Don’t Forget to Smile: 5 Lessons Ethiopia Taught Me

A few months ago, I started google-ing random countries trying to figure out “where to next?”

I came across a random article that briefly talked about the rock churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia and it was settled. I got in touch with a travel agent, planned my tour, booked my ticket, and was all set. I started counting down the days until I got on that plane to Addis Ababa. I should mention, though, that while I personally was incredibly excited to visit this incredible country (of course, I had done my research), no one else around me seemed to share my enthusiasm.

As a matter of fact, most people tried to dissuade me from going because —as I found out— about only a handful of people truly know anything about Ethiopia.

Nonetheless, I decided to venture into the unknown, regardless, and looking back, I definitely made the right choice. As a matter of fact, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Other than the stunning rock churches which first piqued my interest, the more time I spent roaming around the towns and villages of Ethiopia, the more I realized that while there are beautiful monuments to see, the true beauty of this country lies in the heart of its people, to whom I am incredibly grateful for reminding me of some long-lost valuable lessons.

Lesson #1: Take Things Slowly

While some may criticize Ethiopians for moving too slowly sometimes (admittedly, it did frustrate me during the first couple of days), there’s a reason why “stop and smell the roses” is a worldwide cliché. Amidst the hustle and bustle of our daily lives in the big city, we tend to rush… to meet deadlines, appointments… you name it, and we tend to forget that we sometimes need to take a deep breath, pause and just look around.

Lesson #2: Smile… ALWAYS

Such a simple, universal human expression –yet is very powerful. While it is common knowledge to most of us that it is important to smile, we sometimes forget about it. We greet friends, co-workers and loved ones with frowns and nonchalance, not because we want to, but because we have too much on our plates sometimes. However, that doesn’t make it ok. I’ve seen an elderly man climb up the Simian Mountains (much faster than me), carrying piles on his back, melting in the blazing sun and he still managed to smile at me. So with all the comfort that we have, what’s our excuse for not doing the same? Which takes me to lesson number three:

Lesson #3: Be Grateful

Not once (and I mean not one, single time) did I encounter anyone who was complaining. Every person I met was genuinely grateful for what he or she had –no matter how “insignificant” or minimal– they were still grateful. That brought forth a light I had forgotten about… an innate happiness that each of them carried along within themselves.

Lesson #4: Be Kind

Seems like a no-brainer, but in this day and age, we sometimes forget to be kind… to others and to ourselves. We have become accustomed to criticism and scrutiny that when faced with kindness we are genuinely surprised. In some cases, we even doubt the kind person’s intentions because we have forgotten what it’s like to feel and spread kindness. Many of us have become our own worst critics, myself included. But if we cannot be kind to ourselves how can we be kind to others?

Lesson #5: Be True

There seemed to be an unwritten law amidst Ethiopians that emphasized: being true. In other words, not hiding behind a mask and not covering up whatever seemed unpresentable in the eyes of spectators… and I truly found that admirable. They do not cover up truths to impress outsiders, nor do they cover up habits or traditions, because they are truly proud of whom they are. They own their flaws with incredible grace, while working tremendously hard to better themselves and their community. Unlike many other third world countries, they do not try to cover up muddy roads with temporary bricks; nor do they falsify their appearance. They own their flawed truth and that makes them remarkable.

Till this very moment, every time I tell someone that I just got back from Ethiopia, they still make big eyes at me… and then the tornado of identical questions hit me. While I can keep going on and on about exactly why everyone should consider adding Ethiopia to their bucket list, words do fail me to a certain extent. Out of all of the countries I visited, only a few cannot be truly described in words —no matter how well you wield them— and this incredible country is one of them. I left a piece of my heart in the valleys of Axum, and with the “lion” monkeys on the Simien mountains, as I shared mouth-watering Injeras with incredibly kind humans in some random street café, as I drove across the Adwa mountain range.

I will be forever grateful for my Ethiopian experience and to the people I met along the way who —at a time when I needed it most— managed to remind me of the five lessons I so desperately needed to revisit.

With a strong passion in the arts, Hend Seif El Din obtained her BA in Journalism and MA in English and Comparative Literature. An Artist, ex-Editor, and Marketing Communications Professional.




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