A northern Ethiopia called Awra Amba is the subject of Salem Mekuria’s documentary film titled Awra Amba’s E(utopia)
Utopia exists here on earth. According to filmmaker Salem Mekuria, it’s a small community in northern Ethiopia called Awra Amba.
The village is the subject of Ms. Mekuria’s documentary film titled Awra Amba’s E(utopia). She will screen some of the footage she’s gathered on Sunday, June 25 at an event hosted at the Hebrew Center as a fundraiser for the community’s effort to purchase a solar-powered water pump.
Salem Mekuria is a seasonal resident of Oak Bluffs and retired professor from Wellesley College. She lives in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, and five years ago, in her home city, she noticed an exotic hat at a Hilton Hotel. The unusual headgear sparked her curiosity and she remarked about it to her friend, who happened to know its owner.
The hat belonged to a man named Zumra Nuru, the founder of Awra Amba, an egalitarian community located over 600 kilometers north of Addis Ababa with an economy based around sharing. Ms. Mekuria’s friend introduced the two and they arranged a meeting.
“We met and I just fell in love with them,” she said. “The fact that this kind of community existed in Ethiopia, for almost 40 years at the time I met them… and that they were able to survive for this long, and grow into a community of, they started with 19 people, and now they’re over 500.”
Curious to learn more, she went to Awra Amba in person a few days after the meeting. When she got there, it wasn’t exactly Shangri-La.
“Given my expectations of what this community was and what they described, as a utopia, kind of, I was very surprised that it was so poor,” Ms. Mekuria said. “It’s a dusty little village.”
While it doesn’t seem exceptional on the face of it, “Once you start living there, spending time there, talking to the people, seeing what they’re doing, then you see that it is a really special place.”
She immediately began work on a documentary project, exploring the village and recording what she found. Every year since, she has visited the community, working on the film bit by bit.
“I don’t really have a timeline,” she said. “I want to be able to see where it takes me. Right now I’m really recording my curiosity.”