Maria Deguara shares her experience in Ethiopia

[auth]DSC_0171-3-w800-h600It is very hard to express in words...One has to see, listen, smell and touch for himself in order to take in such a different reality. Above all, being there gives you the opportunity to get to know people in person and also to start loving them and getting to know their individual realities.

On landing in Addis Ababa, I could not believe how easy it was getting there, and how close to us this “different world” is. Although most of us watch scenes of these countries on TV, we never actually realise what a true reality this is, and one which is happening at this present time.

We spent our first few days in the city, where we met two students, one of them being 19-year old Zamenu, to whom I could relate very much as he is studying medicine just as I am. The only major difference between us is that he was an orphan and that he has to be totally independent, whilst I have the support of my family and friends...which makes it a whole big difference. Meeting people close to my age touched me in a way that I was not expecting... they were the people I could put myself into their shoes most, as in the end they have my same inner needs and my same dreams for the future. DSC_0053-21-w800-h600Some of these youths, having always lived in the city, never had the opportunity to get out of it and experience the rural beauty of their own country. When we were back in Addis Ababa at the end of the experience, it was very painful showing them photos of their own country and seeing the surprised looks on their faces, yet I felt it was important for them to get to know and perhaps to get inspired.

In fact, when after a few days in Addis, we travelled to Bahir Dar, we started to discover the unexpected beauty of the pure, untouched nature. And all is till now so unspoilt! In the rural areas, tourists are a rarity, one barely ever meets a white person, and in fact we used to stand out a lot! In Ethiopia, especially in the rural areas, where people have not yet experienced any development, I started to look at poverty in a different way. I began to realise that people are simple and peaceful, and that in real fact they do not know any better than what they have. Many times, I even used to fail to see the poverty, although yes material poverty is very much present and tangible, however the positive things used to be so overwhelming that one almost tends to forget the reality of material poverty. In fact, it was mostly when I came back to Malta that reality hit me...  Going back home and seeing all the furniture and all the “luxury”, made me think and question a lot. This experience has made me look at things with a different perspective, where now I know that being materially poor is perhaps not as bad and not as painful as being spiritually and emotionally-deprived.

Apart from the beauty of nature, what captured me in a great way was the beauty of this peoples’ culture. Everyone is singing, everyone is dancing, from toddler to elder. It is just ingrained in them. In fact they find the concept of being shy to sing and dance as strange!  If only the Western world could learn at least a bit from these people, and perhaps also be as humble as they are, life would be so much better and simpler for all of us!

DSC_0176-12-w800-h600What we noticed a lot is the gratitude that the people of Bahir Dar have towards us Maltese people. This is the place where fifty-five houses were built by Living Waters. When we went to visit this project, we could sense deep gratitude, which perhaps speaking for myself, I totally did not deserve, as I had not even been part of the team in the past years! However, from what we have witnessed, this has truly been a life-changing process for approximately 300 people, and they have gone from being the poorest people of Bahir Dar, to being very privileged.

This year the group started a new mission in Arramo, a very remote area, which not many people have heard of, not even the people of Ethiopia themselves. To put you in the picture, no one in this area owns a car, except for the priests and sisters who serve these people. Here we were welcomed by two very hard-working Indian sisters, who have left their country in order to serve these people. They have managed to set up many successful projects in the four years that they have been there, where they are serving more than 4000 people! I must say that I feel privileged that I had the opportunity to experience life in Arramo for two weeks... the people welcomed us in an overwhelming way and everyone was very interested in what we were doing, we experienced welcoming crowds of hundreds of people! They were very open to listen to whatever we had to say, and their faith thaught me so much! On one particular weekend, which happened to be St Mary’s feast, the parish hosted over a thousand people for the feast, and most of the people (many of them quite frail) walked for over six hours in order to get there and sleep over there (on the floor) for the weekend. They can praise and thank God for hours without tiring... and what praise!! I could not help thinking, these people are so much higher than I am in front of God. Perhaps I have so much more for which to praise God, and yet I don’t!  So in real fact, sometimes I think that looking at the eternal perspective, they are luckier than I am, even though most of the world perceives them as the “unlucky ones.”

DSC_0632-w800-h600Our last stop was in Bulbula, another new mission for Living Waters, and a totally different experience! Here the community is mainly Muslim, with some Orthodox Christians but still in a minority. The only Catholics living here are two sisters, and two newly-converted Catholics who are still to be baptised. At first it was quite a tough experience as it was a sort of anti-climax, as obviously the people here were less welcoming...except for the children, who followed us everywhere! However, we did find the meaning of this part of the mission, as we got to know the two newly-converted Catholics, who are yearning to learn more and more! It was also very encouraging seeing these two young boys (17 and 25 years), thirsting so much to get to know more, and especially knowing that their conversion was not an easy one, as they are still living in their Muslim families and in a Muslim community. Our presence there was also a source of encouragement for the sisters there, for whom it is definitely not an easy mission to serve in such an area.

It is very hard to sum up this experience in just one article!! But I must say that over all, it was a time of re-finding myself as a person, it was also a time of spiritual growth and of re-finding myself in front of God. There were times when I would just go in front of the Blessed Sacrament and try to take it all in whilst in His presence, as only He could make me understand or at least accept certain realities. On a final note, I do encourage anyone who has been wanting to do such an experience, to just go for it! I think one will never be absolutely certain that they are ready for it, but you will never know if you never try! In the end, I really think that everyone should be exposed to a developing country at least once in their lifetime, so as to come to terms with a major truth of this world, and after all, I have found that when one goes back to the basics, it is there that one finds true peace and joy in their hearts.

Maria Deguara

Photos by Lorna Borg[/auth]