Sergeant Major Matthew Grucella wrote
I have just returned from Ethiopia and wanted to share some of my insights from the trip. Ethiopia is a vast and beautiful nation comprised of many varied climates. Its people are proud of their past and are optimistic of the future of their nation.
On a previous trip to Ethiopia in September I was able to take part in the Meskel, an annual religious festival commemorating the discovery of the true cross by Queen Helena (Saint Helena) in the fourth century. The Meskel celebration includes the burning of a large bonfire, or Demera, based on the belief that Queen Eleni had a revelation in a dream. She was told that she must make a bonfire and that the smoke would show her where the true cross was buried. So she ordered the people of Jerusalem to bring wood and make a huge pile. After adding frankincense, the bonfire was lit, and the smoke rose high up into the sky and returned to the ground exactly to the spot where the Cross had been buried. I was truly overwhelmed by the interesting blend of Middle Eastern accents and Christian influences of the celebration.
On this trip I was able to visit the monastery Debre Libanos and the Portuguese bridge above a 600 meter waterfall flowing into the majestic Jemma Valley Gorge. The monastery has a long and interesting history dating back to the 13th century; it sits on a terrace between a cliff and a small stream of one of the tributaries of the Abbay River (the Blue Nile). None of the original buildings of Debre Libanos survived. Current buildings include the church over Tekle Haymanots tomb, which Emperor Haile Selassie ordered constructed in 1961. After visiting the museum within the monastery, we crossed a small stream alongside the church and walked up a steep path for 15 minutes to a small cave. In that cave, according to legend, the Ethiopian Saint, Tekle Haymanot, prayed for 29 years. The legend says that he stood on one foot for so long that the other foot fell off. Sick people line up to receive holy water which is believed to be a sign of the saints prayer.
AFRICOM does not pay for these side trips, but I want to strongly encourage anyone traveling to the continent to take the time and break away from the Plane-Hotel-Embassy-Meeting routine and pause to observe the culture and the uniqueness of our African Partners. We can never truly begin to understand our partners if we do not take the time to experience and observe the cultures and the people of Africa outside the confines of our hotel rooms and our Embassies.