ETHIOPIAN LAUGH, Hande Erol | 05.01.2016

This was at the start of my flying career. I had only been a flight attendant for two months. During a busy month where I was just beginning to get used to the incredibly tiring tempo of flying back on forth on many flights, I was informed that I would be flying to Addis Ababa by Crew Planning. I acted as though it was not the first time I had heard of the city in my life and accepted by saying, ”Oh, I would love to go there.”. But I had no idea that this flight would change my psyche so much and leave serious physiological marks on my body.

Before telling you about my story I must give you a serious warning: You should never travel in within Ethiopian without wearing long-sleeved clothes that cover your full body. I say this because I have been treated in the hospital for second-degree burns, due to wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt and a knee-length skirt in this country that receives the most intense sunlight in the world! I could not get rid of the marks on my arms and legs for almost three years!

After this warning about health we can return to the story. :) Being someone who always reads up on the country I am going to (I wish I had read about this sunlight thing!) and crazy about archeology, I was thrilled to bits when I learned that the oldest human skeleton was in the Ethiopian National Museum in Addis Ababa. This is due to the fact that there were unbelievable theories about this female skeleton and many articles were written on the possibility that the origin of the human race was in Africa after the discovery of this skeleton named Lucy  (Unfortunately due to restorations the museum was closed and I returned home without getting to see her!).

Before going into our rooms half-conscious from fatigue after a long flight (a quirk of working in flights :)), the first thing that attracts your attention when you enter the hotel is the garden full of large and magnificently beautiful roses. How can a plant be that beautiful, how can they be so colorful and eye catching? I cannot even begin to tell you about it. Roses I had seen before then do not deserve to be called actual roses! The Roses in Ethiopia grow so gloriously that they have earned the right to be called “the most beautiful plant in nature When looking into it you learn that there is already a significant amount of trade from rose farming, but when you hear that a large bouquet is cheaper than water you cannot stop yourself thinking ”we should get into this business too”. :)

After a great sleep accompanied by the smell of the beautiful bouquets in the rooms, the next day comes and it is time to go for a city tour. After we rented a car, we started on our trip under an incredible heat that I do not even want to remember the exact temperature in a non-air conditioned environment with our Addis Ababan friend who would both be the driver and the tour guide. I remember like yesterday how surprised I was when I saw vehicle owners giving way to each other tolerantly in the unbelievably busy traffic, until we arrived at the open market where local clothes, ornaments, and silver (because Ethiopian silver was very valuable) were sold. There is not one sound of a car horn, everyone is positive and gives way to each other while greeting each other!

Once you delve into the side streets after you pass the main avenues, the sights you see will make you ashamed that this is allowed to happen. Should you be thankful for your comfortable lives, or should you do something for these people? Should you be feeling bad for the sheds built from cola cans where PEOPLE actually live, or the children looking for food in the mud? Once you start walking around in those streets you will not know what to feel bad about. They live such difficult, helpless, arduous lives that if you are human or claim to be one even just a little, you understand and accept the tears running down involuntarily from your eyes:  Because ironically, even though they live such difficult lives these people are really happy and to me, the people that laugh the most beautifully and the most genuinely are definitely Ethiopians!

If you ask me, they should add the term “Ethiopian Laugh” to dictionaries and encyclopedias! I was so surprised by the sincerity and happiness of these people, that I remember asking the question, “Are you seeing what I am seeing, why are these people so happy?”! Our captain had responded with ”you should also see how beautiful their morals are” because he had been there many times before. He even added ”I will prove this to you”! 

We walked around the streets the whole evening, went into a coffee shop (Ethiopian coffee was famous, its taste is similar to our Mırra), a local school, the Addis Ababa University and visited some street vendors. During dinner hour, our captain told us that he would take us to a restaurant that he had previously visited. After we passed secluded streets for a while under in pitch darkness (unfortunately most neighborhoods don’t even have street lamps), we parked our vehicle under a street lamp which was shining brightly. There were no buildings around us, just sheds and the street lamp that we parked our vehicle under! Our captain unwrapped the silver bracelets and earrings that he bought for his wife from their newspaper wrapping, then he placed them in the front window of the car. He did not lock the doors and he said, “they will be where I left them when we get back”. He did not pay attention to our warnings in which we said, ”Captain, they will be gone, stolen, just take them along with you”, then we found ourselves in a heavenly venue which looked like an oasis on the inside. After we ate our food and stayed for three hours in this venue, which was packed with many tourists from different countries, we left and all of us rushed to the car with great excitement! And bingo! The brightly shining silver jewelry in the front window of the car that was not locked was still in place! There were no security staff at the venue and even though there were many house owners around, we can relate the fact that the silver was not stolen to their beautiful morals! In any event the theft and crime rates in Ethiopia were very low (it was that way when I went there seven years ago, I hope they have not changed!)

I have to say by the way, the houses in Ethiopia whether they are sheds, or “normal livable houses” generally have two doors. The front door is for “any unexpected guests”, and the back door is for only the household. I am sure that if you would like to enter a house while on the road, they will welcome you with sincerity, because that is how they welcomed us!

And the next day came. After that unforgettable and merciless day that I had with the sun I was put on the plane with a wheelchair and thanks to my beautiful crew keeping me under observation the whole time, I was taken to a hospital in İstanbul before being discharged Then a few years passed by. One day as I was watching a documentary channel like I always do, I was startled by the words of an English traveler when they said, ”Why are these people so happy, for god’s sake!”. The traveler was traveling in Ethiopia and the sentences that were formed were not that strange to me! Who knows, maybe just smiling is enough to be happy and maybe money really is not the only means!

I salute everyone that can laugh like Ethiopians do!

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