Mersha Yilma, from Ethiopia, shares his journey as one of the first graduates from Gaia’s African Earth Jurisprudence practitioners training. From a farming family in eastern rural Ethiopia, he has a background in education, public relations and law, and is currently a MPhil student of sustainable development at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. In his own words:

I belonged to a group of six that started a journey of three years on a boat. I had no idea how the journey we have been sailing for the past three years is going to end and what our destination will actually look like. It is also something like reading the same chapter a book together. Soon after we started it, I liked the chapter we have been reading and some part of my inner self is not comfortable with the fact that it is going to end. And I am sure my fellow readers are also sharing this same feeling. I think the fact that all of us are not quite sure of what the next chapter will bring us or where it might take us has contributed to being more comfortable with the chapter that we are sharing.

We were called by Mother Nature three years ago to sail the same boat for exploration of our true self in nature. We were informed it would be a three years long journey when we started.  It happened quite suddenly and we were not sure how and where we are sailing and how and where it will end.

But gradually we started to like the long journey of exploration and sharing. We became a family on the same boat, sharing similar concerns, dreaming same destination, reading same chapter of a book, sharing experiences, supporting each other….

The more we got deeper and deeper in the exploration the stronger became our family bond. So I have not been comfortable with the fact that we are approaching end of the chapter or the destination where we may find the next door to a new chapter. It seemed like the long journey is ending so soon.

As the dates approached, we learned that closure of the chapter we have been reading and opening of the new chapter will happen in the forests of the Great Mount Kenya. Yet the process remained a secret till the final day.

Early in the morning of the final day, three elders in their uniquely traditional costume led us in to the center of the forest as if they are intending to show us a secret hidden there from the rest of the world. Yes, indeed, they whispered to our ears, under the big, perhaps 300 year old, oak tree the secrets of nature that we may only understand when we have learned her language. They told us that what we have been doing for the past three years was learning the language of nature and from now on we may listen to nature speaking to us, speak to her, read her books and write to her as well.

The elders warned us we may face the risk of losing this special ability if we stay away from nature and stop our conversation with her for a period of two full moons. They asked the ancestors to bless us with the strength that will keep us perseverant in our conversation with nature. Each of us also vowed to remain practitioners who continue the journey barefoot speaking and telling others to learn the language of nature.

Although the elders were speaking in low voice like whispering to our ears, I hear the old big oak tree echoing their voice to the rest of the forest community loudly. I also hear the rest of the community applauding at the end of each statement the oak tree is echoing.

Unlike when we went in to the center of the forest, we came out singing, chanting and dancing to celebrate. Out there, the young ones, who are about to go onboard to sail the boat for the next three years, joined us in celebrating the mesmerizing celebration.

It has really been a unique and unforgettable graduation experience that any one captivated by the conventional system may not imagine. It is a feeling only those who appreciate the beauty and mystery of nature would understand.

Mersha Yilma was born in the eastern part of rural Ethiopia. He grew up learning how to farm while at the same time attending ‘modern’ education at a primary school, as part of the modern/western education expansion strategy adopted by the then military government in the late 1970’s and 80s. He continued to secondary school, at Harar town, and then English Language and Literature studies at University. After some years working as an English language teacher, Mersha joined the government Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency as a public relations officer. This led him to study law and gain a LLB degree from Addis Ababa University. In 2010, Mersha joined MELCA-Ethiopia, an award-winning non-government organisation. He was selected for Gaia’s 3-year training course on Earth Jurisprudence, and graduated as an African EJ practitioner in July 2017. Mersha is currently a full time second year MPhil student of sustainable development at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.