Fire on the Mountain

Alemayu, a young peasant boy who lives in the mountains of Ethiopia, was suddenly orphaned. In order to support himself, he moved to the city and hired himself out to a rich man and herds his cattle.

One night, the rich man held a feast and bragging to his friends. He said that once he stayed all night on a cold mountaintop, but huddled up against his donkey and somehow managed to survive. Alemayu heard this and replied that in earlier years he had often spent nights on the mountain with only a thin cloak to protect him against the cold.

The rich man was angry that Alemayu embarrassed him in front of his friends like that, and so bets Alemayu that he cannot stay all night on the mountain without a fire. If Alemayu succeeds, he will receive a bag of gold. If he fails, he will be fired. Alemayu accepted the challenge and walks off to the mountain.

The night is bitterly cold, and Alemayu passed a wretched night. Nevertheless, early the next morning he returned to collect his reward. The rich man could not believe that Alemayu stayed on the mountain through the entire night, and questioned the boy about how he survived.

Alemayu explained that it got colder and colder, and he was just about to give up and go back when he caught sight of a fire on a nearby mountain. He looked at the fire and imagined that it was his fire, and that he could feel its warmth, and gathered his strength and stayed the rest of the night.

The rich man was triumphant. “Ha!” he said. “I knew you could not go through the night without fire. Go say your farewells to the other servants, you leave tomorrow!”

That night the rich man held a feast in order to brag again to his friends. The servants prepared the finest injera, the most succulent dishes, and the mouth-watering smells filled the air. Yet no food was brought to the table.

Growing frustrated with the slowness of the servants, the rich man called for entertainment until the food would be served. A master bard came out and passed his fingers over the lute, pretending to play — yet he did not touch the strings, and no music filled the air.

The rich man was angry. He called his head servant and demanded to know when the food would arrive, and when there would be music. The servant replied, “But master, tonight you have been filled with the finest meal we have ever prepared, and listened to the most beautiful music that could be made!”

“But we ate no food, nor heard no music!” the rich man rebutted, growing angrier as his friends cast him annoyed looks.

“Ah, but you could smell your favorite foods, and you could see your favorite tunes being played,” the servant said calmly.

“What kind of man can be filled by smells?” the rich man demanded.

“The same kind of man who believes that looking at a fire on a distant mountain can keep a boy warm,” the servant returned, smiling enigmatically. All the servants began to laugh behind their hands, and the rich man’s friends laughed outright.

Knowing that he had lost the bet, the rich man gave the bag of gold to Alemayu, who used it to start a herd of his own. But although he became rich, he did not forget the kindness of the servants who had helped him, and was always generous to less fortunate people.


(1) Everything website
(2) Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

%d bloggers like this: