Ask most Americans about the country of Ethiopia, and they will give you a story about desert, famine, poverty, and (maybe) governmental failure. That is, if they can even identify it.
But that isn't the Ethiopia I've come to know and to love. So let me pass along some personal impressions.
Ethiopia is mountains. Most of its people live in the highlands, and most farm. A population of eighty two million, with the largest city being Addis Ababa, the capitol, at three million, and then next largest perhaps a tenth of that. The remote villages still haven't changed much from the past. People survive on local materials, farm, live, love and die with limited exposure to the world at large.
Ethiopia is friendly. Everyone I met, everyone I interacted with. People are happy, despite what they lack. They are curious, respectful, and laugh easily.
Ethiopia is culturally diverse. Roughly eighty languages spoken by as many tribal groups. And unlike some of the former European colonies, where the tribes seem to be in a state of constant clandestine combat, people generally get along.
Ethiopia is religiously diverse. Muslim, Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, Roman Catholic and Protestant all seem to more or less respect each other's space and co-exist peacefully.
Ethiopia is growth. Everywhere I went, there was new construction. Granted, it might progress slowly, and the methods might be mostly manual, but it represents an attempt by the people to pull themselves up -- and they are making progress. It isn't China, but it isn't Somalia, either.
Ethiopia is sights and extremes. The lowest, hottest place on earth -- the Danakil depression, One of the earth's three permanent lava lakes -- Erte Ale, the second highest elevation capitol -- Addis Ababa, the ancient obelisks of Axum, the stone-hewn churches of Lalibela, the source of the Blue Nile -- Lake Tana, the womb of mankind -- the middle Awash River. The only African country never colonized, and the richest history in all sub-Saharan Africa. It is a country worth exploring.
Ethiopia is in need of our aid. Too many people on too little cultivatable land. No major natural resources, few goods to generate economic lift. Limited sanitation and clean water outside of the major cities. Millions of traditional and economic orphans. Problems of corruption and inefficiency in government. And irregular droughts and resulting famine, which can change difficult into dire.
I look forward to again visiting beautiful Ethiopia, and doing what I can to aid its people.