Karen Walrond is a writer and photographer. She has appeared on both local and national television shows and other media including CNN.com and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Karen is the author of Chookooloonks, an award-winning photoblog. She traveled to Ethiopia with ONE in October. This piece, originally published on Babble, is part of ONE's coverage of the trip.
It's been a long time, hasn't it? Too long, I'll wager. When last we spoke, I was waxing poetic about why I love international travel, right before leaving for an epic journey to Ethiopia at the invitation and expense of The One Campaign. Since then, I've had a full course of malaria medicine, dealt with a massive bout of jet lag and had a fabulous adventure. It was, of course, amazing.
I've also had time to reflect on my trip. I've traveled a lot in my life, and I'm always surprised by the new revelations I have every time I visit someplace new. And so, for today's Bliss Your Heart, I thought I'd share my top five lessons that I'm grateful Ethiopia taught me.
1. The language of children's laughter is universal.
The main language that is spoken in Ethiopia is Amharic, and has its own characters, Amharic Fidel -- which is to say that it was completely foreign to my eyes and ears. We were lucky that for the most part, we had people who were bilingual who helped us navigate language barriers; otherwise, it could have been very difficult to communicate.
But one language that felt universal? Listening to the children giggle and laugh and play. Closing my eyes to listen to them, I could have been anywhere: Ethiopia, my homeland of Trinidad, or even here in Houston, where I'm writing this now. There is just something about kids' laughter, man. It might be the very best sound in the world.
2. Holy places stir the soul, whether or not you practice a religion.
While in Ethiopia, I had the opportunity to visit Holy Trinity Cathedral, an Ethiopian Orthodox cathedral in the capital city where former Emperor Haile Selassie is entombed. It was an amazing, spiritual place, and I admit feeling a bit of a thrill as I touched the emperor's sarcophagus. While I'm obviously not Ethiopian Orthodox, there is no question that I knew that I was on sacred ground, and I felt very humbled and small as I toured the building.
Also? There's nothing like waking in the very early morning to the sound of call to prayer being sung in the distance. It feels like a celestial reminder that everything's gonna be all right.
3. Sometimes the everyday should be elevated to ceremony.
Coffee is ubiquitous in Ethiopia, and we were told early on in our visit that if we are invited for coffee, plan to set aside at least an hour: A proper coffee ceremony takes some time and is considered a true sign of friendship. It is also a feast for the senses: The coffee beans are roasted on an open fire, incense is burned and sometimes even popcorn is popped. And the final result, of course, is positively delicious.
This is such a contrast to how coffee is viewed in the United States, where it's something that is "grabbed" on the way out of the door, many folks drink "instant" coffee and coffee places even have drive-thrus! Coffee, though also everywhere here, is something to be rushed. I loved how this everyday thing in Ethiopia was a reason to slow down and connect.
I hope to include more like this ritual in my life, as well.
4. Kids love seeing photographs of themselves.
God bless the digital camera: Even when we didn't share the same language, sharing a photograph was an instant connector. And I couldn't help but notice how delighted the children were to see themselves on the screens in the backs of our cameras -- every time, they would dissolve in delighted giggles! Such a refreshing change from photographing adults here at home, where invariably the response is "Oh, I look horrible."
As a photographer, I know it's always so encouraging to hear that someone enjoyed the photograph I took of her -- but there's an even more important lesson to be learned here. It was so lovely to watch these kids delight in the capturing of the moment, as opposed to being focused on their physicality. After all, the entire purpose of photography is to capture a moment in time, in our lives -- and in my opinion, life moments should always be celebrated.
5. There is very little more joyful than dance.
And dance, we all certainly did.
It's good to be back, friends. And tell me -- what life lessons has travel taught you? I'd love if you'd share in the comments!
I spent a week in Ethiopia at the kind invitation and expense of The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. ONE works to convince governments to invest in smart programs that help eliminate poverty and preventable disease in a sustainable way. I was supporting a group of parenting bloggers by capturing images that tell the story of how the organizations for which ONE advocates are effecting real change in Ethiopia.
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