Notes on a Gold Star Day

They came to Ethiopia to make a movie. They wanted to promote MCC’s work and to document the musical experience and interactions of a violin guy who plays a wicked fiddle.

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Calvin Dyck, concert violinist, plays “The Hot Canary” for MCC beneficiaries in partner MSCFSO’s food security project.

Leading actors: MCC’s partner MSCFSO based in Debre Markos (MSCFSO stands for a very long string of words which mean “good deeds–Migbare Senay–child and family support organization”) and the farmers, men and women, who are the beneficiaries of their food security conservation agricultural project.

 

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Supporting cast: the First Ever Learning Tour to come to Ethiopia during our tenure here, led by Ron and Martha Ratzlaff, who were former MCC Country Representatives in Kenya.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017, a Gold Star Day. Act 1. We drove to Shegaza Watershed Rehabilitation site to meet with the farmers who transferred barren hills and washed out gullies into fertile, productive farm land.

We had no idea that they would meet us on horseback, and escort us at full gallop the five or so kilometers from the turn-off to the project site.

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The honor of an escort by Amhara horsemen astride their Abyssinian horses in full livery is normally reserved for weddings, or the reception of a king or president. We felt pretty special. MSCFSO had a pickup truck and we were in a bus, so we asked if Casey, the videographer, could stand in the bed of the pickup and film the entourage. Bruce and Rick went along as spotters, should the need arise.

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Once we arrived, Calvin gave a concert on horseback. The horse, so fierce in his gallop to the site, stood quietly and seemed to enjoy the violin as well as anybody.

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Calvin plays for the crowd as Yihenew Demessie, the Program Coordinator for MSCFSO, looks on.

Act II. A full day, with several meaningful scenes.

Walking the length of the Shegeza watershed rehabilitation site, which has been completed since 2015 and is now being maintained independently of MCC or MSCFSO. Farmers visit this site, see its success, and adopt the technologies in their own land. In addition to crops, the land now produces honey, as bees forage in the lupins and sesbania planted along the bunds (raised edges along the contour of a hillside to help create terraces). Gullies that were three and four meters deep are now healed and hidden inside groves of trees.

Walking along a gully in the Wotebet watershed to see the interventions–check dams and plantings–that will slow down water, capture silt, and reverse the effects of severe erosion.

An unexpected “second lunch” and coffee ceremony with the residents of Yagagena village, where MSCFSO built a distribution point around a naturally occurring spring as one of their WASH projects.

Act III. An evening concert with two talented stringed musicians, both with the name of John: John Calvin and John Antenah. John Calvin played a violin, and John Antenah a one-stringed instrument called a masinko. The musicians taught each other and learned from each other as they walked down a footpath to the concert site.

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The concert took place on the slope of the Berbenz watershed overlooking a dramatic gorge, carved by a tributary to the Blue Nile River.

 

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Ethiopian music is pentatonic, and John Calvin learned a simple, repetitive Ethiopian tune, practicing it with the other John until they were both comfortable with making improvisations. Then someone asked Calvin if there was a Western song he could teach  John A. Calvin thought a bit and said “Amazing Grace is pentatonic. Let’s try that.”

So as the sun went down, they payed Amazing Grace together. I set down my camera and sat facing the sunset, as the moon rose behind us, enjoying the song. I had my phone in my pocket and never once thought about taking it out to film the music, which I’ve regretted ever since. Alas, you’ll have to wait until the movie is released and go to British Colmumbia, Canada next spring to hear what we heard in that moment!

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“The plan is to produce an MCC fundraising event in spring of 2018, featuring Pacific Mennonite Children’s Choir, Abbotsford Youth Orchestra and other musical guests. In addition we will present a short film featuring the work of MCC in Kenya and Ethiopia and Calvin’s experience interacting with MCC partners and projects in East Africa.” Calvin Dyck, October 5, 2017.

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