So, tickets have been bought. I'm registered to run. I've started soliciting sponsors to raise funds for my favorite charity. I've been in touch with my contacts in Ethiopia. I'm so excited I can't sleep.
Should I back up, maybe start at the beginning of this story? No, that's too far because it starts over 50 years ago.
I'll try to summarize what has brought me to this day.
Ethiopia has always had a specil place in my heart because the first memories I have of anything are of Ethiopia, its sunlight, its mountain air, eucalyptus trees, donkeys, injera and wot, and the music of the Amharic language being spoken all around me. My parents were missionaries there many years ago, and even though we left before my 5th birthday, I could never shake my memories. After many, many years, when I finally went to an Ethiopian restaurant in Washington, DC, the perfume of berbere and incense and coffee took me right back to my childhood in a physical, deeply visceral response that was incredibly intense!
Then again many intervening years ... and I found myself shattered as my marriage fell apart. My wonderful family doctor, who had been a family friend for decades, wisely suggested that something that might help in my healing process would be a return to my roots. Not my Finnish roots, where I actually feel myself to be a complete stranger in many ways, but my African roots, the places where I spent my earliest childhood years. That idea planted itself in my head then, but it was again many years before I could do anything about it.
I've always written stories and I started to write down stories for my granddaughter about my childhood memories. But I had questions. There were things I wasn't sure I remembered or if I was making them up. I asked my mother. It was she who declared sensibly that I must go back to Ethiopia. But I don't think even she could have predicted how strongly Ethiopia would resonate with me when I did go back in 2007, how wildly and passionately my love for the country would flare up again.
In planning for that 2007 trip, I came across a travel blog of cyclists who had along the way on their trip, participated in the annual Great Ethiopian Run. The Run was not to be for me for about 3 years, but I started running, training on my own at first, then joining clinics offered by the Running Room here in Whitby this year. I ran some 5 km races, some 10 km races, a 1/4 marathon, then the Scotia half-marathon in September. Way back in January of this year, I also registered for the 10 km Great Ethipian Run, not sure how I'd manage, but determined that this was my year to finally do it.
In the meantime, I had discovered the marvelous work of Yohannes Gebregeorgis and the Ethiopia Reads foundation.
Anybody who knows me, knows that I love my books. I cannot imagine my childhood without books. I have many wonderful memories of discoveries I made about books and through books! I even still have a very tattered set of illustrated Golden Nature Guides, that I treasure for the memories of many hours spent looking through them on Saturday afternoons as a child. Not only was our house filled with books, but visits to the library quickly became a part of my life as well.
Ah the magic of books, the smell of them, the way they feel in your hands, whether they have beautiful illustrations or not, the music of language that they can bring, the far-away, magically places to which books can transport you.
How I loved the thrill of reading the mysterious, melodious words describing how Robert L. Stevenson's Elephant Child in the Just So Stories comes at last “to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, precisely as Kolokolo Bird had said…”, as just one of many, many examples!
What is truly shocking, actually is, that Ethiopia is a country that prides itself on an ancient literate history, yet, today's culture is largely illiterate. Ah, you see young students everywhere carrying a notebook. But books are scarce as hens' teeth. And children's books practically non-existent.
I believe strongly that education is the way out of the aching misery of much of the third world and I think many experts on poverty agree that education is vital for improving the lives particularly of women and children. It is almost a given that if the mother reads, her children will learn to read. And how important literacy is just to manage in this world today, never mind having any hope of a better future. How is a worker going to read warning instructions on the proper use of machinery? How can information on AIDS/HIV prevention be quickly disseminated? How much vital information is on the labels of vials of medications, containers of chemicals? Now matter how electronic our age might be, literacy is still intrinsic to the communication of information, knowledge, wisdom and culture.
But even more importantly, I believe reading is a most excellent way to give children the opportunity to see a world of possibilities beyond their current material realities. Without imagination, nothing great has ever been achieved. What better than books to spark imaginations?
I'm not keen on campaigns against anything. I believe that only perpetuates the negative. I much more excited by campaigns for something, like literacy. Please visit the Ethiopia Reads website. Maybe you too will enjoy meeting Queen Helina, who is, in my opinion, a very important donkey! Maybe you too will be thrilled to read of the children who are able, through this program, to hold a pretty book in their hands for the first time, to learn to read, and to discover new worlds! And maybe you too, will understand why I love this opportunity to help, through asking you to donate and help the Ethiopia Reads organization.
You can donate through their website, by phone (the number is on the site), by mail (they have a printable mail-in form you can download). If I see you in person, I'll ask you to sponsor me on my run. Or you can go on Facebook where Ethiopia Reads is now one of the charities that members support.