1 July 2017

Ethiopia: The Fading Hospitality

opinion

In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, guests were greeted with a beautiful quote from the Analects of Confucius, the venerable Chinese philosopher, and it said, "Friends have come from afar, how happy we are." This very quote made me realise that there are also other peoples who have the same culture of hospitality as ours.

In my high school years, after spending the whole year studying in a city, my friends and I had to travel a long way back home for about a day and a half on foot, to spend the winter break with our families. When we were travelling, since there were no hotels or restaurants in the villages which we had to pass through, it was the farmers who provided us with food, water and shelter.

One could just go to a farmer's hut and ask for water or food or a place to rest on, and would get it all; as simple as that. The benevolent villagers would not flinch when they allowed us to enter their hut and share all their food, shelter and water with strangers like us. The villagers did not know a thing or two about greed. They served us with the utmost hospitality, and all we could do was show gratitude. The living maxim of the villagers seemed to be, "Come in! Share our meal and take a rest! Make yourself at home; it is God's house!"

This beautiful culture of accommodating strangers is also recommended by the holy books of Abrahamic religions and Buddhism. Hospitality is depicted as the good act of the blessed one. On the contrary, in the urban areas of our country, with the development of modern lifestyle, social assets such as hospitality have been eroded while individuality is flourishing. People, when they have the money and opportunity, choose to live in a villa house surrounded by an electric fence and a guard, alienating themselves even from their neighbours. One would not know who their neighbour is until there is some special occasion like a wedding or a meeting.

In such areas, any stranger who dares to knock at the door to ask for temporary shelter or food, unless he is a disabled beggar, may have to expect and bear an unfriendly, frowning face, at best, and being warned to get lost and never to return, at worst. Let me share with you one discomforting story of mine which, I think, will help you grasp what I am talking about.

One day, to pass away the time, I was wandering around a nicely built chain of villas which, I was told, were properties of the wealthy men of the city. After a long walk, unable to tolerate the burning sun, I felt tired, and I had to take a rest in the shade of a timber tree which was grooming the fence of one big white villa. Before long, a guy came to me and told me that it was not allowed to sit around without any purpose.

Although I told him that I was just a harmless person taking a rest for a moment, he would not listen to me and told me discourteously to go somewhere else. Disappointed by the way he treated me, I told him that it was not fair and I left the area. I would not blame the man though because it was understandable that he might have security issues. In the day time, thieves and robbers can sit around to study how secure the surrounding of a place is so as to plan the time and the way to break-in in the night time. After all, not all strangers are as innocent as they may seem to be.

Basically, in the cities, hotels and inns are those places where a stranger can get accommodation, though not for free. But, what about a stranger who comes from afar, who cannot afford hotels and inns, or a stranger who suddenly lost his money? How can we, as a society, show our hospitality without risking our security? With an intention to claim hospitality as one of our cultural brands, praising ourselves, we proudly say, "Engida akbari hizb," which means "the people who respect guests and strangers." We can mention many excuses or reasons, but I feel that the kind of hospitality we had in the old times is fading away; we are losing it. We are gradually transforming ourselves from respecting and accommodating strangers to fearing and avoiding them.

segazeab Shishaye (Tsegazeabshishaye@gmail.com) Is an Electrical Engineer By Profession and Is Interested in Social Issues, Ethiopian History, Science and Issues That Aim At Changing the Sequel.

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