Millions of Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia had celebrated Meskel recently to commemorate the discovery of the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified (by St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great). According to legend, in the year 326 AD Queen Helena went on a search for the True Cross and was unsuccessful until she received help through a dream.
In accordance with the dream, she made a bonfire and the smoke gave her a trace of direction to accurately pinpoint the spot where the Cross was buried. To herald her success, Helena (known as Nigist Eleni in Ethiopia) lit torches. In the middle Ages, half of the cross was given to Emperor Dawit of Ethiopia by the Patriarch of Alexandria in appreciation of the protection offered to Coptic Christians.
Marked with feasting, dancing and all kinds of merrymaking with bonfires and fireworks, the occasion, usually starts on the eve of Mesqel with the planting of a green tree in town squares and markets. Long tree branches are tied together and yellow daises called Meskel flower are placed on top of demera (bonfire, torch).
The branches are gathered together in a bundle to make a d emera and set ablaze by a procession of people and priests and deacons. The people toss flaming torches which they are carrying at the demera, singing a special Mesqel song as they go round it. Little demeras are also built around individual homes.
Similarly, thousands of individuals in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) site had attended Mesqel Celebration in their campsite. They had lighted huge torches while enjoying lavishing banquets.
Tulu Kumsa is one of the individuals who attended the ceremony. He said public and religious holidays of greater significance are being celebrated warmly by the GERD community, to help everyone cope with homesickness and nostalgia.
He said no difference at all whether he celebrated Mesqel at home or in the residential camp of GERD. He has grown sense of indifference to the place of celebration. Most importantly, he said, he is lucky for being part of the GERD, which will soon be finalized to herald the grandeur of Ethiopia.
Currently, he and his friends are working in the sweltering heat being enthusiastically driven by patriotism intended to extricate poverty and heighten the pride of Ethiopia. According to him, money and benefit are not greater worth for all workers toiling day and night in the project than inspiration and patriotism aimed to contribute their own to their country.
He said the whirring of big cables, creaking of cranes, screeching of brakes and chugging and coughing of big machines up and down the wilderness of Guba have all unparalleled meaning to his senses. All have aimed to finalize the desperately-needed Project. Everything is ergonomically harmonized to enhance the spirit of teamwork and cooperation. The machines work non-stop and the workers are exerting their unyielding effort; no one wants to sleep for a wink.
Tulu said the GERD has helped him enhance his common understanding of national pride and knowledge about the grandeur of his country (resulting from self-directed satisfaction combined with meeting national goals). His pride has included, according to him, exhilarated pleasure and a feeling of accomplishment. He feels as if he is a martyr, sacrificing his sweat to the future of his country.
He believes his invincible stamina will continue as far to the end of the Project. He understands that everyone in the Project is cooperating as one family. All have defied homesickness, rest and holiday festivities. It has been long since workers have given up all their personal whims, emanating from the carnal world, for the sake of completing the GERD and contributing their share to their country.
Melaku Moreda is also one of the workers who had celebrated Mesqel with the GERD community. He said he bets every holiday in the camp is being observed warmly. Nobody missed anything as if they were celebrating at home.
He had made all the way to the GERD from Hosanna town, Capital of Hadiya Zone in the Southern Peoples State. He said he was working in a small kiosk before he quit his business to go to the GERD. Right at that time all his friends and relatives had lambasted him severely. They were hurling all kinds of mantras and caustic remarks on him, though he shrugged off their use of vile means; passed off their criticism without changing his mind. Some even thought of him as he suddenly lost his mind.
He adamantly stated that he did not regret shunning his shop and opting to go to the Project. Now he has got many friends who are purposefully strive to help finalize the GERD. He said being employed in the Project has enabled him to develop a sense of patriotism, responsibility, and dutifulness and target fully striving to help realize national goals of poverty alleviation and landing on greater heights.
Melaku said he had become a drop out from secondary school due to insupportable financial reasons. He had quit his education at the level of grade ten and his geography lesson had enabled him to understand the very fact that Abay has been flowing in vain, since Creation; while Ethiopia lamented for its being hot bed of famine and hunger. He reckons the popular song ``Abay, Abay``(Nile, Nile) is still ringing in his ears. And he did not hesitate for a moment to go to the Project site when he first heard about it.
He also said he did not understand the reason why neighboring countries benefited a lot from Nile River while Ethiopia condones its poverty for years. Now the time has come for him to contribute his own and avenge his regret that afflicts him for so many years. He said high time has come for citizens to indemnify their country for the lost time and squandered opportunity. The deep sleep of the nation has so far been overcome by the breaking news of GERD construction on March 24, 2003 E.C .
GERD is an impressive, self-funded hydropower Project, which is among the numerous mega projects that are heralding the country’s rebirth. It has a capacity to generate 6450 MW of electricity upon finalization. Currently, over 60 % of the construction has been finalized and it will be the continent’s largest upon its completion.
The Project has eyed at building the image of the country and rebranding its image from the start. The unflappable and irreversible decision of the people and the government to realize alleviation of poverty through construction of the GERD has played a key role in the success gained so far.
The project has started to witness the success gained in the last six years. Currently, thousands of workmen and engineers are toiling hard to finalize the construction, dauntlessly defying the scorching environment of Guba, in Benishangul Gumuz State. Since then, all Ethiopian citizens at home and abroad are expressing their unanimous commitment and support to the construction. This commitment of citizens and the government is considered to be a vital means to realize the aspiration of the country and declare its Renaissance through mega projects like GERD.
However, the effort of Ethiopia to realize its aspiration of leveling itself middle income country, in the near future, through mega projects like GERD is not at all free from challenges. There have been and are many hindrances and oppositions from downstream countries like Egypt (though defing by Ethiopians). Sometimes they even admit that the benefits of the GERD for Ethiopia and for many electricity-importing countries in East Africa are clear. However, they say GERD’s implications for downstream countries aren’t all positive – and need to be changed.