May 25 , 2024

Behind the grand revolutions and dramatic inventions lie individuals who focused on building their character. Their dedication and integrity become the building blocks for a better future, writes Bereket Balcha.

On my way to visit my parents over the weekend, a wide smile spread across my face as I noticed the transformed road from Mexico Square to Sarbet. Just a couple of months ago, it had been a dusty, traffic-jammed mess. Now, the road boasted a sleek design that not only looked impressive but also facilitated a smooth flow of traffic. The temporary inconvenience of construction was well worth the outcome. Replicating this efficiency across all road projects would be a boon to the city's infrastructure.

The most striking aspect of the project, however, was not the result, but the process itself. Gone were the days of sluggish construction and seemingly endless delays. A sense of urgency permeated the air, with crews working tirelessly around the clock. It was not a trend I was accustomed to. Projects here have a reputation for taking dismally long times, stretching well beyond schedule. If this continues across all ongoing road projects, the city could be in for a period of incremental change. We used to admire the Chinese for their overnight construction feats in the past. But that seems to be the norm in Addis Abeba now. The make or break factor for any project is timely completion, ensuring efficiency and completion within budgeted time and money.

Unlike the usual arduous traffic jams, it took me a few minutes to reach my parents' home around the Vatican Embassy. My mother greeted me at the gate. My father, meanwhile, was busy tending his garden, perched on a wobbly ladder against a coffee tree. He was meticulously tying loose branches with rope. The tree was laden with coffee beans, many scattered on the ground from thieving birds. He tasked me with collecting them in a plastic bowl, and I was surprised by the sheer quantity. The remaining beans were green, needing a couple more months to ripen.

Before heading inside, my father's keen eyes spotted avocado branches reaching towards the power lines. He moved the ladder and asked me to hold it steady while he removed the soft branches. The ground was littered with cleared branches. We then needed to move them for trash collection. My father, a retired executive, delegated the task of collecting to me, which I happily did.

As a child, I was not enthusiastic about being assigned to such tedious tasks or getting covered in dust and soil while working in the yard. However, now I understand the valuable lesson my father instilled in me: the importance of hard work and engagement, no matter how trivial the task may seem. It is a hallmark of his dedication and discipline, a lesson that will stay with me for life.

He then showed me the other fruits in the compound, starting with guava. Although it would not be ripe for a while, I was amazed that Addis Abeba's climate supported such variety. Another wonder I was not even aware of was the cashmere fruit. The ripe ones were unreachable by ladder, but my father had kept some in his car. We washed and cut it in half to share. My mother refused, uninterested in the "adventure." With a taste between apple and soursop, it was one of the sweetest fruits I have ever had.

As I savoured the fruit, I pondered my father's values. He used his time well, tackled any problem head-on, and lived in the moment. He has practical knowledge and never avoids challenges. He does not dwell on what-ifs but acts in the present. He takes seemingly impossible tasks, breaks them down, and executes them flawlessly. I wondered how much of him I inherited and what a fulfilling life he must have led.

He is a man of action and few words. I learned more from his deeds than his words. The little he said spoke volumes and stood the test of time.

He says: "The best way to accomplish a task is not to let it wait; work progresses only by doing it."

Another key quality is his organisation. He is a master of time management, using available resources – money, time, labour – effectively. I recall him planning his day with a checklist, juggling many tasks, from overseeing my brother's construction project to church leadership to his siblings' issues.

Time, unlike other resources, cannot be replenished. We are on a countdown from birth. Our minds are clogged with inconsequential possibilities. Instead of contemplating, worrying, and regretting, trying at least teaches us something. However, it is better to try and fail than endless analysis.

History is filled with those who dared to act, to translate ideas into reality. While intellectual discussions have their place, true progress comes from taking concrete steps and shaping the world around us. I wonder where we stand as a society in terms of getting things done and shaping our destiny. I feel most of us are caught up in internalising external forces rather than influencing ourselves and our environment. It is believed that personal change is more achievable than changing the external world.

Greek philosopher Socrates is reported to have said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” How many of us are prepared to acknowledge our shortcomings and work to improve them?

Change starts within ourselves. Honest introspection reveals much more than what we see on the surface. It is easier to blame others than to take a deep look inward. But once we do, we realise the work needed but also our true potential. It is like reverse engineering. We may even inspire others to follow.

Most history-shapers, whether through inventions, good deeds, or powerful examples, focused on building their character rather than fighting to change the world. The results might take time, like a few months for the road project or two months for my father's coffee beans to ripen. Building inner strength and transforming ourselves is not easy.

In 1940, facing World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered a powerful speech that did not sugarcoat the harsh reality. He promised "blood, toil, tears, and sweat." These words rallied the nation with resolve and self-sufficiency, ultimately leading them to victory.

My father, through his actions, taught me that most of what we desire is within reach. We think people, places, and things hold the key to our destiny. But everyone is on their journey, and even the most powerful have limited influence on our lives. The true power lies within us, waiting to be unleashed. Looking inward is easier said than done. But honest reflection is all it takes to dismantle the facade and discover liberating power.

PUBLISHED ON May 25,2024 [ VOL 25 , NO 1256]

Bereket Balcha works in the aviation industry and is passionate about fiction writing and can be reached at (

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