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S4.1.1 Voice of the Earth

Mr Tesfa stands at the window, musing. Like every day, I wave as I pass his house. He looks up and smiles when he sees me, but there is sadness in his eyes. He just can't seem to settle down in our country, under the watery sky, in this grey area of stone and concrete.

This spring, I greeted him for the first time while he was hoeing with his back bent in his vegetable garden. He offered me a cup of tea and a little later we were sitting on the bench in front of his house, chatting happily. As I admired his bean plants, he began to tell me about the land in his homeland where his family had grown their own food for generations. Their life in Ethiopia had been simple, but they had enough to live on. Until their land fell into the hands of a large coffee plantation. He shook his head sadly and I understood that his little postage stamp garden thousands of kilometres away from his homeland must be a poor consolation.

After our first encounter Mr Tesfa and I have been speaking to each other more often. Thanks to our meetings, I am learning to look at life in the West with different eyes. According to Mr Tesfa, it is not developed and prosperous, but impoverished and alien to the world. He can hear this from the way we talk, because language determines how we as humans relate to the earth. According to him, when we 'go out into nature', we mainly see a place to enjoy ourselves instead of our natural habitat, of which we are a part. When that same nature is in the news, it is often about running out of 'resources'. Have we come to believe that nature is subordinate to people? And have we come to see the earth as a bottomless pit? What a contrast with Mr Tesfas ancestors, who have always respected nature as a living system, in which everything is connected. They made grateful use of the abundance that Mother Earth produced, but respected her limits because they knew that they were dependent on her.

Meanwhile, old Mr Tesfa bravely and stubbornly holds his ground. Not by adapting, but by sticking to his principles and above all, not giving up hope. That is perhaps the most important lesson he taught me. "Tesfa means hope in our language," he had told me one day. He faces his feelings of despair and melancholy by connecting with the little pieces of nature around him: the twittering birds on the roof, a butterfly fluttering by, and of course the growing crops in his garden. In his own way, he still listens to the Voice of the Earth and thus honours his family name day after day.