Ethiopia, Day 3: I Have Taught My Hands How

It’s an hour and a half drive to school everyday. That’s how long it takes to get from the area’s only reasonable hotel (“reasonable” meaning no fleas) to the Kololo school. About half of the way is a Ethiopian massage road — that’s code for a very bumpy dirt road. It’s beautiful countryside the whole way, and my artist mind is taking it all in the whole way.

Today, driving back from another lovely day making art with the sweet ones, seemed extra long. It could have been exhaustion, maybe a full bladder; it was extra hot today. I don’t know why, but it felt longer, and that got me to thinking. Before this school was built in Kololo by Ethiopia Reads, there were only schools that took hours to walk to and, as I understand it, one or two kids actually did that. Remember when your parents used to say, “I used to walk hours to school in bare feet, uphill both ways”? Well, some kids pretty much do. At least half of the students in Kololo are in fact barefoot, and had they walked hours to school in this mountainous region, it would have big hills both ways. Yet, some kids consider themselves lucky for that opportunity.

I’ve spent the last two days in a community overflowing with gratitude because they now have a school. Oh, the things we take for granted.

The children were as brilliant as ever. So patient and eager to learn. So unaffected by Game Boys, iPhones, iPads, television — I could go on, but the idea is: It’s refreshing, this ability for children to just sit and be. No need for constant stimulation here, just gratitude for learning.

That’s not the whole story: Life is not easy in this rural community, no need to sugarcoat it, yet there is happiness, there is a certain romance, something they could teach us in the West. We painted we sang, we danced and we sat outside under a big shade tree. My heart is full.

In the evening, we four artists traveling together to share and create art located the quietest spot we could find and set ourselves up to do just that. In Ethiopia, you are never alone, and soon we had a audience. As if we were rock stars, the children of all ages soon surrounded us, then settled down and sat for over an hour, watching us work, patient and entertained by the plein air painters. It was pure joy to be outside, gazing upon the crazy beauty of rural Ethiopia, doing what I love best to do in this world: paint.

At the dinner that followed, we were joined by other volunteers here on behalf of Ethiopia Reads, and we heard their stories. They all were moving, but my favorite was a story of a little boy who was asked, “What do you like about art class?” His answer I will loosely translate as: “Art makes me happy. Now that I have been taught how to draw, I have a new way to communicate. If I want to draw something, I have taught my hands how, and expressing myself is easy. I want to, and I didn’t feel like that before.”

Um, yeah — so be still, my beating heart: A 9-year-old boy from a very rural farming village in Ethiopia speaks my language, he gets it, he speaks creativity and it has changed him.

That’s all, that’s enough!

Thank you for coming along with me on this incredible journey!


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  1. Jo Stanbridge January 13, 2014 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    Stephanie – your posts fill me with wonder and joy. The stories and colour take my breath away. It’s extra-powerful as it reaches me in the middle of a grey-and-icy Canadian winter. Thank you so much for taking the time to take us along with you on this wonderful journey. Take care!

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