22 September 2017

Ethiopia: Saving - for Investment or Consumption?


I always contemplate the joy of holidays and its association with spendthrift behavior. The issue immediately clicks the text lying, may be deep, in the nerve cells of my mind ... a fascinating story by the famous Paulo Coelho.

The story goes like this: A merchant sent his son to learn the Secret of Happiness from the wisest of men. The young man wandered through the desert for forty days until he reached a beautiful castle at the top of a mountain. There lived the sage that the young man was looking for.

However, instead of finding a holy man, our hero entered a room and saw a great deal of activity; merchants coming and going, people chatting in the corners, a small orchestra playing sweet melodies, and there was a table laden with the most delectable dishes of that part of the world. The wise man talked to everybody, and the young man had to wait for two hours until it was time for his audience.

With considerable patience, he listened attentively to the reason for the boy's visit, but told him that at that moment he did not have the time to explain to him the Secret of Happiness. He suggested that the young man take a stroll around his palace and come back in two hours.

"However, I want to ask you a favor," he added, handing the boy a teaspoon, in which he poured two drops of oil. "While you walk, carry this spoon and don't let the oil spill." The young man began to climb up and down the palace staircases, always keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. At the end of the two hours, he returned to the presence of the wise man.

"So," asked the sage, "did you see the Persian tapestries hanging in my dining room? Did you see the garden that the Master of Gardeners took ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?" Embarrassed, the young man confessed that he had seen nothing. His only concern was not to spill the drops of oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

"So, go back and see the wonders of my world," said the wise man. "You can't trust a man if you don't know his house." Now more at ease, the young man took the spoon and strolled again through the palace, this time paying attention to all the works of art that were hung from the ceiling and walls.

He saw the gardens, the mountains all around the palace, the delicacy of the flowers, the taste with which each work of art was placed in its niche. Returning to the sage, he reported in detail that entire he had seen.

"But where are the two drops of oil that I entrusted to you?" Asked the sage. Looking down at the spoon, the young man realized that he had spilled the oil. "Well, that is the only advice I have to give you," said the sage of sages. "The Secret of Happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon."

Holydays are special days for everyone. They are considered as one of the best opportunities to experience joy and happiness. In a traditional society like Ethiopia, Holydays have special places for all. This is especially true for traditional society whose social values are not contaminated by the daunting impacts of globalization. Holydays have special values among people.

In this regard, New Year, which is considered as the beginning of the ends, has special place. No matter what the economic or cultural differences of a society, Holyday, especially New Year, is a great day for most Ethiopians. It is a special day for all age groups and all religions. It is not a special day only for the haves. It is also a day of joy for the have-nots.

No matter the differences in their economic status, all Ethiopians celebrate New Year colorfully and joyfully. For this reason, whenever there falls New Year, Ethiopians will not hesitate to spend their hard-earned money for a holiday shopping.

New Year is one of these moments where most Ethiopians spend their money lavishly, to my view. Preparation for the holiday starts one or two months in advance.

Bread-winners shop new clothes to members of their families and to themselves as well. In addition, most of them (the breadwinners), buy sheep, goat and/or chicken and slaughter the animals on the eve or in the morning of the holiday. The mutton and chicken separately cooked and members of a family feast the day dining delish dishes of various kinds. People living in the same neighborhood may also contribute money and buy bull to slay and divide the meat among them. Almost every household also brew local beverages such as Tella, Tej and Areki. On top of this, mothers also bake special big bread called, Defo Dabo. The head of the family, usually the father -as we have patriarchal family structure- breaks the bread into loves in a magnificent coffee ceremony.

It is common to observe most youth, in Addis Ababa and other cities, going to night clubs and on the eve of holidays. Exchanging gifts among lovers has also become a traditIon.

But, it is natural for feasts to fade out, and the regular day to day activity fade in. This time, most families that lavishly spend their money are very likely to feel the consequence. Unplanned families would go to the extent fishing penny and dimes in their pocket. Alas!

To make matters worse, if anything survives the wave of the New Year, then another holiday, Meskel, will come at a drop of a hat--in just two weeks following the New Year-- and leaves less planned families victims.

This piece of writing has no intention to criticize the celebrations. It is all about our way of celebration which is a bit unreasonable when we see it from the perspective of spending. Happiness is part of life. But it becomes more balanced when we treat it in planned manner. Isn't it?

Again I must mention a kind of slogan on one TV ads. It says: "Power is nothing without control". Indeed what is power, if you can't control it? By extension, What is feast, it leaves you 'broke'? What is holyday that takes away all your savings?

Though hard to corroborate, the saving culture of Ethiopians is getting more developed. But, what we need to do is, in my modest opinion, to keep on saving. And the saving should not be consumed; we need to invest it in viable businesses. Happy Meskel!


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