Opinion: My role as Queen for the day

Peter Stanford

I've never been one for delusions of grandeur, but sitting in a makeshift barn in Dese, 4,000 metres up in Ethiopia's northern highlands, I knew what it must feel like to be the Queen.

I have just got back from a trip to Ethiopia with Save the Children to look at the country 20 years after the great famine of 1984 which gave birth to Band Aid. There are many remaining problems there: millions still dependent on food relief, but also many locally generated initiatives to tackle long-standing issues.

One such is the Abyssinia Club, a group of young volunteers who promote safe sex in a country where Aids has appeared as a new killer since 1984. Their chosen means is through music, dance and theatre and they put on a show for me. I was given the seat of honour, in the middle of the front row.

The music was wonderful, the dancing inspired and the stand-up routines certainly got the rest of the audience going.

But the lyrics and script were all in Amharic, the predominant language of the region, so I was missing all the jokes and the messages of the songs. Even so, at the end of each piece, everyone on stage looked to me to lead the applause or join in the laughs. And, being well brought up, I obliged dutifully. There was an interpreter at my side, but even if I had been able to tune in to her habitual whisper, jokes just don't translate, while her grasp of the English terms for everything to do with sex was - probably to her credit - loose.

As I stood and clapped and tapped my foot to the music, I couldn't dislodge from my mind a picture of the Queen, in her suburban high-street hat and smart suit, watching Maori festivities and trying to respond. For me this was just one afternoon. She has spent more than 70 years doing it.

The details may have passed me by, but the passion, enthusiasm, energy and creativity of the Abyssinia Club certainly didn't. Having looked at many development projects over the years, you get an eye for the really special ones, those that have the power to teach the world about the power of the human spirit. This was one of them.

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.

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