turned out to be a good thing. Firstly because we didn’t have to sit through all of the speeches, but mainly because where we ended up wandering to, was where all the ethnic groups were waiting, lined up, to go in.
Lined up on the side of the road were hundreds of people packed in, watching, photographing and enjoying seeing the brightly clothed people. I’ve never been overly comfortable with taking photos of people, and human tourism in general, so I originally stayed on the sidelines, crushed around the others, all cramming to get a good view. However, as a group of four, one of my friends bravely stepped out of the crowd and into the road, and started snapping away. Another friend, an expert linguist, saw some people who she had previously worked with on their language, so went and had a chat. I plucked up the courage and relied of the power of my smile, (and of course my ferenji skin) and followed the others out of the crowd and into the queuing ethnic groups. I feel a bit bad that I got away this this because I’m a ferenji, but I’m also incredibly grateful.
It was amazing. The atmosphere was incredible, with everyone lively, positive and in a good mood. They were dancing, playing their instruments, and this was before they were to “go on stage”. The general vibe was that they were proud of their culture, and wanted to share it with whoever was interested. They eagerly posed for photos, getting our attention where possible, and more often than not, grabbing the ferenji to pose with them, snapping away on phones and cameras of their own.
I could go on writing about it, but I’m pretty sure the pictures will do a way better job than my words. I’m going to start with my favourite photo – sometimes I’m guilty of seeing people so different in appearance from what I’m used to, and a part of me forgets that they are just people too. I’m not denying that their lives might be somewhat different to my own, but they’ll still work, have friends, family, and in many cases, need to arrange where to meet their friends using their mobile phones, no matter whether they have a ginormous spear or not!
It’s amazing just how varied being an “Ethiopian” is. It was such a privilege to be part of the celebration.