144 Hours in Ethiopia: Africa Remembers
Editor's Note: During a recent trip to Ethiopia, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton experienced rural areas outside the country's capitol as he travelled to Negele Borena by car. Negele Borena is the site of the only bridge in Ethiopia built by Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. It spans a dangerous river, which claims the lives of roughly three people every year. The completed bridge will allow the local people and livestock to cross the river without fear of being swept away by its strong currents during the rainy season.
The long car ride to Negele Borena afforded Denton the opportunity to see a people very different from the stereotypical images most Americans have of Ethiopians. He described the journey as a discovery of the soul of its people.
This is the fourth part of a four-part series: 144 Hours in Ethiopia.
The final leg of my four-day journey was coming to an end where it had begun, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I had travelled through Hawassa to Negele Borena and back again. Throughout this life-altering journey one theme seemed to repeat itself: Africa remembers.
From the people rushing through the city streets, dodging traffic to make appointments, to the farmers in the field tending crops with basic tools, to the students crossing the recently completed bridge in Negele Borena, the Ethiopian people demonstrate their capacity for a long memory through actions and dedication to their cousins.
"Things in this country take a long time to accomplish," said Adissu Wedhao, local national employed at the U.S. Embassy to Ethiopia. "We must keep a long memory to make sure the projects we start get finished."
Wedhao pointed out people along the side of the road, carrying goods on their backs as they rushed to the nearest market. They weren't slow to work - they were precise and methodical. Their work ethic was evident in everything from the handmade cobblestone road in Hawassa to the wheat fields harvested by completely manual labor.
Even though the long-term memory of Africa is still prevalent in society, the perception of time is changing in Ethiopia, he said. Urban areas, as they deal more with international trade relations, are placing more of an emphasis on punctuality based on the needs of their customer, Wedhao continued. The rural stretches of land still operate under the traditional assumptions of time, which are based more on natural timetables.
"The fish market opens early, to catch fish and sell it to the people," he said, recalling the market in Hawassa, which borders a lake, teeming with local wildlife. "Throughout the day the fishermen go out and cast their nets when the fish are most active."
Wedhao said the fish, not the market's customers, dictate the day's schedule. Remembering the market, Wedhao described the fishermen preparing their nets in their handmade boats, ready to venture out for the second catch of the day. He said they will immediately take any excess catch and rush it to the surrounding markets.
"They must be fast so the fish does not go bad," he said. "They have always done it this way. It's tradition."
Even with advances in technology, the traditions of the past are still maintained thanks to a long-standing oral history.
"Our elders pass along a lot of history to us," Wedhao said. "Our traditions are important."
These traditions include the stories of relationships built between the people of Ethiopia and the United States, he continued. The Negele Borena Bridge is an example of a collaborative project between the two nations, which will live on through the culture's oral history.
"It's been 40 years since U.S. service members have been to Negele Borena," said U.S. Army Major Andre Allen, U.S. Embassy to Ethiopia civil affairs team liaison officer. "This bridge is the only one the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa has built in Ethiopia and Negele got it. They will always remember this."
Allen's words reinforced the theme of this trip. Long after the U.S. Navy Sailors and U.S. Army Soldiers, who built the bridge, have left the story of its construction will endure. The legacy of the relationship forged in Negele will be passed down to today's children, who will become tomorrow's elders. Even as the cities grow and people branch out into the world, Wedhao said one thing remains constant: Africa remembers.