Humanity and its Ethiopian ambassadors in this New Year 2014

Sunday September 19 2021

By Angella Nampewo

On a Sunday such as this one in Arua City, a small crowd gathers at one of the junctions to offer a bath to the unwashed; the mentally ill, the homeless and others.

I first heard of this charitable act from my Eritrean host in Arua. I may have smiled a lot and been very nice to the hotel staff that they started volunteering information.

Last Saturday, one of the young staffers found it useful to remind me that the hotel boss was celebrating the Ethiopian New Year. The Ethiopian New Year is celebrated on September 11, and it is 2014 in Ethiopia this year.

Owing to the fortunate prior briefing from the staff, I was able to smile broadly at my host and offer a bright New Year’s greeting. It is amazing the things we learn when we stay open and just listen. 

I already knew my host was Eritrean, so why celebrate the Ethiopian New Year, I wondered idly. Before I could ask, he volunteered that he grew up in Ethiopia. Well, what do you know? He then proceeded to explain the Ethiopian TV programme, which looked interesting but which seemed like Greek to me because it was airing in Amharic. 

Apparently to mark the New Year, some Ethiopian professionals such as doctors and accountants were volunteering their time in the back streets at home, providing the needy with basic supplies and building shelters for the homeless in a way that has become tradition.


And that is how we got talking about the charity work the Ethiopian and Eritrean community is doing in the country. From each person I met in Arua, I gathered some insights that have helped me to put together a sketch of this most intriguing city in the North West.

It is amazing what you learn if you are willing to accept that you don’t know much to start with.  As a friend recently reminded me, of all the seven billion people on the planet, no two people see the same world; it is seven billion people and seven billion worlds. 

It is, therefore, a big ask for anyone to know it all. Conditions are constantly evolving, viewpoints shift, problems change in nature and our reaction to it is never the same. 

That is why when you meet someone in the morning, you should never assume you know how they are, just because you spoke to them last night. We need to stay curious and interested. You will surprised at the things people tell you when you express interest and then just listen without interjecting.

By the end of one week in Arua, my regular boda boda cyclist Sabiri had worked out the things that piqued my interest. So on the daily rides into and out of the city, I did not have to ask questions, he just volunteered answers.

Last Sunday morning, without prompting, Sabiri rode towards that city junction where a crowd was washing a young person and shaving off his hair. The whole idea, let alone the act, seemed so peculiar to me that I was afraid to look too closely. 

This jolly, chatty guy told me this happens regularly and indeed, it did not seem to raise many eyebrows (apart from mine) as the rest of the city hustled and bustled past.

My education is by no means complete. This experience has just opened my eyes to the wealth of information out there and for the first time, I am ready to embrace ignorance, if it brings me closer to learning more about the seven billion worlds out there, one person at a time.

Ms Nampewo is a writer, editor and communications consultant     
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