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Reconnecting with nature at Puagmé Festival
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Reconnecting with nature at Puagmé Festival

For many, camping can be lots of fun. Sleeping outdoors and getting away from the hassle of the daily grind can be refreshing, and there is plenty of time for leisure and games. It can be a great time to try new activities or get back into hobbies you used to love. In addition, it is place where you can spend quality time with your family or make new friends. And that is what Puagmé Festival is all about, writes Senait Feseha.

“Wait a minute; my apartment, or at the foot of those hills? Hold on, hmmm…my apartment, or underneath that big old tree?” Questions of this sort are not what most people ask themselves when choosing a place to spend the night; however, for Amanuel Mehari, 42, these types of questions, which ultimately become a dilemma, are fairly common.

Most nights, he finds himself a bit unsure; should he travel some kilometers back to sleep in his warm bed? Or make fire and set camp in the wilderness? He often chooses the latter; this is his realm of extreme sleeping.

At 8:30 am on a Saturday morning, he trekked a steep pathway. His children aged six and eight followed closely behind, they make soft sighs, letting him know they are tired. He ignores the whining, it is his way of “toughening them up”.

Two minutes and they heard the faint sound of music coming from a distance. They have arrived at the Paugmé Shir-shir – a friends, family and community oriented festival.

Situated at the Gullele Botanic Gardens, the festival features a wide range of activities for first-time campers, festival goers or seasoned outdoor enthusiasts.

According to the Haileab Meressa, the organizer, Paugmé Shir-shir, provides a perfect opportunity to get out in fresh air, away from the grasps of technology and escape the hustle bustle of daily life, all in the great outdoors.

This monthly Paugmé Shir-shir event usually involves two days spent venturing off into the surrounding hillsides for various outdoor adventures and one night spent camping under the stars.

Haileab has also patented the event and is currently preparing for the annual Paugmé Festival, a first of its kind international festival in Ethiopia. This five-day long annual festival is scheduled to be on the 13th month of the Ethiopian calendar, Paugmé.

Haileab talks about his vision with noticeable passion, he believes that by incorporating the unique Ethiopian culture, with the unique 13th month, the festival will not be regarded any less than Holi, the Indian color festival, or La Tomatina, the tomato throwing festival in Spain.

“I believe that this five-day annual festival is going to get global recognition, and transform Ethiopia into a holiday destination,” he told The Reporter.

The garden, located around Addisu Gebeya, has a vast premise that runs 705 hectares. It is widely known for its diverse flora population and its astonishing panoramic views.

During the festivals, a huge area of the premises is transformed into children’s playground, a camp site and a plot where visitors can bring spreads and pillows for lawn seating to unwind with likeminded people, surrounded with trees and nature.

In the mornings, the garden allows to catch the early morning sun creep in, illuminating any lingering clouds. Haileab has selected a perfectly picturesque trail for the morning walk/trek program, during which it is possible to encounter deer, and a wide variety of birds.

With events designed to suit all ages, it was an eclectic affair. Haileab thinks that the program will assist people in communicating and knowing each other better. “Most people are looking for new friends to share ideas with, businessmen seek a networking opportunity, families look for a child friendly place to unwind, diplomats and expats look for a place to commune with nature, and the youth needs to spend their time in a positive environment. This program is a great solution that can be useful for all.”

During the day, children foraged and explored the grounds. They involved in cultural exchange programs, played inside inflatable castles, jumped on trampolines, learned hula-hooping, went for a horse/camel-back riding or competed in talent shows. They swarmed around their favorite TV personality, Ethiopis. Adults rented out bicycles, explored the woods, and enjoyed music from all over the globe.

“You don’t have to be wealthy to do something like this; this is something anyone can do. All you need is a sense of adventure,” Amanuel said, adding “and if you decide to spend the night, a decent tent and a sleeping bag is all you need.”

Amanuel said that he has travelled the world camping in caves, cliff tops and beaches. Once he had children and returned to his homeland, he has been rigorously trying to find similar adventures and in due course encourage his children to partake.

It is their first time in the woods “we are not camping today, but I think this is a good start.” he said looking at his children “I think it’s better if they started out on Paugmé, after familiarizing with the environment today.”

“Children shouldn’t grow up detached from nature, having the freedom to play, explore and behave the way children should. It’s one of the most important elements missing from modern life for many kids,” Amanuel told The Reporter.

He believes that such outings will help families to reconnect with nature through physical activities, camping, creative workshops, and memorable encounters. “This will allow children to take home a newfound feeling of freedom, spontaneity and simple happiness.” 

By the time the sun began to set, non-campers left and everyone else settled down in the evening for a DJ performance. They circled for barbeques at the communal campfire.

The air was crisp and smelled of burning wood; everyone stared at the bright fire under the dark sky. Some joked about the presence of hyenas and snakes in an attempt to spook campers, some told stories, and some gazed to the stars, listening to the sounds of the crackling fire, chirping cricket or maybe nothing at all, just in complete silence away from the world.

“There is nothing quite like spending a night under a blanket of stars, sitting around a good fire and good company,” Biruk Dawit and his friend Melese Zewdu, who represent the Ethiopian Scouts Association, said.

They think that Paugmé Shir-Shir provides a good meeting ground for scouts from different regions, enabling them to get to know each other.

Known for being armed with ropes and survival skills, these scouts said: “Camping teaches people to cook, eat, and wash up the way they are not used to back at home, to learn skills such as making kitchens and toilets using wood and rope, and to make safe fire and to properly set up tents.”

The most important thing, they say, is to “Leave the place you found better than it was,” the scouts said, remarking that people should not engage in inappropriate behavior and trash the environment during camping.

When the time came to sleep, everyone went inside the tents. There was a distinct scent that swiftly reminds you that this is not your bedroom. But everyone slept with the general feeling of having connected with nature in the most profound way.