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An Ethiopian Odyssey


April 2000

Heat scorched my scalp and trickles of sweat ran down my face. The fierce unrelenting sun illuminated the parched, red ochre soil on which I stood with an Ethiopian couple, friends of mine.

In the distance, smoke drifted from the thatched roofs of round tukuls (mud huts) while the tall eucalyptus trees whispered a soft melody as a breeze wove through their leaves. I realised with a start that I was back – back in the foothills of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, which I’d last seen in July 1964.

As the dream continued, we talked about poverty and drought – the cause of so many famines in the country. The man leaned towards me, making a point and stabbing his finger at the ground. Suddenly I knelt down and began to rub the dry soil between my fingers. At that moment, an overwhelming feeling engulfed me: I knew, beyond all doubt. that I was there to help provide permanent clean water for Ethiopia’s poor. With that intuition, the dream faded.

Waking with a start, I reached for the bedside light. It was 3.30am and the sky outside was still a deep blue, waiting for the sunrise. Why had I had that dream? Why now? I didn’t even have any Ethiopian friends: I’d lost contact many years ago with my friends from Nazareth School, a Catholic girls’ school in Addis.

I’d been horrified by the stories of mass killings during Colonel Mengistu’s Marxist regime in the late 1970s and 1980s, known as the Red Terror. I’d watched Michael Buerk’s 1984 report about the famine caused by drought in northern Ethiopia with tears running down my cheeks. I’d given money during LiveAid. Then Ethiopia had become a dim and distant memory once more.

But somewhere inside me, I knew that this dream was just as important as the others I’d had since 1970. These lay locked in my mind’s treasure chest, waiting for me to open it one day.

Two years after the dream, I was made redundant. I was sick of it – the third time in a decade. It didn’t matter how hard I worked or how successful my projects were, politics were politics. After my boss told me the news I’d been expecting, I buried my head in my hands. What would Rob, my husband, say? It had been just three years since the last time. How about James, our eleven-year-old? We’d moved twice in two years because of my insecure jobs. But a comforting thought filled my mind: ‘You’re going to be alright,’ it said.

I told my boss that I’d make the most of the opportunity to work part time, so that I could become a writer, a calling I’d nurtured for seven years, and that some of the book’s profits would be used to provide water in Ethiopia. I had no idea then how I’d achieve it, but I was absolutely determined to make my dream come true.


This is the story of my journey to find nine former classmates from my school days in Addis Ababa, the tests I’d faced before that decision was finally made and the guides and amazing synchronicity I experienced along the way.

We’d lived in Ethiopia for two years when my father worked for Ethiopian Airlines as chief testbed engineer. Nazareth School was one of eight I attended in six years: my father was an itinerant traveller, and we trailed behind him with our suitcases and shattered dreams of a permanent home and loyal friends. We had lived all over the UK, and finally ended up in South Africa during the apartheid era: an unhappy time for us.

From 1972, I was finally free to make my own way in life. After that. I’d done what was expected of me - worked hard, climbed the corporate ladder, met and married Rob and, amazingly, had James against all the odds, after I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis in 1987.

Becoming pregnant in 1988 had made me really believe in miracles. I’d had two operations, but after I was given the diagnosis and debilitating medication, I suddenly woke up to a great longing for a child. On the phone to a friend one afternoon, tears welled up and starting coursing down my cheeks, as I told her that I’d only just realised how much I’d love to become a mother. I decided to use my simple faith to pray for a child, and then forgot all about it. Within twelve months, the unbelievable had come true and the pregnancy test showed a clear blue line.

James was born in 1989, and as he grew up, I changed too. Being with him was magical: what I most appreciated was his spontaneity and sheer joy in being alive. I’d long forgotten those feelings in the planning and doing of work: I’d become boring, lifeless, and felt that life was too stressful and meaningless. In fact, the more I had, the less I felt I had.

Something was missing – could life really still be an adventure? How many more miracles were waiting to be uncovered, glinting there in the deep earth, shimmering beneath the water, hidden at the top of great mountains?

So when the opportunity arrived in 2002, I set off to find my destiny, and to discover all that I was meant to be. I decided to travel light – I would use just faith and prayers, and be led by my dreams, and the kind guides whom I’d meet along the way. I had no idea how things would proceed, but I decided to abandon planning and live a freer life.

It was vital that I find some way to integrate my dream of writing with the covenant I’d made with God in 1995. I realised, with hindsight, that my constant failures thereafter had happened because I hadn’t honoured it. Loosening the bonds of limited thinking, I just focused on being the peace I wanted to see in the world, providing water and helping the very poor in a pragmatic way.

As I travelled, I also learned that I had to give up all my assumptions and beliefs about life and people, and just enter the flow. My ego was very upset at times, but it learned to shut up and, over time, completely let go of the need to control people and events. I wanted every step to be sure, confirmed in the stars and my dreams – to let the true magnificence of my life unfold.

Every word in this book is true. I hope it will inspire you to listen to and live out the dreams that may be locked in your heart, and become all that you’re capable of being. Most of all, I pray these pages will help you to appreciate that following your life’s purpose will let you discover just how connected you are to every living thing on this planet.

Today I am still on the journey, and that is the most important thing of all.

Annette Allen

October 2006

For students and others interested in source material, I have included information at the end of each chapter, which is not intended to be exhaustive. All the interviews have been double-checked and approved by the people concerned.


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