Dinkenesh in the Sky with Diamonds

“And how long have you lived in Ethiopia?’ the woman asked me as I stood nervously outside the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa.
‘I arrived this morning.’
She seemed taken aback,
‘Open your heart to the people,’ she encouraged me, ‘It really is a beautiful country.’
At that point on my journey I really didn’t know what to think. The little that I had seen so far had left me feeling disheartened and naive. I was overwhelmed by culture shock and had been tempted to confine myself to the aptly named Ethio Comfort Guest House for the remainder of the two weeks.

Instead I took a deep breath and made my way to the National Museum; a large, austere, concrete building, situated off King George VI Street in the Capital. I paid the tiny entrance fee of 10 Ethiopian Birr (roughly 36p) and ambled through the dark rooms, trying to make sense of the dimly lit displays.
‘This is from the South Omo Valley,’ a small voice whispered from my elbow, pointing out a rough, skin covered drum.
A young boy, of not more than ten stood shyly by my side.
I nodded, not wanting to encourage anything which could have resulted in being pestered later for tips.
‘And this for cooking,’ the voice continued.
I chanced a smile. The little boy smiled sheepishly back. He wore a baggy uniform; a moss green shirt, loose at the collar and trousers which hung slightly too far above his ankles.
I wandered on; looking through the displays. The boy shadowed me expectantly; offering what instruction he could on the various tools and home articles of the South Omo tribes.
‘You see Lucy?’ he asked hopefully.
I shook my head.
He visibly brightened up and escorted me downstairs to the Prehistoric Collection. ‘Lucy’, the 3.2 million year old hominid, sat in her glass coffin;a reconstructed collection of shards discovered in Hadar in the Awash Valley of the Afar Depression; her discovery providing the vital link between apes and humans. The name ‘Lucy’ was dreamt up by the team of archaeologists who discovered her. Inspired by the Beatles song, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ she is also known by her Amharic name ‘Dinkenesh’.

Despite staring at a rather sever looking ancient ancestor, I couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointed. She was, after all, long dead, unlike the other person that had caught my attention.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked the boy, who was hovering a few feet off, pulling nervously at his shirt and attempting to read the label for the exhibit.
‘Kaleb,’ he answered modestly.
I fished into my security wallet for some change to give him. Unexpectedly, he shied away, shaking his head.
‘No no,’ he said, ‘When I grow up I would like to be a guide, I like to show people history.’
‘Thank you,’ I smiled, feeling shocked and belittled by my presumptions.
He grinned back, his pearly white teeth sparkling beneath his dark skin.
I watched him skip happily out of the museum.
In Amharic ‘Dinkenesh’ means ‘You are amazing’.
I know who I would rather apply that name to. Not the 3.2million year old dead of the country, but to a young boy called Kaleb who filled me with passion for his history.

J Gurney-Read

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