Addis and pollution go hand in hand. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t hold my breath in anticipation of an oncoming cloud of black smoke flowing out of a Lada taxi or Minibus. I come from the New York Metropolitan area, not the most green place on Earth, and yet, I feel strangely disconnected from nature in Addis. The only reminders that I have of the nature world are the donkeys weaving through traffic circles, and, yes, those damn roosters (I’ve never heard roosters crow in the middle of the night, maybe they too are feeling disconnected).
Addis is a Lego-city. Buildings are being assembled in a similar fashion everywhere you go, their hollow cement spaces gaping above your head waiting to be filled. Sidewalks come and sidewalks go and it’s anybody’s guess if you’ll be climbing piles of debris or strolling along newly-tiled paths. Newly developing areas and neighborhoods can sometimes have this bland, cement-like taste. You know that you’ve arrived somewhere, but what does this place mean and what is it about?
I’ve had this experience in the States, but I didn’t expect it in the home of one of humanity’s oldest civilizations. I had to get out of Dodge and the solution came in a day-trip to Suba National Park, Africa’s oldest national park which dates back to the 15th century. Leaving Addis was quite literally a breath of fresh air. The forest itself was, in a word, magical. Or in many words, lush, textured, ancient, muddy, challenging, balanced, the perfect shade of sage. For me, it was a day trip, but for the highlanders of Ethiopia, the mountain is home, a protected place that provides and nourishes.
Suba not only showed my muscles who is boss, but it also reminded me that there is an important difference between what life is becoming and what life has always been. I once asked my mother, who was raised in a rural, river-town in Colombia, what the meaning of life was. Her answer: suffering. I’ve always wondered if this was true, sure, I had suffered, maybe emotionally or maybe physically, but I wasn’t sure if describing the entire existence of the world with this word was fair or accurate. I asked myself what survival meant for these people living in a world of miles and miles of cows and crops, framed by mountain landscapes, living in their tin-roofed homes. Then I asked myself what survival meant for me, getting up from my comfortable home that has heat, air conditioning, electricity… the works and then going to and from work, stopping at the supermarket on the way home for ingredients for my next meal. Could the two survivals be compared? Life is difficult, and the lives of those who live off the Earth is exponentially more difficult. Rural poverty in the developing world is a common topic for those who study humanitarian issues, but I can’t help but ask myself when the absurdly fast-paced world of materialism and waste that I exist in became the ‘better’ one that dictates the needs of others. I clearly do not have the answers to these questions, nor do I pretend to, but they are important for all of us to ask ourselves if we hope to ever regain the balance that our planet seeks desperately.