Ethiopian Youth

Today we had the incredible opportunity to attend a junior youth group near Zelalem’s house. We left the Amare’s house with Zelalem headed for another Zelalem’s house. Due to rising prices gas is currently unavailable so we proceeded on foot. As we walked first two girls joined us, then another two male youth. We were forming a small gang. We arrived at Zelalems and were ushered inside. When I say junior youth I mean 12 – 14 years old. Most of these youth looked much older than that. Soon there were eight youth sitting on the couches, the two Zelalems, Dagm (the second Zelalem’s wife), myself, Kyle and Jasmin. Prayer books were handed out and we began with a round of prayers, most of which were said in Amharic. After prayers began the same lively singing that I had experienced at feast, song after song. Soon we were asked to introduce ourselves and talk about what we were doing here. After we spoke the two Zelalem’s would translate into Amharic for the youth to understand. The rest of the afternoon consisted of songs and questions, questions that the youth had for us, and questions that we had for them. Most of them were around 17, and there were a few between 14 and 15. Three years ago they were junior youth, and Zelalem has been unable to change the name. They have all gone through Ruhi books 1 – 3. Zelalem said that today there was at least ten missing, I’m not sure where the other ten would sit. Jasmin asked them how long they had been in the group, and how it had benefited then. Their responses were incredibly inspiring and soon I pulled at my notebook and began scribbling down the translations in an attempt to capture their inspiration. Much later towards the end of the meeting the host Zelalem said that he had never until now asked any questions of them, and now he wanted to ask them one if it was ok. He asked what was holding them back from declaring their belief in Baha’u’llah. To make it easier for you to understand I have put their responses to both Jasmin’s and Zelalem’s questions together, although they were answered at least an hour apart. I also was unable to record all of their responses as there were to many, so here are the ones I was able to retain.

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The first youth to speak was a singer and circus performer. He also travelled door-to-door providing aids ecuation. He was 17 years old and had been part of the group for 3 years, one year of which he had not come for his own reasons. He said that he had learned that all humanity was created from the same stock, and that all humanity is one. This had affected him profoundly. He had learned that all religions have come from the same God, and each manifestation has appeared for a certain time period. He had come from a religious background that had not allowed him to be musical, but had learned that the Baha’i faith embraced music and its relation to the soul. In this group is where he had truly learned love, and felt love. When asked what was holding him back from declaring his belief he began to speak very rapidly and passionately in Amharic. The translation came soon that he wanted to investigate more. He doesn’t want to be a Baha’i that doesn’t translate the words in actions. He wants to take his time to dig deep so that when he declares he is ready to put the words into action. Several of the other youth had a similar response.

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The next guy to speak was also 17 ears old and had been a part of the group for several years. He was an artist and loved to paint and write. He said that there are two worlds, one is tangible and the other is not. In this age humanity is unable to unify these two worlds, and the Baha’i faith helps him make these one. He feels that he is on the right track, filled with spiritual gems, and through the Baha’i teachings he can bring out these gems.

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The next girl to speak was one of two that had come late; there were now 10 youth. She wore a large cross around her neck. She began to speak saying that what we see everyday is the power of this revelation. She would have never imagined many of the things such as racial equality and mixing with white people, however now it is normal to her because of the power of Baha’u’llah. The revelation is to deep to explain she said. She has taken the first three Ruhi courses but still finds it difficult to explain even one concept. To portray the gems hidden in the words is too much. When asked about what was holding back she replied that what she loved most about the faith is the actions and the qualities that she sees shown forth from Baha’i families and the people she meets at the Baha’i center. However she feels that she can learn these qualities without accepting Baha’u’llah and do it through her own religion as a Christian.

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The next girl said what pleases her most about the Baha’i faith is not only the words, but the actions she sees the words translated into within the Baha’i community. Her father was originally very upset about her coming to the group, however Zelalem invited him to come and discuss the issue. After reading through the material he began encouraging her to go. When asked about what was holding her back she said that she loves the Faith. The love that she receives from the family and group is like a prison for her, there is no other option. She also feels that she can develop these qualities through her own religion.

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The next guy to speak is also 17 and loves to dance. He says that he feels so lucky to be exposed to this revelation at this time, and each week he eagerly awaits the next meeting. The next girl said that she had been coming for eight months. Another girl laughed and said she had one more month till birth. She said that it was difficult to explain what she had learned as it was so high and beyond her description. She had come from a very fanatical Orthodox background.

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When another girl was asked about what was holding her back she said that she expected much more nurturing and teaching from Zelalem and Dagm. She doesn’t want to be a Baha’i in words but a Baha’i in actions, and thus she wants to first learn more.

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The youngest girl, 14 years old, said that that she has received such love from the group. The reality of the love that is translated from the books is beyond words.

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The next girl just said that she wanted to share her heartfelt thanks to everyone for all the love that she had been given.

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After they had all spoken Zelalem said some final words switching between English and Amharic for our benefit. He said that every day a Bahai is praying to purify to mirror of their heart in order to reflect the light and love of God. By accepting the Baha’u’llah you are not changing your religion, but renewing your covenant with God. Jonas, the artist, sat with his legs crossed in camouflage pants, a baggy moose shirt, and a light brown scarf wrapped around his neck with Ethiopian colours at the ends. He had perfectly black Afro and sat with his chin in and his dark eyes staring with fascination as Zelalem spoke. Soon everyone was joining in singing an Amharic Orthodox song. Moments later with equal enthusiasm they were singing praise to Baha’u’llah. Afterwards they turned on the TV and began watching the camel racing. It was after 6, we had been there since 3.

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Zelalem and Dagm are the mother and father of two of our students at One Planet.

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Just as we are about to leave the roof above us comes to life with the loud hammering of African rain. As we make ready to step out the door and into the downpour several of the youth come running back inside to wait out the rain. As we step outside the rumbling role of thunder reaches my ears and seconds later the sky flashes brightly with lightning. I climb into the front seat of Zelalem’s car and we begin to drive down the narrow rocky road, which now has a river of water flowing down it. Once we reached the pave road I see that water is also flowing here. As we make our way along the dark rainy sky is continuously lit up by the flash of lightning, accompanied by the roar of thunder. We turn down our which is now a muddy swamp. The mud has been consistently getting worse over the past few days. We thank Zelalem and climb out of the car. Doing our best to avoid the water and mud we navigate our way towards our apartment. I stop briefly at the store in the bottom of our building and struggle to communicate with her that I want some cornflakes. As I walk back to my room the lightning continues to strike. Inside, my room is regularly lit up through the pulled curtains by brilliant white flashes. I listen as the thunder roles with threatening ferocity and volume.

(for the pictures below when a picture is clicked on, if an “i” appears in the top right corner of the box, there is a caption regarding that specific picture)

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