Simien mountains, Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a country that still fills my heart. I took a memorable eight-day trip to Ethiopia with G-Adventures, the National Geographic tour operator that teaches what exploration with purpose means, in August 2019.

Travel with Purpose

Travel with purpose is not exploration where you leisurely look for easy to discover and easily discarded moments. It’s the exploration that becomes a part of your soul. Travel  with purpose is exploration steeped in awe that instills deep respect toward new surroundings. You may even get to help the communities or their projects along the way, but I believe that travel with purpose begins with the exploration of the traveler herself.

The purpose is to understand and accept and especially, respect, our differences as human beings. It is an incredible journey outside and inside oneself because the reality in front of you becomes the reality inside of you. No doubt a place that you had longed to explore, but that you may have been afraid of encountering.

Ethiopia was extreme in many ways. It was a country of immense greenery (I visited during the rainy season), ancient Queen of Sheba ruins, and of the majestic Semien mountains populated by Gelada monkeys who only live at the crazy altitudes of the Ethiopian highlands (close to 15,000 ft.). I stayed at a lodge that is supposedly at the highest altitude in Africa, the Simien Lodge, at more than 10,000 ft, and, as a person with asthma, breathing was complicated. And so were the conditions. Rain, and then again, rain.

Unity of Spirit

But, the 5 am St Mary of Zion’s replica Ark procession that I attended in AThe 5 am St. Mary of Zion’s replica Ark procession paraded through the streets surrounding the church compound to request forgiveness from God. The spectacle taught me that the intensity of the unity of all human beings. The pre-dawn procession was a nomadic river of people holding their candles as they walked behind the Ark and circled back around to the beginning of the parade. This flow of candles and white-robed praying devotees walking in the procession repeated again and again.The surreal experience of walking with whomever we were, locals and tourists alike brought a resurgence of feelings of unity and peace, even as daylight wouldn’t descend for hours. Soon afterward an unspeakable darkness would soon descend in my life, the untimely death of my son Blaise. I think back to this special point in time that the universe gifted me such an uplifting moment for my spirit. It’s as if it wanted to gently cradle me, knowing how I would suffer.

Ethiopia taught me so much and in such a short period of time. A country of beauty, of the richness of the soul, and of real poverty, Ethiopia is a country that is very observant of their religion. People go to church daily, sometimes even for two hours a day. Old people who can not stand up properly during functions bring a cane so that they can rest their head while they are standing during the very, very long sermons.

Possibly one of the poorest countries in the world. I lost myself looking at the poorest orphans in the streets, begging for just a smile. It went beyond asking for food. They were asking for a real connection.

In just eight days, Ethiopia taught me what richness of the soul means. Lessons I will take with me for the rest of my life. During a time when  I collected inspirational, vocational, and transformational stories for my writings, I experienced first-hand the true inner beauty that comes from people who are naturally so interconnected, welcoming, and loving toward foreigners. It was a pleasure to witness the unity of spirit, and the connectedness between the locals who supported one another economically and on a soul level. Their Amharic language is beautiful and melodic.

It went beyond a religious experience. Ethiopia, one of the “poorest” countries in the world,  taught me what real values and riches are.

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