Photo Essay - January 15, 2005 -  MediaETHIOPIA

January, 2005:

Even though, a few months had passed since we took the pictures, this story could not be forgotten and we decided to publish it. The story is that of a small group of volunteers who initiated a reforestation project in the area near the small city of Addis Alem. Among the many misdeeds of this generation of ours, perhaps, the most damaging may be the way it recklessly destroyed the country’s trees – these gifts of nature that had kept our highland homes cool, the air crisp, the roads free of dust and the lowlands bearably warm. These are now distant memories as our villages and cities are now getting polluted, their streets dusty, and at least 5 degree Celsius warmer than few decades ago. But just in a matter of 30 and 40 years, this generation did nothing but cut and destroy the forests in Kaffa, Jima, Shoa, the Chercher mountains, the hills and valleys of Wello, the mountains of Gondar and Gojjam, the great Bale mountains and the Arsi highlands. So, when a group led by Profesor Legesse Negash, a respected Ethiopian Scientist and Conservationist at the Addis Ababa University that linked up with an Addis Ababa youth group told us they were going to the city of Addis Alem and its environs to plant some trees, we jumped on the opportunity.  By the time that Saturday’s adventure was over, we thought it was one of the most useful things that an Addis Ababa crowd has done to the country in many many years.                                     

Our readers, we hope, of course do remember that the small city of Addis Alem has History that dates more than a hundred years, at least. When the then Emperor Menelik realized that the trees in the Entotto mountains and the Addis Ababa area were wiped out by his army and the capital’s population, he thought it was time to move the capital elsewhere. He loved, we are told by such Historians as Paulos Gno Gno and Blaten Geta Hiruy , the rolling hills of the Addis Alem region and had instructed his Swiss engineer Alg to build roads and buildings in the small city that came to be known as Addis Alem. Despite the protest of Itege Taitu, the Empress and the most powerful figure in the country next to the Emperor himself, Menelik spent months supervising the construction of roads in this beautiful region. It was only when the Empress’ protest grew louder and the Emperor himself fell sick during his many stays in Addis Alem – even collapsed once at the construction site - that the project was slowly abandoned.

So, almost 100 years later, here we are at Addis Alem with the Scientists from AAU and other volunteers witnessing planting of thousands of trees to bring back the old glory of this region. It was interesting to see President Girma Wolde Giorgis invited as the guest of honor. Here he was, the old man himself - the president of this country - accompanied by only a lonely skinny body guard and another skinny umbrella bearer sitting in a make-shift modest ‘zufan’/presidential chair observing and some times dozing off. One can not help but admire these dignified and peaceful people of ours where a president of the country – even if just a powerless symbolic one – enjoys the company of the average people with no concern or fear.

So, while the main story was the tree planting, a side-story was the accidental death of one of the young volunteers who died earlier in that day in a traffic accident. The sunken faces of Dr. Ermias, a conservationist himself and a participant in the day's activity, is captured in one of the photos as the success of the day is tampered with this unforeseen and unfortunate loss of one young life. In the end, however, the magic of life – even in modest ways - will continue in these thousands of seedlings and young trees in this magical place of Addis Alem.

Copyright @2001-2005

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