It´s the blessing and the curse of the traveler, and the diplomat, to remain concerned about places they have loved during their wanderings. There isn´t a day I´m not thinking about Ethiopia, the setting of our most adventurous young years, or about Jamaica and about Cuba.
When things don´t go well in any of those places, one takes it, well, personally.
Ethiopia is going through very difficult times. We knew the country, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as relatively stabilized—under a Marxist military dictatorship. Change came with the well-known pitfalls of African politics: the quasi-unavoidable identification of multiparty politics with ethnic and religious groups, and the differences and tensions between regions that have never fully embraced any central authority.
The late emperor Haile Selassie´s title King of Kings is often seen as just a very arrogant affirmation. In fact, it was also the recognition that there were still many regional rulers under the empire, and that The Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah had to acknowledge them, and often needed their support.
Traveling far and wide through the harsh beauty of the country, we became well aware how fragile its apparent stability was. Still, after the recent conflict in Tigray, it came as a shock to me that one of the most fascinating places in all of Africa, the ancient city of Axum, is now under threat of armed conflict. In the mindlessness of today´s semi-private wars, destruction of cultural heritage of immense value occurs all too often. I hope and pray that whoever attacks or takes control of Axum, doesn´t destroy the obelisks and the other monuments of the first Ethiopian Empire, dating back to the days of the pharaoh´s.
Cuba, another place even closer to our hearts, isn´t doing well either, and not just because the pandemic has killed tourism, the island´s only real moneymaker since the late 1990s. On top of that comes the long-delayed conclusion that certain social experiments have run their course, and simply don´t work. But that´s easy to say, when the fundamentals to introduce and to absorb swift and necessary changes don´t exist, neither in the administration nor with the public.
Of Jamaica, I think with growing fondness. Not just because of many dear friendships there, but also because in the present state of the world, the self-sufficiency and the righteous lifestyle of the Rastafarian culture becomes increasingly attractive. That this was a mysterious and totally coincidental link between two phases of our travels, straight from Ethiopia to Rastaland, adds to the fascination.
The longtime traveler and the diplomat may claim a composite personality, made up of good things picked up on the way. In normal times that was a fantasy, even a luxury. Today, with all of us forced to find strength in ourselves, it feels like a necessity.