The fire crackles in a metal drum; around it they wrap us in blankets and wash our feet. Inside the stone hut, darkness huddles round, no water or electricity makes it up to this remote lodge perched on a stunning mountain ridge in northern Ethiopia. I am one of five women who have climbed the rocky path to 10,000 feet with the help of a pack mule and a kind guide. After the cocktail hour with neighboring monkeys and a breathtaking walk over the plateau, a little soup and spongy injera feed us well.
Circling the fire are also five Ethiopian men, young guards and cooks who honk up the mountain in a ridiculous fraction of our time. Their faces are tired and dark and crusted with the labor of the day. We have no common language beyond the splash of water, hands, callouses, feet.
So, we ask for a song. One man fetches an instrument that I have never seen, his face alight. The others clap to his beat, rock to a slow, repetitive rhythm that rings the night.
We take our turn with harmonies of Home on the Range and try a breezy Julie Andrews' Doe, a Deer; they meet us each time with dark, mysterious tones. Only our guide, Tadasse, can bridge our language divide and tell us of their words of joy, how they sing of their happiness to be there with us, their energies revived, their thanks to God for this night.
At last, as the fire begins to settle, the darkness seems to ask of us a blessing, though it is already blessed in every imaginable way. We tell them of the nine killed in Charleston, and how our president came and sang; their eyes widen. We tell them that the song their beloved Obama sang was written by a former slave owner who saw the horror of his ways. They wait in a silence crackling with sparks of light. And then we sing that simple song, that amazing grace.
What can you say about the Oneness? That out beyond the politics of women and men, the palette of flesh, the have and have-not, educated and not; beyond language and age and country and religion, there is a mountain top where all is undivided and dear? The music carried us there.
I have come to Ethiopia to discover artisans and to partner with them in designing something new. I've met weavers, spinners, designers, entrepreneurs; learned about shortages in the supply chain, the difficulty of finding the right colors, the trafficking of children into the work of weaving. I've bumped over impossibly pockmarked streets, grown accustomed to corrugated tin shacks in neon green and pink and ubiquitous wood scaffolding without workers and rush hour traffic without working stop lights.
In it all, I find myself falling deeper each day into a state of enchantment. The faces of proud Ethiopians turn my head, their beauty is so startling. I'm moved by the the passion of those trying to make work fair and products beautiful; I'm inspired by the electricity of our moments together.
Perhaps that is the music that holds me, sounding beneath the chaos and fumes and crashing colors, the spiking wealth and the bottomless poverty. Somewhere on that mountain my heart slipped silently into a place I didn't expect. I call it enchantment. An aching tenderness for the determined, passionate, elegant people who have welcomed me. A blanketing kind of joy. Our inescapable Oneness on this swirling planet. Something like grace.
All the Best from Addis Ababa,
Susan Hull Walker